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 Embroidery is “thread art” used to embellish clothing, furnishing or some other product by adding a sewn pattern

History of Hand Embroidery 

Archaeological research indicates embroidery was practiced before painting as an art work in this world. It is believed embroidery originated in Egypt or Babylonia (today’s Iraq) and then spread to Europe with the spread of Christianity.

History of Embroidery in Europe

In Europe, embroidery flourished under the patronage of Christianity. The Church and its Clergy commissioned a lot of embroidery articles. The Royals adopted these embroideries for their ceremonial and everyday clothing. Over a period of time,different techniques of embroidery developed in Europe. Europeans imported embroidered fabric from Persia, China, India and Japan from 17th Century CE up to 19th Century CE. Embroidered fabric was used as curtains, as coverings for furniture and in clothing.

Tapestry embroidery, Broderie Anglaise, Madeira work, Black Thread work and White thread work are some of the prominent embroidery techniques developed in Europe. Shadow work, Applique work and Smocking were the other techniques.

Weather in Europe contributed to preserving things under the ground due to which European archaeological finds of embroidery material samples are more. The Bayeux Tapestry embroidery is considered the best oldest surviving embroidery in europe.


Embroidery in India

India has a hand embroidery history of more than 4000years. Tropical weather of India combined with flooding and drought does not help in preserving materials used by our ancestors. Hence very few archaeological finds are available. Archaeological finds that indicate embroidery was practiced from the times of the Indus Valley Civilization are:

  • Embroidery needles  found in the remains of Rakhigarhi in present day Haryana dates to the Indus Valley Civilisation(2600BCE – 1900BCE)
  • Depiction of embroidery on garments in statues of gods found from ancient remains.
  • Depiction of embroidery on paintings in Ajanta – Ellora caves.


Kamaladevi Chattopadyay mentions in her book, Origin and Development of Embroidery in Our Land (India), Margi Publications, that, embroidery has existed since 3000 BC. Embroideries are mentioned in the Vedas and the epics, and seen in Buddhist stupas and sculptures, Kushana sculptures and frescos of Ajanta. The art reflects local tradition, and each region developed its own distinctive styles.

Tapestry embroidery, flat embroidery, embroidery with gold thread embellishments, applique embroidery, shadow embroidery are some of the embroidery techniques prevalent in India.

Some embroidery traditions practiced in India are Aari, Zardozi, Amlikar, Sozni, Kashida, Phulkari, Chamba Rumal, Embroideries of Rajasthan, Embroideries of Gujarat, Chikankari, Sujani, Kantha, Pipli, Banjara, Kasuti and Toda.

Embroidery practiced in Europe, Persian region and Asia can be broadly divided into 4 main categories. Each category of embroidery comprises of more sub categories.

  • Applique embroidery
  • Plain Embroidery
  • Tapestry embroidery
  • White work embroidery

Applique Embroidery

Appliques are fabric pieces cut to shape. Appliques are stitched on a base fabric to form decorative designs.  Applique is fixed to base fabric by use of embroidery stitches. Applique embroidery is practiced as part of flat embroidery in Europe. In India, Pipli embroidery of Odisha uses applique embroidery as an independent art. In the embroideries of Bihar, Rajasthan and Gujarat, along with applique embroidery, reverse applique embroidery is practised.




Plain Embroidery

Various embroidery stitches are worked with needle and thread on fabric base to create decorative designs.  This is the basic technique of embroidery. When embroidery is mentioned, it is presumed ‘embroidery’ refers to Plain / Flat embroidery.This technique is common practice in Europe. Tambour embroidery, flat embroidery and bead/sequin embroidery are part of this category.

Plain / Flat embroidery is practiced in India in the states of Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, parts of Maharashtra, parts of Madhya Pradesh, parts of Andhra Pradesh, parts of Karnataka.


Tapestry Embroidery

Embroidery worked in a variety of stitches on fabric to resemble woven tapestries Hand embroidered Tapestry is also known as Needle Tapestry work. Themes are pictorial depiction of scenes from religious or everyday life or mythology. Use of colour imitates colours in the subject’s natural state.

Tapestry embroidery is made in 2 ways:

  • On canvas fabric
  • On woven fabric

Embroidered Tapestry on canvas fabric

Embroidery is made to imitate woven tapestry. Woven tapestries were made for use as wall hangings, bags. Multi coloured embroidery threads were used to embroider the pictures drawn on canvas. The pictures were embroidered first by using different types of stitches. Later, background was covered with a single type of embroidery stitch. The canvas fabric would not be visible after completion of embroidery. This technique was a common practice in Europe. Below are examples from MET Museum, Newyork.





On woven fabric

Embroidery is made on areas of pictures drawn on fabric surface. Back-ground fabric is not embroidered. This is a common practice in Indian, Chinese and Japanese Embroidered Tapestry.


Whitework Embroidery

This embroidery is made with white thread on white fabric. Fabric with very light colours such as cream, ecru, off-white, light brown may be used. The thread colour is always White. In some parts of Europe, white thread embroidery is made on bright coloured fabric. (E.g... Red). White work embroidery is practiced in Europe, China and India.