Phulkari Embroidery: Origin, Types and Techniques

Last Updated on 31/12/2020

Phulkari Embroidery: Origin, Types and Techniques
(A type of Indian Traditional Embroidery)

R.S. Balakumar
Associate Professor
Dept of Fashion Design & Arts
Hindustan University, Chennai, India


Phulkari, needlework of Punjab, is the most exclusive and matchless in its beauty and the embroidery technique especially used in the state of punjab. It means flower craft, as is derived from the word phul and kari. Phulkaris refer to simple and sparsely embroidered shawls or dupattas and the all over, densely embroidered ones known as baghs.

Phulkari Embroidery
Fig: Phulkari Embroidery

Origin of Phulkari:
The exact origin of phulkari is not known. One theory is based on the fact that as it was mostly worn by jat women, it came from Central Asia along with jat tribes who came to India as migrants. Another theory believes that it came to India from Iran, where it is known as gulkari.

However, both these theories do not hold good as phulkari is practiced and worn by all the people of Punjab from early 19th century. It is considered as a symbol of suhag and therefore forms a very important part of a bride’s trousseau.

Techniques of Phulkari Embroidery:
Now, let’s explore the manufacturing process of phulkari.

Phulkari utilized khaddar/khadi as the base fabric. This base fabric was available in three varieties, such as khaddar, which was loosely spun and coarsely woven; chaunsa khaddar, a comparatively better variety; and halwan, a light weight and finely woven khadi fabric. The average size of the phulkari and bagh is about 230 x 138 cm.

Soft and untwisted floss silk yarn, known as pat, is used. Earlier, strands were imported from China and were dyed by a dyer, that is, lalari using vegetable dyes. Sometimes, cotton and woolen threads were used.

Various shades of red color are mostly used for the base fabric because of the sense of auspiciousness attached with this color. Other popular colors are blue and its various shades. White is used for elderly ladies. Embroidery is done with the use of colors, such as golden yellow, crimson, orange, blue, violet, green, dark brown, and white. The beauty of phulkari is enhanced by using shiny silk thread that produces an illusion of more than one shade of the color.

The main stitch used in phulkari is the darning stitch and the geometrical designs embroidered with this stitch form the basis of phulkari. At times, other than geometrical designs are also embroidered and become stylized because the darning stitch is worked in straight lines. Other stitches, such as chain, stem, blanket, running, herringbone, and buttonhole, are used occasionally.

You may also like: Overview of Zardozi Embroidery in India

The designs are neither drawn nor traced. They are the products of the imagination and creativity of embroiders and become stylized because the darning stitch is worked in straight lines. A large number of motif designs are inspired by the lives and surroundings of people, which are as follows:

  • Vegetables, such as Karelabagh and Gobhibagh
  • Gardens, such as Shalimar bagh and Char bagh
  • Flowers, such as Gendabagh and Surajmukhibagh
  • Birds and animals, such as Tota, Mor, Hathi, Gai, and Bakri
  • Jewelry items, such as Guluband, Ranihaar, Kangan, Karan phool, Jhumkas, and Tikka

Wheat and barley stalks were a favorite motif. A small area was embroidered in black or navy blue as nazarbutis to ward off the evil eye.

Long and short darning stitches are created in straight lines by counting the threads to follow the pattern, using a ling needle of about 3 inches with a ling eye. Embroidery is always done from the back side of the fabric placing all the floats at the front side and small dots at the back side of the fabric.

Types of Phulkaris:
The phulkaris have been given different names according to the designs embroidered, colors of the base fabric, threads used, and its usage. The various types of phulkaris are:

Chope is a wedding phulkari, which is presented to the bride by her maternal grandmother and is worn during the Chura ceremony of the marriage. It is largest in size and is embroidered only on red colored cloth. The thread is of golden yellow color with one or two motifs in green toward off the evil eye. Chope has big triangles with their base towards the selvedges and small triangles in between the big ones in the opposite direction. Each triangle is filled with different geometrical patterns. The two ends are not embroidered, symbolizing limitless prosperity for the bride after marriage.

This phulkari is worn during the pheras of the marriage ceremony. This is in red color and is embroidered with five floral motifs in each corner and five in the center.

This is a shawl in plain red khaddar, meant for daily use. It has floral Buti embroidered at a distance in the field of the shawl.

This is a cheap shawl embroidered with small dots all over the field. These were presented to servants on auspicious occasions.

Panchranga / Satranga: This phulkari is embroidered using geometrical designs in 5 to 7 colors.

This phulkari uses navy blue as the base color with geometrical motifs embroidered in white floss giving an impression of silken mirror, that is, reshmusheesha.

Sheeshedar phulkari:
This phulkari is adorned with small mirrors attached using buttonhole stitch. The base color is red or brown embroidered with yellow or blue thread.

This pulkari is made on blue base fabric as per its name. Small flowers are embroidered with yellow and red silken thread.

This phulkari has a lotus in the center with birds and animals in the field depicting the universe.

Types of Baghs
The various types of baghs are:

This particular bagh is embroidered by the grandmother and presented to the bride of the grandson at the time of the marriage. It is done on red base with golden yellow thread as it symbolized happiness and fertility. The field is covered with small lozenges with each one having another lozenge.

Ghunghatbagh / Sarpallu:
This bagh has only the sides and the portion covering the head embroidered with large triangular motifs in one color.

This is a unique kind of bagh having the field divided in 52 squares. Each square has different geometrical motif.

These are made to gift at religious places. It has an architectural design done on red base. The design consists of tall gates with pointed roof and the center of the gates had motifs of humans, animals, birds, and flowers.

Earlier only shawls or dupattas were embroidered with phulkari, but now a days, the embroidery is done on ladies’ suits and kurtis also.

Present Day Status
As this art is difficult and time consuming, it is not in practice these days in original form except very few phulkari and bagh pieces, which can be seen and bought from state emporiums and places, such as Surajkund Mela and DilliHaat. Phulkari motifs are embroidered on all types of fabrics, such as terry voile, chiffons etc. Machine embroidered imitations of the motifs are also made.

This type of embroidery work requires more patience and artisan skill enhancements needed. Present students are undergoing the fashion design subject in their degree level program, should be studied surface ornamentation is one of their subject and phulkari embroidery is also to be studied. Most of the phulkari embroidery designs are very much attracted by the international buyers and so the creativity of new designs are being made by the fashion design students of the present generation to earn sufficient monetary benefit.

Books for reference:

  • Traditional Embroidery of India- Book.
  • Fashion Design -Book.

More articles published by same author:

  1. Drafting and Cutting Techniques of Dartless Saree Blouse
  2. Drafting Details of Katori Blouse Step by Step
  3. Viva Questions and Answers for Fashion Design Students and Professionals
  4. Different Types of Traditional Dress in India
  5. Madurai Sungudi Cotton Sarees – Present Trend
  6. Chettinad Cotton Sarees in Tamilnadu – An Overview
  7. Mangalagiri Sarees and Fabrics – An Overview

Share this Article!

Leave a Comment