Needles and Threads: Disappearing forms of embroidery in Gilgit-Baltsitan

By Zaib R. Mir

Gilgit-Baltistan has a rich cultural hertiage. Embroidery and handicraft  is one form of the cultural and historical representation of Gilgit Baltistan. The embroidery of Gilgit Baltistan is historically influenced by the art from China, Iran and Central Asia because of its close ties with those areas for thousands of years. Because of many reasons this form of art was fading away from the area. Recently some local and international NGOs have worked hard to preserve this form of the art and to use it for the economic benefits of local people. KADO is one of those organizations who have worked hard to preserve this tradition n. I want to draw the attention to one form of embroidery, which is at the verge of extinction. Traditionally following  forms of embroidery have been popular throughout the history.

Type Embroidery popular in Gilgit-Baltistan are;

  1. Iraghi or Iraqi
  2. Qalmi or QALAMi
  3. Charsuti or dusuti
  4. Zardozi

Iraghi or Iraqi

In Hunza it is called iraghi and in Ghazer vally it is called Iraqi.

It is the traditional finest type of embroidery. In the past finest locally produced silk was used to embroide on a relatively thick  cotton cloth with tight but identifiable squares . A combination of cross and role stitch is used in this form.  It was traditionally used to embroide traditional women caps, laces to stitch on brides colors and sleeves, traditionally called Girwan bazori in Ghizer vally. This type of embroidery is really time-consuming. It takes months of hardwork to prepare a traditional irqi or iraghi cap. Because of this type of art is fading away.


(Iraghi or Iraqi)

Charsuti or doosuti.,

 In char sooti or doo sooti a loosely wiven cloth is used . The square is easily visible and it is comparatively easier and less time-consuming as compare to Iraqi or iraghi type. Mainly thick woolen thread is used in this type of embroidery. Which is comparatively much cheaper than the silk thread. This type of embroidery is more popular.


( Dossoti)

Qalmi or Qalami

 This type of embroidery is mainly done on  a white cotton cloth. Square are not needed on the cloth. The design traced with a pencil ( qalam means pen) . and then the embroidery is done on the traced design. This type of embroidery is done to make pillow covers, cushion covered sheet and romal or handkerchief. When qalami embroidery is done on both sides of fabrics it is called Do-Ruya and if it is on one side it is called Aik-Roya. This kind of embroidery is relatively easier.


(Qalami )


This kind of traditional embroidery is fading away from Gilgit Baltistan. It is almost impossible to find this kind of art and craft production Gilgit market or handicraft stores in Hunza. Basically Silver or golden thread, called Kalabatu or qalabatu is used in this kind of embroidery. This was used mainly to make traditional caps. This is the form of embroidery which has disappeared . because of lack of  economic interest, time consumption, lack of interest of new generation  and many other reasons. Hardly a few artisans  from our older generation are alive in Ghizar valley who can  tell and teach about this form . Urgent action is action is required to preserve this centuries old  form of embroidery of our are. I would request NGOS,  and people who are interested in preserving our thousands years old history and art to come forward to preserve  zardozi.

Zaib Mir is a thread and needles artist and artisan from Ishkoman vally.  Currently she lives in Muscat Oman.  Her major interest is to preserve and promote embroidery of Gilgit Baltistan. For Details visit Zaib Arts and Crafts 

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One Comment

  1. That’s a shame, if you take example of Iran with lifting of embargo, many people are going to turn millionaires with the lucrative business of rug manufacturing. It’s a niche market if done with deliberation, embroidery and Sharma can be equivalent to gold ,selling world wide at the end there is high price for hand manufactured items.

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