Kashmiri Embroidery work is one of the most celebrated crafts of the region. It is known for its skilled artisans who breathes life into the fabrics they embroider. The origin of the craft is obscure but it is believed that Sufi Saints from Persia introduced the craft to the valley.
It is also referred to as Kashidakari - it is an umbrella term that refers to different types of embroideries.
Kashmiri Crewel Work is one of the many variations of the Kashmiri embroidery style. It is a surface embroidery technique that utilises a hook (aari) and woollen yarns. Locally it is known as Zalakdozi and it is also referred to as hook embroidery or Aari Embroidery after the pointed crochet hook utilised in the craft.
Kashmiri Crewelwork is usually done on thicker fabric and the finished products are used to decorate drapery and upholstery. The base colour of the fabric is usually in singular muted colours such as cream, white or similar shades to make the embroidery stand out. After the fabric has been prepared, the design is selected or drawn out by professional tracers called Naquashband. They lay down perforated sheets of paper with the design drawn out on it onto the fabric. Chalk, Charcoal powder or ink is rubbed over it to leave an impression of the design.
Once the design has been traced out, the artisan works on the embroidery. The basic stitch of this embroidery style is a chain stitch. The design shows itself on the surface in the form of small loops. While the hook embroidery covers twice as much area at the same time as compared to needle embroidery, the work is still intrinsic. Tiny stitches are used to cover the entire area in solid patterns starting from the centre. It creates an embossed effect and adds richness to the textile. Colourful motifs usually in the form of flowers, blossoms, leaves and creepers are typically used.
Based on the type of woollen thread used for the embroidery, Kashmiri Crewelwork can be classified into two types - 1 ply embroidery which utilises 1ply woollen thread and 2 ply embroidery which utilises 2 ply woollen thread. While the former is cost-effective, it is less durable as compared to the latter.
It takes an artisan anywhere between 8 to 10 weeks to complete the work according to the intricacy of the design. After the work is completed it is then sent to be expertly washed to remove any accumulation during the embroidery process.
Kashmiri Crewel Work is mostly done in wool and can be seen on curtains, drapes and other upholstery and bedding materials. However, another form of crewel embroidery also utilises silk or cotton thread and is worked on apparel wear such as coats, jackets, salwar kameez, shawls, etc in delicate stitches. It is a generational craft that has maintained its legacy over the ages. The unique textures, as well as the high quality of embroidery, render Kashmiri Crewel Work in great esteem and demand throughout the world.