Kathiawar, which took its name from the Kathis, shows a strongly folk element in its embroidery. Kathiawar is very rich in embroidered goods since the art is used for decorating even the humblest home. The toran, or valance, that graces the doorway and offers a welcome to the visitor, is only a foretaste of what one finds on entering the house. Sometimes the embroidery at Kathiawar does not stop at the top of the door but extends down the two sides to form a complete and beautifully decorated doorway. Kathiawar Embroidery is an important part of the Indian Hand Embroidery Art.
Inside the house, small square and rectangular pieces of hand embroidery designs decorate the furniture and hang on walls. The chaklas come with the bride’s trousseau wrapped in them and are later used to hang on walls. The bhitiya, a wall hanging, becomes especially ornamental by being made up of a combination of Kathiawar embroidered pieces. All these combine to produce a colourful sparkling interior bringing beauty and grace into the humblest home and the most humdrum life.
The embroidery of Kathaiwar has been traditionally done by women at home and depicts the exploits of Gods and men along with much loved animals, birds and flowers. Scenes of rural life hold a mirror to the activities of the people of the area.
The Kathiawar embroidery designs are hand-drawn on cotton cloth and are worked with silk floss (heer). The embroidery is done in long stitches, use being made of tiny mirror to give glitter to the centre of flowers or eyes of animals and birds.
Various influences have been brought into Kathiawar embroidery. In the 19th century, the mochi embroiderers employed by the Kathis brought in a new sophistication but, as happened in the art of painting all over India, the craftsmen used the motifs dear to the hearts of their patrons while using their own techniques. The ari-work chain stitch of the mochis was also combined with the decorative needle-work stitches of the Kathis to produce a whole new range of stitches and designs.
Another synthesis took place when the Mahajans, the merchants of the Southern and Western districts of Kathiawar, who produced work of geometric ornamentation with mirrors, began to employ mochis to embroider for them. This, along with influences absorbed from Europeans and Parsees, diluted the austerity of the original Mahajan design and produced work that was an amalgam of styles. The rural workers themselves absorbed new influences, copying the floral designs of the mochis. The long stitches done in silk floss covering the entire surface of the base material bears a strong resemblance to the bagh and phulkari of the Punjab.
Very elementary devices are used to create maximum effect. A square is divided by two diagonal lines creating four triangles. A single mirror is placed at the point where the apexes of the triangles meet. The long stitches are placed vertically and horizontally in each alternating triangle to create a rippling effect of light and shade without changing either material or stitch.
This technique is used to maximum effect in the quilts known as gudari. The layers of material, usually white, are held together with tiny black running stitches placed in rows over the whole surface. Bold embroidered motifs of birds, animals, deities, plants and flowers are skillfully spaced so that their rich colored threads and glittering mirrors form the perfect counterpoint to the black stitches and the white material of the background.
A variation of the embroidered quilt is the one in which the surface material is printed and the design is produced by sewing four or five plain bands of different colored material around the edges. The tiny stitches in one of the colors of the print which cover the fabric, depress and raise it enough to relieve it from the ordinariness of mere printing.
Apart from the long stitch the Kathis use the chain stitch also. The interlacing stitch is also used though rather sparingly. Patchwork is another favourite. Pieces of silk and gold brocade and fabric ornamented by the tie and dye process are used to give beautiful variegated hues to the finished products. Different animals, humans and landscapes are created by cutting the pieces and putting them together to create the desired pattern— a garden in bloom, a mythological story or a hunting scene. This Kathiawar embroidery work is done on white ground, the applique being in different coloured cotton cloth, the patterned materials being used to depict decorative details. Large square panels of material are sometimes fretted in formal designs through which the white of the base material shows to advantage. Applique is used for articles such as festival hangings, covers of carriages and back clothes of animals. Mirrors are often used to enhance the effect of the applique.
Whether the animals are real of mythological—the gajasinha (half elephant half lion), the kinnara (half fish, half elephant)— and whether the scene shows humans or Gods, a striking feature of Kathiawar embroidery is the movement with which each figure is imbued. One can almost see the wheels of the chariot turn as the horse pulls it forward. Singers sing, dancers dance, devotees worship, horses gallop and elephants move at a brisk pace. Even in pieces where the drawing is elementary and closely resembles the drawing done by primitive man in caves, the sense of movement is never lost. Nothing is ever static and the work is always full of life and vigour.