Zaib R Mir
History of sewing is very old. People of stone age started to sew leather dresses with thread made of animal nerve fibers, catgut and arteries and veins. As the time passed sewing has evolved as an art. Embroidery reflects historical linkage and cultural heritage of a society.
Embroidery and decorative needle and thread art has been running in the blood of Gilgit Baltistan women for centuries. A mother trains her daughter about the traditions and culture. Learning sewing and embroidery is one of essential part of this training. Unique motifs and geometric design of embroidery are distinctive features of the needle and thread art of the mountainous region of Gilgit Baltistan and chitral. The embroidery of this mountainous region is mainly based on cross-stitch and Qalami style. There is not enough historical and archeological evidence to trace the exact origin of the embroidery of Gilgit Baltistan. According to some historian cross stich was originated in ancient china during T’ang dynasty between 7th and 9th century. The type of counted cross stitch embroidery was present in rural china till 20th century.
The embroidery design and motifs has an influence old embroidery from central asia, Iran turkey and countries from present eastern Europe. Geomatric pattern of crossstich embroidery from Ukraine and Serbia is still has some similarities to the motifs of Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral. There is slight regional variations in designs and color combination in different area of Gilgit Baltistan. Embroidery is an important part of bridal dress in the region. Wedding dress of the bride consists of various embroidered items. Over time many items have gradualy disappeared and many new objects have been added to the traditional items.
Traditional cap is one of the essential items in traditional bridal dress of Gilgit Baltistan. Colourful cap of a bride is most eye catching and elegant. The most common cap worn by a bride is finely embroidered iraghi cap.It take around 2-3 months to prepare a fine iraghi cap. Traditionally bright color embroidery is used on iraghi cap. Beautiful geometrical motifs are embroidered on these caps. In olden days iraghi cap was used mostly by brides of high economic status . Those who could not afford iraghi cap, simple plain cap were part of bridal dress. The piece of silver jewelry attached in front of the cap makes it more beautiful. Embroidered .
Traditional bridal headband or surband and veil
In the old days surband and veil was an essential part of the bridal dress. The word surband is derived from the Persian word serband (headband) It is a finely embroidered head band which is wrapped around brides head and is attached to wedding veil. The head band is embroidered on a cotton cloth with silk thread. Embroidered tassels with a colorful strings is attached to both ends of the head band. The tradition of using embroidered headband was also part of traditional or folk dress in central Asia, Turkey, Ukraine and Serbia. The veil is knitted using crochet. The veil is attached to the surband or headband and it covers the face. The traditional beautiful surband and veil are gradually disappearing.
Embroidered purse and valet
An embroidered hand made purse use to be part of traditional bridal dress and dowry items. In modern time embroidered ladies wallet has been added to this. Purse and wallets of contemporary designs are easily available in local handicrafts shop. It is good to see innovation in the designs of these valuable traditional items. The embroidery on the purse and wallet are consist of classical geometric style motifs.
Finely embroidered ribbon and lace is on cuffs, collars, neck, and trousers give a beautiful look to the bridal dress. Embroidery is done with silk thread on cotton cloth, which is later attached to the bride’s dress. Bright colors are used for embroidery and usually it is attached to white color dress. This makes the bride dress very elegant and eye catching.
Cuff or in local language cup (fold) is another embroidered band which is buttoned or attached to the trousers above the ankle. As you see in the picture this use to be a very fine embroidered item. It takes almost a month to embody a single cup. In recent times girls prefer to attach narrow laces and ribbon instead of cupp. Because of time consumed and high price and value this valuable item is also disappearing.
Traditional cup (attached above ankles )
Embroidered coat or jacket
Embroidered coat or jacket is an extremely valuable item. The time and energy spent to make this embroidered coat is enormous. Beautiful geometric motifs are embroidered on this eye elegant coat.
This is anothercontemporary trend. Shoe covers are embroidered with beautiful design.
Khaltia or sumadani
Khaltia or sumadai is a small purse, which was used to keep surma or eye kohl for bride in the past. This was attached in front of brides shirt with a small piece of silver or any other jewel called chahma. With the availability of modern make up boxes this beautiful piece of art is also disappearing.
Needle case and scissors and comb case
Socks and gloves
Beautiful hand knitted gloves and socks were essential part of bridal dress. The use of home made gloves and socks is gradually also reducing.
Beautiful bedshhets, pillow covers, frames are relatively new trends. Now these are the most widley used gifts for brides. Cross stich and Qalami bed room sets are easily available . The artisan prefer to embroider thses item because of high demand and relatively better financial benefit. Family members and relatives gift these items to the bride.
Beautiful designs of cushions, table covers and sofa covers are also new trend. Beautiful design and lighter color combination are very popular.
In summery Gilgit Baltistan has a very rich cultural history. Unfortunately some of our Decorative needle and thread art is becoming extinct. It is the need of the time to preserve this cultural heritage and transfer it to our future generations, otherwise we will loose our identity slowly and gradually.
Zaib R Mir is a needle and thread artist and Artisan from Gilgit Baltistan who presently lives in Muscat Oman. She works to promote and preserve the cultural heritage of Gilgit Baltistan, For details please visit zaibs art and craft facebook.com. )