Kashmir is a valley of colors, be it the blissful spring blossoms and sprouts, the bright and beautiful colors of summer, the brazen autumnal hues or the white snowy crown, it never fails to mesmerize the eye. Inspired by these seasonal beauties are the traditional kasabs (skills) of Kashmir. Among my favorites is the gorgeous aari kaem or aari kari as is popularly known. Bold, colorful patterns of floral vines and paisleys among other motifs, the neat spread of aari kaem transforms a simple rag to a masterpiece.
Legend has it that a Raffoogar (darner) named Alibaba lived in the valley of Kashmir. He was proficient in his job of stitching and mending torn clothes and spent his days doing countless stitches and bringing dead clothes to life. One day a fowl stepped on a drying white cloth lying around while he was working. The imprints of fowl’s feet caught Alibaba’s attention and he wanted to preserve this natural print that was left behind. He picked up a needle with a colored thread and stitched around the print, preserving it for lifetime. An all-new technique of embellishing the fabric, which was later known by the name of Kashida Kaem (Kashmiri embroideries) was thus invented.
Aari Kaem is a fascinating hook art done in silk, cotton and woolen threads. The hook needle used in aari kaem is the ‘aer’ and while maintaining the same quality, hook work covers a much larger area than needle work in the same amount of time. Typically done on suits and shawls Aari kaem works its colorful charm on a plain drape and inspires in it a lively ethnic appeal. Aari is different from other embroideries as the hook used in this is worked from beneath the cloth unlike the other embroideries wherein the work starts from the top. This movement creates loops and repetition of these loops creates the beautiful stitch pattern in striking colors and patterns.
Crewel Work is a variant of Aari Kari done exactly in the same hook work technique; the only difference is that the hook needle used in Crewel is thicker, locally known as awl. Another difference is the thread used in crewel or chain stitch; it is generally a much thicker thread of either wool or silk to get that bold embellishing effect. Crewel or chain stitch embroidery is usually done in upholstery and drapery fabrics, like curtains, cushion covers, and on accessories like bags and clutches.
Crewel or Chain Stitch is sometimes synonymously used. But there is a slight variation in the two. While Crewel work is a more spread out embroidery on the fabric with patches of the background fabric showing a little here and there, there is absolutely no fabric patch visible in the Chain Stitch. Chain Stitch is a more closely worked on embroidery type in comparison to the Crewel, while both use a white cloth as working fabric.
Crewel got its name from wool which is the yarn being used for the crewel embroidery.Some resources also reveal that the name crewel was derived from the word “Krua” or “Clew” which means a ball of yarn. There are different beliefs about Crewel embroidery getting its name but all the sources reveal that it has something to do with yarn. The art was introduced in 12th century in Kashmir patronized later by the Mughal Courts. The crewel embroidery in earlier times was done only with wool and the fabric used was linen but later on many other yarns like silk and fabrics like cotton and wool were involved in the crewel embroidery.
Production The crewel embroidery and the chain stitch is done in the embossed pattern in mostly floral designs. The white colored fabric is used traditionally for this embroidery. The fabric is first washed and ironed to get an even surface on the fabric and also to avoid any shrinkage in future. The design for embroidery needs to be printed on the fabric before starting any hook work. The design is screen printed on the fabric and many other stencil printing techniques are also developed. The temporary printing on the fabric can also be done with a pricking method where the dotted outline is formed by pricking through the design printed on the paper. Once the design is fixed, the crewel embroidery is carried out from centre to the outline to form velvet like finish. The frame or hoop is the prime requirement for this kind of embroidery as it tightens the fabric.
Kashmiri Aari Kaem like many other arts has been inspired by the beauty of Kashmir. Classic motifs like booen (chinar), badum (paisley), yambarzal (hyacinth, narcissus), daenposh (pomegrante), pamposh (lotus), sosan (iris), dachh (grapevine) are among the most popular and frequently used motifs to date. These motifs are generally popular for suits, shawls and curtains while rugs, wall hangings are embellished with abstract forms of animals, mystical birds, jungle scenes (jungle tarah) in addition to these floral patterns.
Various embroidery patterns are used in aar embroidery. In aari embroidered suits, naaldar (neck pattern), tharidar (floral vine pattern), jaame (full embroidery) and bootidar (small florets) pattern are popular. A single sided embroidery pattern is called Aksi, meaning reflection. When the same is done on both sides, it is called Dorukha, meaning two sided. Earlier only pastel shades were used in aari embroidery but now solid deep shades in bold patterns are the latest trend.
The craftsmen, both men and women sit in with their knees up and their back against a wall and the fabric spread on their knees. A thimble called Nyath is worn on the index finger of the right hand to protect it from the prick and to push the needle into the thick cloth. Families work together on shawls, rugs and other fabric and complete the work while humming the folk songs of Kashmir. It is a wonderful experience to watch them working in such dedication and gratefulness for the craft they have acquired, passed on from generations to generations, their hearts synced with the hooked loops!