Growing up in the Northern part of India, colour was an integral part of my life. Yellow draped mustard fields swayed in early summer winds; spring brought in trees laden heavily with flowers of colors so vibrant, we could spend hours looking at them, as we rode our bicycles through verdant gardens that were such a common part of our small town life. Those were simple times, when recession and lay-offs were unheard of, and women sang as they sat together, embroidering rich dreams into simple fabrics. And no embroidery was as colourful as Phulkari, a Punjabi embroidery technique, which literally means flower working. Using darn stitch on the wrong side of coarse cotton cloth with colored silken thread, Punjabi women sat creating intricate, alluring patterns inspired by nature and daily life.
Over a decade later, Phulkari has not only stood the test of time, but seems to be thriving. Especially in the ‘Darjiya Wali Gali’ (Tailors’ Lane) in old Patiala, Phulkari has found its connoisseurs as buyers from across the world flock to own a piece of this coveted Indian Art. My last visit to Punjab saw me walk through a colour-filled wonderland, where beautiful shawls, scarves, tunics, and shoes brought back fond memories of a time when all was right with the world. The original hand-made Phulkari is now rare, and comes for a price. But with colours that last for years, and exotic patterns that appeal to Indian and off-shore buyers alike, it’s an investment worth making. A well-made Phulkari scarf or a tunic keeps the compliments flowing in after several repeat outings. The patterns have now been modernized, but I prefer the old, classic designs. For those who find the traditional colours too bright, there are now softer pastels available.
If a visit to India is not on the cards anytime soon, online shops are a good option. Many online suppliers offer a variety of colour and pattern options suited for Western tastes. With its warm colours, and striking patterns, Phulkari makes a lasting impression. Much like the country of its origin – rooted in tradition, but with modern sensibilities.