As a young teen, I loved to create. If I had a piece of cloth, an embroidery floss and a pattern, I was in heaven. Winters were the best time to indulge in needlework when there was not much else I could do. Our school shut down for two and a half months during winter. Most of my friends left town during this time and so finding a hobby to keep myself busy and entertained was quite welcome.
In school, we were taught some basic embroidery stitches such as the backstitch, running stitch, stem stitch, and chain stitch. These stitches were simple and easy to work with and formed the building blocks of Kashmiri Embroidery.
Embroidery, in its initial form, was introduced in Kashmir by traders traveling along the Silk Road in the 13 century and encouraged subsequently by the various rulers that followed. Skilled craftsmen came from Persia and Central Asia and over time taught this art form to the local population.
Embroidery in Kashmir is one of main cottage industries along with paper mache and wood carving. Kashmiri embroidery is also called ‘Kashida’ Embroidery and its inspiration comes from the exquisite and natural beauty of the Kashmir Valley. It is very popular in Kashmir and unique in its use of color, texture and technique. Kashida is done entirely by hand and it mostly includes the crewel style. It is also called Zalakdozi with literally means chain-stitching. It is performed using a hook called an ‘ari,’ and so this style is also called the ‘Ari’ stitch. The embroidery is typically done on fabrics such as pashmina, wool, cotton and silk. At times, there are different names given to embroidery based on the underlying fabric. As an example, Sozni, or Suzani, is a style associated with decorative designs on pashmina shawls.
I have predominantly used the Ari stitch in my work. However, instead of using the traditional crotchet-like hook- the Zalakdozi hook, I use a needle. I find it simple and easier to use. Although the process looks intimidating at first, as with anything else, with practice it becomes second nature. Once you learn a few basic stitches, you'll be ready to tackle just about any embroidery project that comes your way .