When the Needle and Thread Meet the Fabric

A look at the range of Kani Sozni embroidered shawls from Kashmir

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Sozni Embroidery: Incomplete shawl of master craftsmen Ali Mohammad Beigh (2017-09) by Ali Mohammad BeighDastkari Haat Samiti

Kani Sozni Embroidery

Kani is a type of weaving carried out originally in a small village outside of Srinagar, called Kanihama. Sozni is a form of an embroidery technique. Revival of a little known technique of heavy emboss-like embroidery is like the overall richly woven kani shawl. Hence, the name 'Kani Sozni' to define it from the rest.

Sozni Embroidery: In process (2017-09)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Craftsman Shabir Ali Beigh says that the needle is their all-powerful tool towards economic success, as also an expression of their dedication and talent.

He says they had to practice a certain movement of holding the needle and passing it through the cloth for six months before they perfected the stitch.

Today, he can fit 500 stitches per square centimetre of a cloth.

Sozni Embroidery: Embroidery in process (2017-10-07)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The base fabric is usually completely covered with fine needlework.

Sozni Embroidery: In process (2017-09)Dastkari Haat Samiti

This is when needle meets thread. The design to be embroidered is block printed to guide the embroiderer, who will choose the colour-ways to be used for this shawl.

Sozni Embroidery: Shawl with Kani Sozni embroidery in process (2017-09)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The embroiderer describes this regulated pattern of flowers, leaves and berries as duffe daar kani sozni.

Sozni Embroidery: Detail of masterpiece shawl showing the finesse of Kani weaving (2017-09)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Embroidering The Fabric

The painstaking and highly skilled work of weaving made the Kashmir shawl world famous. Unique to the Kashmiri shawl was its woven tapestry-like design, which was produced with the use of the kani, a small bobbin carrying coloured yarn, in place of the shuttle for the weft thread. Two or three weavers, sitting together at the loom, would use multiple kanis, interlacing the coloured weft threads through the warp ends to produce intricate patterns according to the instructions given by an ustad or the master weaver.

Sozni Embroidery: In process (2017-09) by Mahboob Ali BeighDastkari Haat Samiti

Embroiderers had to practice a certain movement of holding the needle and passing it through the cloth for six months before they perfected the stitch.

Sozni Embroidery: Embroidery in process (2017-10-04)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Today, masters can fit 500 stitches per square centimetre of a cloth. The base fabric is usually completely covered with fine needle work.

Sozni Embroidery: Detail of Kani Sozni embroidery on a shawl (2017-09)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Another version of a pond daar kani sozni shawl shows a combination of pastels surrounded and highlighted in black threads.

Sozni Embroidery: Detail (2017-09) by Ali Mohammad BeighDastkari Haat Samiti

Posh kaar kani sozni is the Kashmiri name identifying the design on this shawl. Posh means flower, indicating that this is a flower-bedecked design.

Sozni Embroidery: Detail (2017-09) by Ghulam Mohammad BeighDastkari Haat Samiti

A badam or almond is the Kashmiri word used for what is commonly identified as a paisley shape. In other parts of India, it is also described as ambi, or mango-shaped.

Zand badam posh kaar, the name of this design, describes a horn-shaped structure extending out of an almond and surrounded by flower.

Sozni Embroidery: Detail (2017-09) by Ali Mohammad BeighDastkari Haat Samiti

The Beginnings

Needlework in the Kashmir region was initially limited to joinery, with the rafoogar, or professional darner attached to weaver’s workshops, stitching together pieces of woven fabric to make a larger piece. They even adeptly repaired torn pieces. One charming story goes that long ago, a bird walked over a plain shawl drying on the ground, leaving its prints along it. A fascinated darner decided to trace these prints over with his needle and thread, inspiring patterned embroidery as an alternative to the woven shawl in Kashmir.

Sozni Embroidery: A contemporary shawl made using Shikargah design in Kani sozni (2017-09)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A somewhat folk-ish interpretation of the formal shikargah or hunting scene usually executed on carpets and in papier machie art.

Sozni Embroidery: Detail (2017-09) by Ali Mohammad BeighDastkari Haat Samiti

The kani shawl in autumn colours has 24 flowers in one block.

Sozni Embroidery: Detail (2017-09) by Ali Mohammad BeighDastkari Haat Samiti

The 24 poshal kani sozni is a fine example of how closely the threads are embroidered, not leaving even a tiny space of the pashmina cloth at the base until the last six inches or so.

Sozni Embroidery: Masterpiece shawl with Kani Sozni embroidery (2017-09) by Ghulam Hasan BeighDastkari Haat Samiti

The gently curving lines enclosing small motifs, closely clustered together, is described as melon shaped kani sozni, since the rounded sections appear to be in the shape of a melon.

Sozni Embroidery: Masterpiece shawl with Kani Sozni embroidery (2017-09) by Ghulam Hasan BeighDastkari Haat Samiti

This kharboz daar design is executed in almost monochromatic colours which, amazingly, will contain anything from 18 to 24 different shades of thread.

Sozni Embroidery: Detail (2017-09) by Ali Mohammad BeighDastkari Haat Samiti

Sozni Embellished Shawls

Needlework for embroidery, as embellishment for plain woven shawls, possibly emerged as a substitute for the highly taxed woven patterned shawl, which was in high demand in the European market. By the time of the Mughals, under whom there was a flourishing shawl trade, there were two main types of Kashmir shawl: the kanikar or woven patterned shawl, and the amlikar or embroidered shawl. The craft of fine needle work came to be known as Sozni.  

Sozni Embroidery: A masterpiece shawl with Kani Sozni (2017-09) by Abdul Hamid BeighDastkari Haat Samiti

This kani shawl is called the pond daar sozni because you see small coin shaped flowers that make up the overall design.

The inspiration comes from special coins, called pond, that are given to the bride at her wedding.

Sozni Embroidery: A masterpiece shawl with Kani Sozni (2017-09) by Abdul Hamid BeighDastkari Haat Samiti

This is an example of a carefully selected and matched set of monochromatic, gently merging with pale colours.

Sozni Embroidery: Shawls on display (2017-09)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The recently completed prize collection of kani sozni shawls hung out casually to be displayed.

They are embroidered by the Beigh family who introduced the name ‘kani sozni’ to indicate a combination of kani (a type of weaving) and sozni (a generic name for embroidery) to the lexicon of hand work in Kashmir.

Sozni Embroidery: New Items (2017-09)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The Beigh family is also willing to experiment with simpler scarves and mufflers for tourists who come to Kashmir to play at the lush green golf courses.

The golfers are shown amidst standard trellis motifs.

Sozni Embroidery: New Items (2017-09)Dastkari Haat Samiti

More childish experiments, like images of penguins and babies, are meant for easy sales. These are for customers who do not look for elaborate embroidery, but just want a small soft pashmina and embroidery souvenir from Kashmir for their children.

Sozni Embroidery: New Items (2017-09)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Kashmiri youth are very fond of sports and follow all the state, national and international matches, particularly in football and cricket.

These computer-accessed images were used as designs to embroider a small pashmina muffler for men.

Jammu & Kashmir's Sozni embroidery (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

See more of how Sozni embroidery is done in Srinagar.

Stole Stole by Shabir Ali Beigh, Mehboob Ali Beigh & Ghulam Mohammad BeighDastkari Haat Samiti

Read more about the art of Kani Sozni here:
- Laying the Standards
- The Process

The Environment
Credits: Story

Text: Jaya Jaitly
Photography: Suleiman Merchant
Artisans: Shabir Ali Beigh and family
Ground Facilitator: Charu Verma
Video Documentation: Suleiman Merchant
Curation: Ruchira Verma

Cinematic Video:
- Director: Jyoti Neggi
- Production: Studio Gola

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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