Flower Power

Passed on from one generation to another, a vibrant phulkari dupatta or odhni is what a Punjabi bride's trousseau is mostly packed in. Mine was carefully held together by a flaming red phulkari dupatta, that was once my mother's. "Wear it on special occasions, no safety pins and make sure you wrap it in mul-mul," was my mother's advice before she placed it in the bags I would carry to my new home. Phulkaris, as the embroidered dupattas are referred to, are indeed a prized possession in Sikh homes mainly because the hand embroidery is a dying art. Literally meaning 'art of flower', where 'phul' comes from the word flower, and 'kari' is the technique of embroidery, phulkari was made by the ladies in the village who would embroider elaborate pieces. In the 'bagh' style, it's hard to spot an inch of the base material. Over the years, it has, to use a cliche, been out of fashion limiting itself to a trousseau must-have even though traditional khadder (handspun cotton) has made way for softer chiffon.

"There are few craft clusters in Punjab that have been revived by the government but the finesse is missing. Also the new generation sees Phulkari as a thing of the past," says Sikh couturier and designer Sahiba J Singh. The Chandigarh-based designer has always admired the geometric designs of the embroidery and was looking for ways to contemporise it. "I first made a few suits that used phulkari in parts. For instance on the lapels, on cuffs, as a highlight, even on juttis and paired it with block prints," says Singh. The collection was well- received and Singh decided to "go with the flow". While her Spring-Summer 2012 collection saw phulkari panels on suits, tunics and dupattas, she's now working on an exclusive menswear line with phulkari. "Usually phulkari denotes all over embroidery for women. I have used patterns of it on shirts, jackets and salwars for men for Autumn-Winter 2012," explains Singh who has been booked for orders already.

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