The Embroidered Mirrors of Gujarat

Northwestern India is home to unique textiles that charm with their chromatic vibrance and their surfaces covered in tiny mirrors. Suf and Kharek, Paako Bharat, Megn Wal embroideries and the Rajput Sodha communities, fabrics by Rabari of Jamnagar, etc. All of these names sounds like exotic enchantments of distant lands.
They refer, though, to a variety of embroidery styles produced in the region of Gujarat, bordering Pakistan, that is generally grouped under the categories Kutch and Abla embroideries. These needlework techniques are practiced exclusively by women. They combine a large number of iridescent materials, gathering multicolored silk threads (rose, green, indigo, deep carmine), and adding peals and mirrors on a canvas or muslin base.
These textile works are very popular in the region, destined for quotidian use. They embellish the tunics and saris of women as well as bags and shoes, and also work their way into interior decoration as curtains and bed linens. In the Hindu and Muslim communities in Gujarat, embroidered banners called able torana and shish torana are hung over the entrances of homes to protect the foyers against malevolent spirits and the evil eye.
The application of decorative mirrors called shisha is a technique originating in present-day Iran under the Mughal empire, before arriving in India in the 16th century. Initially women attached silver coins or minerals such as mica before moving on to blown glass handcut into small circles.
Today, embroiders make use of industrially produced glass mirrors of all sizes, cut by machine and placed on silver supports. The embroiders then affix these via needlepoint onto cotton supports, making notable use of the buttonhole stitch technique. The craftsmanship is passed from mothers to daughters, who learn from an early age how to compose their marriage trousseau. To see these shiny fabrics rich with bright accents plunges one into the diversity of local folk traditions alive and well in the lives of each embroiderer. For these women, embroidery remains a means of expression in and of itself, a way of affirming identity through festive decoration and freedom through color associations.