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Beetle wings and rubies


alt (Photo:marieaustralia.com)

Blood-red rubies studded on pure zari embroidery, aari chain stitch so minute, you need a magnifying glass to capture its intricate beauty, and beetle wings affixed delicately to silk, which harks back to the Mughal period. Each of Asif Shaikh’s 20 garments — created to celebrate his 25th year in the field of embroidery — encapsulate technique and inspiration.

The collection, which was also a tribute to his late mother, was showcased last month at CEPT, Ahmedabad, during Archiprix 2017. However, Shaikh is not one to rest on his laurels. He is already busy at work, embroidering panels inspired by Mughal miniature paintings — to create wall art and installations — for his upcoming art show at William Siegal Gallery, Santa Fe, in July. This is the first time that an art show on Indian embroidery will be held in the US.

Where skill matters

An interior designer by training, Shaikh is a master embroiderer, revivalist and craft exponent, besides the founder of the CDS Art Foundation. However, it is his passion for all forms of embroidery that sets him apart. “I dream of embroidery and then translate it on to fabrics,” says the 49-year-old, for whom skill with the needle and thread trumps even design and silhouette as the crowning glory of a garment.

Being an embroiderer makes it easy for him to experiment with it. It is this understanding that has helped him recreate the Kha Kha stitch, or the Forbidden Stitch — a rare technique that was part of the Parsi Gara saris made in China (for the Indian market) in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Emperor of China had forbidden its use in embroidery, hence the name.

Shaikh created a simpler version, which looks similar to the original, but does not harm the artisan’s eyes with its intricacy. Another invention he has been working on for the last several years is the re-design of the karchob or scroll frame. “The Mughals brought the karchob to India, and it has been used as is since then. I have re-designed it, making it simpler to tie and use. It is being patented now,” explains Shaikh.

Aari connect

Shaikh’s work recalls an older, more gracious time, when the quality of craftsmanship was uppermost. “I am old-fashioned. I have the time and patience to create something fine. It is a time-consuming process, but I am neither in a hurry nor greedy to cut corners,” he says. His latest collection is inspired by the Mughal period, especially its architecture, textiles and paintings.

“I’ve used aari embroidery in my new collection — chain stitch worked on the karchob, zardozi and marodi worked on karchob. The colours include white, off-white, beige and cream, while the embroidery is executed using gold, silver and pastel colours,” he shares, adding that he has experimented with Benarasi brocade, Tanchoi, Chanderi, Maheshwari, and net from Varanasi.

Go for gold

One of the standout pieces is the ruby-and-aath maasi (pure zari) work. The use of real gold threads is common in weaving, but almost never used in embroidery. Shaikh worked with a craftsman in Varanasi to create the fine gold thread. “I sat with him, testing the thickness using a magnifying glass, till I got the quality I wanted,” he says.

The use of real gemstones in garments is also a Mughal tradition. “I’ve used beetle wings from Thailand on a garment. The Nizams of Hyderabad used this in their Bandobast embroidery. I’ve re-created it,” adds Shaikh. Staying true to his belief that “if we lose our craft, we lose our culture”, other experimentations include handwoven Pashmina embroidered with Pashmina yarn (which has never been attempted for marodi embroidery), and a similar piece with ahimsa silk.Read more at:short formal dresses


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