Zardozi is metal embroidery done on fabrics to enhance their appeal. In earlier times, when it was easily available, gold or silver threads were used. Today, with prohibitive costs and limited availability, it is done with a combination of copper wire coated with gold or silver colour and a silk thread.
Sarees and Salwar Kameez are fabrics that have been traditionally adorned with zari work in zardozi either in the motifs and patterns or as a visually heightening feature on the pallu in various forms. Wedding sarees are said to be incomplete without zardozi appearing in some way or the other.
Zardosi work is done by using a wooden framework on which the fabric to be embroidered is stretched. Skilled craftsmen sit around the ‘addaa’ or wooden framework with tools like curved hooks, needles, gold or gold coated wires, metal pieces in different shapes like stars, spangles, sequins, beads and glass pieces and threads called dabkaa and kasab.
The design is traced on cloth like satin, velvet or silk before the work is begun. Needles and hooks are used to pull out each element in the design and then this design is stitched or integrated into the main fabric.
A painstaking effort of a day or several days, the skill is extraordinary making it seem as one with the fabric. It is a test of skill and patience, where the mental satisfaction of completing a design flawlessly, is the reward for the effort. It means much more than the monetary returns, which many a time, does not compensate for the effort put in.
Some centres in India famous for Zardozi work are Lucknow, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kashmir and Ajmer, with almost each centre specializing in its own brand of zardozi.
The Saree is traditional attire adopted by most states in India, though the weaving styles, patterns, deisgns incorporated and the wearing methods may alter slightly from region to region. Zardozi has been used on fabrics since long but the heightened or accentuated effect is most visible on a saree, since it has a big canvas to display.
Interestingly, the Lucknow variety of Zardozi acquired GI status for its Lucknowi brand of Zardozi which legally permits only Lucknow and its surrounding six districts alone to affix the Lucknow Zardozi label for their brand of traditional Zardosi work.
Not only would it curb imitation, but would also allow better product differentiation. The morale of the artisans of the region has been boosted for them to continue the display of their skills since now they would find an assured market for their fine wares. This could also be a trend-setter for some of the other Zardozi centres in India to try and get GI status for their own brands of Zardosi.
Nowadays newer applications of zardozi are being attempted by fashion designers, with dazzling effects.
Some innovative incorporations of the Zardozi effect on certain saree creations may be pictured.
A Georgette Saree having floral patterns with broad borders, brilliant designs embroidered in Zardozi on it. A grand affair, it would serve well for grand weddings, exclusive parties or similar occasions. A Saree with floral zari thread embroidery work and a zardosi patch work border, with designer pallu (end-piece) is a trendy outfit, extremely stylish and opulent, creating a sensation. It finds favour as party wear or special invites.
This traditional art will continue to flourish and woo the market, as long as fashion designers and the fashion conscious public think alike in deeming it a necessary inclusion on large canvases such as the saree or salwar kameez. May society at large continue to encourage and support the efforts of ethnic craftsman in their devoted efforts in upholding this fine and unique tradition.