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Embroidery Techniques: The True Luxury of Indian Couture

Gone are the days of logo loyalty. Today’s fashion consumer is taking the time to understand India’s heritage and expertise in traditional embroideries, many of which are ancient and lesser heard of. We explore some such techniques and the designers working with these delicate threads, who are also taking them to international waters

JADE by Monica & Karishma hand embroidered lehenga

A Summer Memoir by JADE by Monica & Karishma


India is associated prominently with culture, vivacity and vibrancy. But when it comes to fashion, it is certainly the embroidery that stands out. The timeline can be traced back to every region, seeped in its own unique culture, that introduced its own embroidery technique to the world. From the graceful Chikankari of Lucknow to the flamboyant Pipli of Odisha or the understated elegance of Kaudi work of Karnataka, India’s every nook and corner teems with its extraordinary embroidery work.

Cities like Surat, Mumbai, Bareilly have long been known as the hubs of embroidery manufacturing units – big and small, where karigars or artisans work tirelessly on a single section of an outfit, perhaps a bridal gown or an evening designer dress, for hours together, weaving shiny crystals and sequins which will eventually become a showstopper runway piece.

…the timeless symphony of colors and patterns brought about by the meticulous, lengthy process of embroidery making is irreplaceable. That, indeed, is luxury in every sense of the word. 

Saroj jalan hand embroidered lehenga

Saroj Jalan hand embroidered lehenga


Indian embroidery is an art form that has taken years of dedication and practice from artisans and their families. Drawing inspiration from nature and the diverse culture, the motifs and design are a reflection of India’s deep-rooted heritage. In a world of ephemeral fast fashion where millennials and Gen-Z are looking for instant gratification, especially with their apparel, the timeless symphony of colors and patterns brought about by the meticulous, lengthy process of embroidery making is irreplaceable. That, indeed, is luxury in every sense of the word.

While we may appreciate the visual attractiveness of a dazzling bridal saree or an ethnic skirt, the intricacies behind it are lesser understood by most consumers in India. Even then, Indian designers have been creating impressive work and leaving a mark on the international fashion world by employing the timeless embroidery techniques which are so unique to the country.

Dilnaz Karbhary hand embroidered dress

A Dilnaz Karbhary creation


Choosing the right embroidery

Given the myriad embroideries and of course the fabrics, as a layman or as consumers on the other side of the shopping window, we would often wonder how a designer chooses which embroidery goes on which fabric.

The question was answered by the designer duo Monica & Karishma of JADE By MK, known for their colorful lehengas and sarees that have garnered attention from celebrities across the country. “We spend a lot of time at the drawing table thinking of not just the concept and inspiration behind a collection but also the technicalities.”

While the audience in India is quite familiar with the intricacies of embroideries, international audiences too, are very drawn to the detailing and the ‘Indianness’ of these crafts.

JADE by Monica & Karishma hand embroidered lehenga

A Summer Memoir by JADE by Monica & Karishma


Their recent bridal couture collection ‘A Summer Memoir’ coincided with their store opening in Los Angeles and New Delhi. The ensemble showcases handcrafted techniques like Ek Taar, or ‘one-wire’, which is practiced using a single strand of thin metal like gold or silver and is usually combined with crystals or beads. ‘Kalash’ or ‘Panchdhaatu’ uses five metals while Ombre, as the name suggests, brings out different shades of the same color through fabric or even embellishments. JADE’s signature technique is Tone on Tone, mastered over the course of 12 years, that is an interplay between fabric and embroidery belonging to one color palette.

“Ek Taar is a technique that’s so rich, intricate and laborious, but the result is always nothing short of a work of art. In our Ombre ensembles, we use embellishments like crystals and sequins to create this surreal effect, which is quite stunning to wear and witness!” expand the designer duo.

saroj jalan hand embroidered lehenga

A Saroj Jalan creation


Kolkata-based designer Saroj Jalan has been in the bridal couture industry for more than two decades and is known for working with various rural artisans specialising in hand embroidery. Asking about her creative process, she answers, “Creative process as a designer involves a lot of steps that we work in. Taking our inspirations, and ideations in place, line drawing on them to get the basic idea and then finally working on the line drawing that would best suit a woman of today. Inspiration is everywhere, everything that we see around. Majorly I am inspired a lot by paintings of Raja Ravi Verma, S.H. Raza and Alphonso Mucha – like in our SS21 collection Indu. We merge Indian embroideries and techniques with our inspirations and create patterns and designs which are unique yet traditional and modern.”

Regional Influences: Embroidery as storytelling 

From tribal areas in the recesses of the forests that gave rise to the floral applique work or the peacocks and dancer motifs born from caravans in the deserts of India, embroidery is one of the most intricate and oldest forms of storytelling in India. Regional culture and history can be truly understood by looking at embroidery patterns. The Kutch embroidery, for instance, that can be traced back to 16th century among the migrating community of Kutch in the state of Gujarat, is heavily influenced by their daily lives. It comprises geometric designs, colorful patterns, animals and bird motifs, bought alive through mirror embellishments.

Dilnaz Karbhary hand embroidered lehenga

Dilnaz Karbhary hand embroidered lehengas


The Baluchari sarees, originated in the Bishnupur province of West Bengal, are famous for intricate, embroidered depictions from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The saree patterns reflect ancient temple architecture as well. Designers today, too, try to tell a story using myriad of embroidery techniques. Mumbai-based couturier Dilnaz Karbhary’s unique designs reflect her Parsi ancestry. “My designs have a lot of Persian embroidery, Parsi Gara and Zardosi. The white parsi style blouse with pearls is a classic Dilnaz and reminds me of my grandmother.”

Ms. Jalan shares that her favorite embroidery is Kantha, one of the oldest and simplest forms of embroidery techniques found in the eastern side of India. Popular among tourists and mostly used for making quilts, Kantha embroidery’s most common motifs are lotus and butterfly.

JADE by Monica & Karishma hand embroidered lehenga

A Summer Memoir by JADE by Monica & Karishma


Monica and Karishma share, “We understand that every collection is an opportunity to bring Indian techniques to the forefront, so we take our time with understanding which techniques will work best with the fabrics and silhouettes we have in mind, and also the role they play in telling the story of the collection.”

The Evolution of Embroidery

The uniqueness of embroidery techniques are the defining element of Indian fashion and apparel industry. However, these techniques also transcend time and geographical boundaries. With versatility at its core, embroideries are used extensively by designers not only for traditional couture but also western wear. Ms. Karbhary’s 1920s style dress collection ‘Eyes On You’ brings together classic techniques that culminate into Gatsby-esque glamour. “There is a lot of texturing in my embroidery. The beaded bodycon dresses make a clean, bold statement. The artisans have a lot of experience but they have evolved as well-using 3D and digital printing techniques. Cutting sequins into different shapes, they can bring a picture to life.”

Dilnaz Karbhary hand embroidered gown

Eyes on You collection by Dilnaz Karbhary


Embroidery is, undoubtedly, one of the most important sectors for India and the organization has allowed the country to establish export houses across the country that supply handwoven fabrics to the Middle East, UK, Indonesia to name a few. 

Even for bridal couture, these techniques can be used to create captivating, contemporary designs. Ms. Jalan shares, “The beauty of hand embroidery techniques is it being the same over the ages and you still need to make something new depending on the trends and modern day Indian bride. We often try using different materials but still, the dabka, bullion work and tikki work remains a classic in Saroj Jalan garments.” Dabka work, originating from Rajasthan, is an intricate needle and thread technique usually seen on silk or chiffon. Bullion stitch, a sinuous technique, is a special kind of stitch used for embroidering flower petals.

While the audience in India is quite familiar with the intricacies of embroideries, international audiences too, are very drawn to the detailing and the ‘Indianness’ of these crafts. Since JADE by Monica & Karishma recently expanded their borders outside of India in Los Angeles, they shared their thoughts on the response of international audiences to Indian craftsmanship, “The response has been phenomenal! We’ve always had a niche of international brides, but we’re finally able to bring the real offline JADE experience to them. Brides abroad seek pieces that honour their roots and heritage, while also capturing their global essence. As a label, that is something we have always been doing, so it’s great to be able to cater to brides abroad in a more holistic way.”

JADE by Monica & Karishma hand embroidered lehenga

A Summer Memoir by JADE by Monica & Karishma


The Future of Indian Embroidery Techniques

Indian hand embroidery techniques are no less than a treasure. Bequeathed from one generation of artisans to another, the art of hand embroidery techniques in India might be taking a backseat because of lack of resources to train more artisans, and of course, the increasing use of machine embroidery and digital printing. Embroidery sector in India needs a power upgrade since Indian couture’s distinctive feature is its craftsmanship, which is not just appreciated globally, but India is a hub for buying handwoven and hand embroidered fabrics for the biggest international maisons. Apparel industry has been one of the hardest hit because of the pandemic. As the demand for designer wear dropped and uncertainty loomed over, Indian ateliers found it harder and harder to support their artisans.

The positive sign is that in the post-pandemic era, more and more people are gradually moving towards hand-embroidered apparel given its uniqueness and superior quality. Embroidery has limitless possibilities. It works for apparel, accessories, western wear, Indian wear, womenswear as well as menswear. Embroidery is, undoubtedly, one of the most important sectors for India and the organization has allowed the country to establish export houses across the country that supply handwoven fabrics to the Middle East, UK, Indonesia to name a few.

Dilnaz Karbhary hand embroidered dress

A Dilnaz Karbhary hand embroidered dress


While Indian designers are doing their best to preserve the craft and foster karigars or the artisans, it is not enough for commercial growth, especially in the post-pandemic world. Better supply chain management and encouragement to the more scattered, smaller embroidery manufacturing units in the remote regions of the country can definitely push the sector, and more importantly, the craftsmen towards brighter days of better recognition.

The true luxury of Indian couture lies in its spectacular embroidery where the smallest of beads, pearls and crystals, are woven tightly and intricately together in threads of gold and silver to form the most exquisite painting by a needle. With Indian embroideries finally getting acknowledgement, recognition and support from various international organisations, it won’t be long before Indian fashion brands starts demanding a larger piece of the international fashion market, as compared to being just a supplier.

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