Sozni is one of the most exquisite forms of needlepoint embroidery. This needlework technique is used to adorn pashmina shawls to make the shawl look encrusted like a tapestry by layering fine embroidery.
It is practised in Kashmir and has no parallels in the world. It was brought to Kashmir by the revered saint and scholar Shah Hamda (RA) in the 14th Century. The craft is one such that has withstood the test of time with its timeless beauty. It is usually practised by the local craftsman in a home-based workshop called Karkhanas. In the local dialect, the craft is also referred to as Sozni Kaem, Kani Sozni or setchzinikaem.
To make a Sozni embroidered shawl, a pashmina shawl is chosen first. Sozni can also be done on other types of fabric such as cotton and silk, but the embroidery appears best on Pashmina Shawls. The chosen shawl is sent to a Naqash ( Block printer), who prints the outline of the designs to be embroidered by using finely carved walnut woodblocks. The design can be selected from amongst the hundreds already carved by expert walnut carvers over the years or the Naqash can carve a custom design based on the requirements.
Various motifs are employed to adorn the shawls. From traditional motifs such as Badum ( almond) also commonly known as paisley, bird motifs such as parrot, canary and woodpecker to nature-inspired marigold, daffodils and Chinar leaves in abstract colour. After the design has been approved, the shawl is then passed on to the artisan who completes the embroidery based on the approved colours. The finished shawl is then washed by a specialist in spring water by striking the fabric repeatedly against a smooth stone.
A Sozni embroidered shawl can take from a few months to three years to complete depending on the intricacy of the needlework, hence a thorough wash is necessary. They come out bright and fresh after the wash.
The shawls are also classified into various types such as Jamawar, Jaaldar, Dorredar, Palldar and so on, based on the intricacy of the needlework. These beautiful shawls are usually worn by women over their arms, shoulders and sometimes over their heads. Over the years, not only has this age-old craft been a source of livelihood to the artisans, but it has also been a testament to the beauty and splendour, the rich heritage of the Kashmir Valley.
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