In recent decades, the popularisation of mass production of plastic and glass beads, plastic sequins and mirrors as well as polyester yarn went hand in hand with the popularisation of embroidery. It was once reserved for the richest, but today embroidered work has become affordable for everyone.

Embroidered clothes in haute couture have always been considered chic. Since 2013 embroidery has found its way into commercial Western fashion. In 2016, designers even offer entire collections with embroidery fashion. This trend perfectly fits into the do-it-yourself wave, the ongoing individualization and the countertrend to fast pace and volatility. The German women’s magazine Brigitte even considers knitting to be the “latest retro trend“. For several years, embroidery machines with the latest computer technology that can embroider complicated drawings on cloth are in vogue – but they do not reach the personal charm of handmade embroidery.

In India, embroidery is still for the most part a patient, traditional handcraft. Each region uses its special colours, embroidery stitches, fabrics and designs. Here we present four interesting Indian embroidery techniques:


The Zardosi technique is considered to be the most opulent embroidery art of India. In the late 16th century, it was brought to North India by the moguls. The word Zarosi is derived from the Persian words Zar (gold) and Dozi (embroidery). Zardosi is also known as metal embroidery, because there are metal threads – made of gold and silver – embroidered in intricate patterns by highly elaborate cross stitches on silk or velvet fabrics. Even today real gold threads are still being used.

Traditionally, Zardosi is done preponderantly by men. Zardosi embroidery can be found on clothes of rulers and the rich, on wall hangings, tents, blankets and bedspreads. An additional embellishment can be done by embroidering real pearls and precious stones.

Today, this noble clothing is worn by the general population – at least when it comes to their own wedding or when it is cheaper, golden coloured yarn.

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The style of Toda embroidery is unmistakable. It is practised by the women of the Toda people, a tribe native to the south-eastern part of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Some sources assume it originated from the people of Greece because the embroidery of the Todas is similar to Greek patterns. This embroidery is an ancient tribal art of the people from the Nilgiri Mountains. Their fine, ornamental embroidery craft is called Pulgur – flower. Special features of their art are that they work without embroidery frames and that the embroidery pattern looks equally beautiful on both sides of the fabric so it can be worn on either side. The community, not much more than 1,000 people, is living in close touch with nature. Especially hand-woven scarves, which are worn by the Toda as long capes (Poothkuli) are embroidered by them. The technique is a darning stitch. Because of this, the scarf can be worn on both sides. An important motive for the Toda people is the water buffalo, their most sacred animal. In addition to geometric shapes, they stylise the sun, the moon, the stars and the eye of the peacock feather in their embroidery work. The colours red and black on white cotton fabric are mostly applied. The patterns are inspired by the tattoos that Toda men and women traditionally wear.


What makes the Kasuti technique special is that the embroidery looks equally beautiful on both sides of the fabric. This is achieved because the needleworkers do not use knots in their embroidery work. Their stitches are called Ganti (a double running stitch), Murgi (a zigzag stitch), Neyge (a running stitch) and Menthe (a cross-stitch). Kasuti originates from the southwestern Indian state of Karnataka and shows off with its highly complex patterns. When Sujatha Rao began teaching embroidery techniques about twenty years ago, Kasuti was threatened to “disappear”, to “be entirely forgotten”. She is pleased that the ethnic embroidery art was rediscovered a few years ago and is having a comeback these days.


Kutch is Sujantha Rao’s favorite embroidery technique. This art originates from the Kutch district in the north-western Indian state of Gujarath and was then spread by the moguls. The basic patterns are squares that form ornaments. Around them, flowers, animals or other designs are usually embroidered in freestyle technique. Kutch consists of only four stitches: fishbone stitch, chain stitch, stem stitch and daisy stitch. First, a grid is embroidered, then an entanglement. The South Indian embroidery master Rao loves this technique. She says the way of working with the thread has something magical. The result, a calm imprinted pattern, affects the eye like a cure, says Rao.


In Sri Lanka embroidery has been practised for centuries, especially for the royal families and temples. Ostentatious embroidery from hand spun cotton threads decorate some “Betel bags”, also called “Kurapayiya”, traditional pouches in Sri Lanka. Also, neckerchiefs, caps, jackets and pillows are embroidered by hand with delicate objects such as flowers, elephants and peacocks. Popular techniques are the cross-stitch or fishbone stitch and silk ribbon embroidery.