Phulkari: The Silken Hues

Phulkari, which literally translates into ‘flower work’, has a history etched in the culture of Punjab. Spun from the charkha this spectacular style of embroidery is patterned on odinis, shawals, kurtis and chunris. The main characteristics of Phulkari embroidery are the use of darn stitch on the wrong side of cloth with colored silken thread. The phulkari is an art of embriodery as well as the creation itself is also called the phulkari. Mostly duppattas ( huge stoles) are embroidered with the phulkari stitch. However anything from bags to cushion covers can bring a spark of colour with this unique craft. A face of fashion that finds its first mentions in Punjabi folklore of the romantic protagonists Heer and Ranjha, Phulkari is a dream weaver for every Punjabi girl.


Phulkari, creation of flowers, is one of the most colourful and vibrant embroideries of India. Practiced in the state of Punjab, it has its origins in the fifteenth century. Its history and origin varies from person to person due to lack of evidences and documentation. The origin of this beautiful art can be traced back to the 15th century AD. Some people said that phulkari was made in the famous love story of Heer-Ranjha written by Waris Shah (1725 -1790), Heer has many costume included phulkari articles too from this it is quite obvious that, phulkari an article customarily presented to the girl during her wedding. Some have opinon that this craft migrated from Persian art, where an embroidery from ‘Gulkari’ having similar literal meaning, ‘gul’ means flower and ‘kari’ means work, which did resemble phulkari, there is another theory which did resemble phulkari.

One more theory which discloses that the jat tribes of east Punjab, basically peasants migrated from central Asia, are the pioneers of this craft this was the strongest theory to which I came around during my research these jat also carried these craft in other states of India like Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujrat.

Many ancient articals of phulkari were rumal, kerchief embroidered somewhere during fifteenth century by sister of sikh guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji.. At the end of the 15th century, the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak, wrote: “Thou art not a worthwhile woman until thou hast embroidered thy own blouse”. Village women still practice the craft, also stitching bed and cushion covers and a variety of other cloths, but the art probably reached its zenith in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Designs and Patterns

There is an extensive pattern of designs used in phulkari. Every possible representation of life and nature find expression therein. Though it began with geometrical patterns, flowers and leaves, today, the designs have been enlarged to encompass birds, animals, human figures, the sun, moon, the objects of everyday use and everything found on the earth. Then, there is a special bagh design called dhoop-chhaon (sun-shade), which is extremely popular in the state. However, no religious subjects or darbar scenes are embroidered. Some of the most famous varieties of phulkaris and baghs have been listed below.

1. Chope: This variety is usually presented to the bride by her grandmother, during a ceremony before the wedding. It has straight, two-sided line stitch and appears the same on the reverse. However, only the border is embroidered and the center is left plain. It is usually red in color and worn as a veil.

2. Vari-da-bagh: This is also done on a red cloth. It is covered with lozenge golden yellow embroidery, with smaller ones within the border.

3. Darshan dwar: This is usually used for presentation in temples or for adorning the walls of home, when the Granth Sahib is brought therein. It is also done on a red cloth with the motifs of arched gates facing design of humans, animals, birds, flowers etc.

4. Chamba: This includes a series of wavy creepers, stylized leaves and flowers and is highly in vogue recently.

5. Ghunghat bagh or sari-pallau: It is usually the pallu and the portion that covers the head. The pallu and the head portion contain a triangular embroidered part and rest of the cloth is embroidered on borders only.

6. Bawan Bagh: Bawan means fifty two, it is a style that consists of various geometrical designs embroidered on one single piece of cloth.

7. Suber: Suber is a piece of cloth that is worn by the bride in the wedding while taking the feras around the Guru Granth Sahib or the sacred fire. The cloth has five motifs embroidered one in center and the other four on each of the corners.

8. Satrangi: A seven color phulkari.

9. Thirma: The distinguishing feature of thirma is its white khaddar that is a symbol of purity. Because of its white color, it was often worn by elderly women and widows. The color of threads used for embroidery range from red to pink.

10. Sainchi Phulkari: Village life of Punjab was depicted in sainchi phulkari and this style was restricted to very few areas of Punjab such as Firozpur and Bhatinda districts. The pattern used to range from local animals, farmers, wrestlers, weaver to trains and other means of transport.

The Stitch:

It is a form of traditional art where it is done in simple designs with long and short darn stitches. The shorter the stitch is the finer it looks. The art of Phulkari lies in the manipulation of patterns, colors and the length of stitches. Phulkari is done by making artistic small-darn stitch over the cloth. The stitches are made on the reverse side of a coarse cotton cloth, with colored silk threads. Smaller stitches are finer, delicate and have an awesome look. Only one single strand is used at one time. The stitches are done vertically, horizontally and even diagonally, to create special effect of light and shade.

The Thread:

In early days the silk thread used in embroidery was brought from Afghanistan, China and other parts of India like Kashmir and Bengal. The thread is made of silk which is called “patt” in Punjabi.

The Colors:

The bright colors are always preferred when it comes to Phulkari because it refers to flowers and garden. The main colors used are Yellow, red, green, orange, pink and blue. The most interesting part of phulkari is that, no different shades are used for shading purpose; rather it’s done with the horizontal, diagonal and vertical stitches. The shiny thread reflects different shades in different directions.

The fabric:

In early days the cloth used for phulkari was basically cotton and khadi which was home-spun and dyed. The tough cloth was appropriate to work without frame and was easy to maintain. The base cloth is homespun, locally woven and dyed khadi. Such a base is strong, long lasting and cheap and at the same time, facilitates much needed counting of threads while stitching. Besides, it can be easily worked on without a frame and the cloth does not puckers or pulls. Colors like white, dark blue, black and brown are generally used for the base cloth, but the most preferred color is red. The fabric itself is used as an inner decoration so that the pattern sewn on it becomes more distinct and attractive. The finished portion of the embroidery is rolled and covered with a muslin cloth, to keep the embroidered part clean while working.

Today a variety of fabric is used in this traditional embroidery. The dupattas can vary from chiffon, Georgette and crepe. Phulkari work has spread its fabric from Odinis to full-length suits. The time is not far when we will see it being used on curtains as an essential part of the interiors industry. The rural crafts industry could see Phulkari developing as a trend in designing handicrafts and ornaments as well.