April 24, 2021 4 Comments
Crewel work is a hand-embroidery technique traditionally done in Kashmir. It uses a hook ("aari") and mostly woolen yarns in single (white or colored) or multicolor shades. Crewel Embroidery done in Kashmir is different in that it is done (mostly) using woolen yarns unlike other places of the world where it may be done using synthetic or cotton yarns and also on a much larger scale which allows it to form an important sector in the local industry. Crewel Embroidery is usually done on bolts of fabric in varying widths - 56" wide "dusooti" cotton manufactured locally in Kashmir being the most common. Fabric bolts may be 20 to 33 yards in length, although custom orders at times require longer yardages per bolt.
Crewel embroidery is of two types:
1-ply embroidery: A single ply woolen yarn is used for this type of embroidery. The lower yarn cost results in a cheaper fabric which allows for more range when selling the product to customers.
2-ply embroidery: Using a more durable 2-ply woolen yarn for embroidery, it is costlier of the two and is known to last decades if cared for properly. The finer wool gives these fabrics a more neat and uncluttered appearance in comparison.
HOW CREWEL IS MADE: The crewel making process begins with the selection of a design - "Tree of Life", "Jacobean" and "Maple" are some of the most commonly used designs by manufacturers in Kashmir. Custom designs whether traditional or modern are also made specific to customer request.
DESIGN: The designer initially makes a rough sketch on a 56" wide (or different width depending on the width of fabric to be printed) translucent paper long enough to accommodate at least one pattern repeat but wide enough to cover the entire fabric width. Once the process is finished, he will then punch holes following the design sketch, correcting any deviations using skill and experience to perfect the design for the next step.
PRINTING: Once the design is ready, the pattern sheet is placed on an already laid out fabric and an ink soaked cloth (preferably woolen yarn as it soaks less ink) is wiped all over the design so that the ink seeps through the tiny pores in the design sheet to cast a nice and clean imprint on the fabric underneath.
The process is repeated by removing the pattern sheet and placing it just below the end of the earlier print to ensure design consistency. The designer continues this way until the entire bolt is printed. During this while the designer will soak the cloth multiple times as and when the ink runs out. An average 33 yard bolt may soak upto 200 grams worth of ink. Once the bolt is done printing it is rolled back full width to avoid any (not yet dried) ink from casting duplicate prints on the embroidery side.
EMBROIDERY: The printed fabric will now make its journey to the craftsman where the design will slowly start coming to life. Over the next few weeks, we may see colorful greens, blues, oranges and reds cast their magic and give the fabric a rich, lively and vibrant feel.
Depending on customer requests however, fabrics are also embroidered using just white, one or more shades of blue, red or other colors. Embroidery is the most time-consuming process in the manufacture of crewel fabrics and a 20 yard bolt with a "Tree of Life" design could take anywhere between 8 to 10 weeks to complete excluding delays due to any personal issues of the craftsman (this is after all a human thing).
WASHING: Once a fabric is embroidered, it will be sent for washing to remove all traces of dirt and stains it may have accumulated during the embroidery work. The drying process can take upto a day and once done the fabric is steam ironed in a rotary steam iron (fabric goes in full width) that results in a nice crease-free fabric ready to use.
CARE: Crewel Embroidery is a delicate art and needs to be cared for properly. Over time your fabric may become dirty requiring it to be cleaned. Most crewel fabrics are suggested to be professionally dry cleaned to avoid dye bleeding from the embroidery yarns. White on white fabrics may be hand washed at home safely and spin dried in a washing machine. Ironing out the wrinkles however is something you should consider seriously before deciding to go that way.
Overall it is best to leave the cleaning job to professionals. Although it may be costly but your fabric will look as good as new after the wash.
May 31, 2018 6 Comments
Do you buy embroidered apparel? Would you check if it is hand embroidered or machine embroidered before buying? Do you know how to tell the difference? I shall try to point out some differences between hand and machine embroidery that should make it easier to go out and shop confidently without the worry of remorse or regret later on.
Let's start by asking why there are duplicates of hand embroidered apparel in the market in the first place. Well, for the simple reason that machine embroidery costs much less when compared to hand embroidery as it uses a machine to do the embroidery work and can earn larger profits if sold as handmade.
When seeing for the first time, it may be quite hard (or even impossible) to tell the difference between hand embroidery and machine embroidery. Take a look at the pictures of two similar shawls above and try to figure out which one is Hand Embroidered and which one is Machine Embroidered?
Not sure? Here are a few tests that should be able to help make out what is what. Before going ahead I would also like to point out a price comparison between hand embroidered and machine embroidered items in similar pattern embroidery:
|Hand Embroidery cost (US$)
|Comparable Machine Embroidery cost (US$)
As you can see the price difference is enormous. A machine embroidered jacket costs around 25% of its hand embroidered counterpart, but will sell comparatively higher because it was advertised as a hand embroidered jacket.
Kashmiri Embroidery Types
A LOOK AT THE REVERSE SIDE: This is helpful only for items which don't have a lining (shawls, sarees, salwar kameez, kurtas). A first look at the reverse side of the garment will reveal clearly if the item is embroidered by hand or machine. Machine embroidery is a continuous stitching process and employs multi-colored thread for embroidery. It therefore has continuity in stitches with very few breaks. Hand-stitch on the contrary employs single-color threads for embroidery and the craftsman from time to time breaks off the earlier thread (color) to start a new thread (color) leaving behind a trail of threads hanging on the reverse side of the fabric.
Hand embroidery leaves a lot of threads hanging on the reverse side.
Machine embroidery leaves very few threads hanging on the reverse side.
A LOOK AT THE FRONT: This test requires one to have a good understanding regarding familiarity with hand-stitch and machine-stitch.
Hand embroidery is tidy with good variety of colors.
Machine embroidery overlaps.
Notice the ascending shoot (brown color) with its curves imparted by skilled hands.
The shoot (brown color) here is more of a straight line type and overlapping onto the leaves (green color).
October 24, 2017 4 Comments
In Kashmir, we experience colorful embroidery on many different types of apparel and fabric - Crewel Fabrics, Shawls, Jackets and many more. There are various types of embroidery techniques that Kashmiri craftsmen use. I shall try to give a brief description of some.
1. Crewel embroidery: It is done using a pointed crochet ("Aari") on a cotton, wool, silk or some other suitable fabric.
Crewel embroidery uses woolen or art-silk yarn for embroidery. The background fabric can be cotton, organza, velvet, linen or jute suitable for curtains and upholstery projects (except organza which is a sheer fabric). These fabrics also find good use in making bedspreads, throws and pillows.
Crewel embroidery is by nature a chain stitch and is used greatly in the manufacture of chainstitch rugs, pillow cases and cushion covers. Wool or artsilk yarn is worked in an allover fashion giving the chainstitch rugs a carpet like feel.
A second form of crewel embroidery uses cotton thread instead of wool and is much finer than crewel wool embroidey. It is worked on apparel - coats, jackets, shawls, salwar kameez and others.
The embroidery is so fine that it adds very little to the weight of the fabric. An allover design jacket for example may add as little as 100 grams to its weight after embroidery. Woolen crewel embroidery in comparison will add 200 to 300 grams to each yard of fabric.
2. Needlework embroidery (“Sozni”): Done using a needle, “sozni” is worked on Pashmina shawls, woolen shawls, jackets, salwar kameez and sarees. Work done on pashmina is comparatively much finer (picture below) than other fabrics (cotton, silk and wool).
3. Silver and gold embroidery: Locally called “tilla”, this type of embroidery is worked on ladies cloaks (“pheron”), shawls and salwar kameez. It is a type of needlework embroidery and done using imitation gold or silver thread.