The Vibrant Lambani Embroidery Art

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Explore a gallery of Lambani embroidery art from Karnataka, India

Lambani Embroidery: Homes around Hampi, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
Amongst all the nomadic tribes of India, it is the Lambanis who have probably retained the most elaborate outfits of all. Almost all these communities moved from Central Asia through Afghanistan or Kashmir into Rajasthan, Gujarat and the South of India, and have shed some aspects of their clothing for convenience, when moving about among more diverse societies. 
Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
Lambani embroidery uses a total of fourteen types of stitches, namely - Kilan, Vele, Bakkya, Maki, Suryakanti Maki, Kans, Tera Dora, Kaudi, Relo, Gadri, Bhuriya, Pote, Jollya and Nakra. Most of the stitches follow a geometric pattern like squares, circles, triangles, rectangles, diagonal and parallel lines. When many lines of different stitches are arrayed together, the fabric becomes a festive array of colours and designs on its surface!
Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A detail of Lambani embroidery showing a variety of stitches used for creating straight lines for broad borders or edgings.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A detail of another piece that serves as a sampler for young Lambani girls who are learning to embroider from their mothers or choosing layout patterns for their work.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Interestingly, Lambani embroidery also uses smocking stitch styles, usually used in Europe on children’s dresses.

Here is a detail of a strip of textile that would be used to make a bag or skirt.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Additionally, beads, small cowrie shells and even low denomination coins are held together in a garland of stitches that embellish the edges of a piece.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Detail of a Lambani embroidery piece in thread and mirror work that has a border made of white metal beads and 25p coins (quarter of a rupee or approximately 1/65th of a dollar).

The coins cost them almost 300% more to buy in the market as they are almost out of use.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Detail of a Lambani embroidery piece which shows the closeness of the stitches, the variety of coloured threads used, and the style of allowing the stitches and lines to waver rather than maintain regimented straight lines.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Lines and patterns on any large Lambani embroidery piece can change at whim according to the imagination, skill and fancy of the woman embroidering it.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Some portions of embroidered Lambani textiles are so encrusted with embroidery that the underling textile cannot be seen.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Mirror work is a decoration shared by many communities in India, that are now settled but at one time were itinerant.

This small square textile piece serves as a sampler of motifs, showing ways of embedding mirrors into Lambani embroidery.

These are used by a group when deciding the patterning for a larger piece of work or for young girls as a design sample.

Lambani Embroidery: Homes around Hampi, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A typical traditional artifact made by Lambani women is this elaborate headdress with a thick circular piece embedded in it.

The circular piece serves as a pot rest when they carry vessels of water on their heads.

Lambani Embroidery: Embroidery as a commmunity practice, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The head cover that is also a pot rest shows the care taken in embroidering a simple item of utility.

Mirrors, a variety of coloured threads and stitches bordered with cowrie shells, all make the task of carrying a heavy water pot on a Lambani woman’s head an act of pride.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

While the grandmother shows off an old collection of cowrie tassles that are embellishments for skirt strings, her young granddaughter settles down nearby to finish her lunch.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The elongated tassles made of cowrie shells made by Lambani women for personal use, are tied to show them off well below the waist band of a skirt.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
Designs for a contemporary market
Today, the Lambanis have geared their output more towards the contemporary market and have begun to create a vast range of items including bed sheets, cushion covers, bags, pouches, dupattas, table covers, wall hangings and smaller articles like spectacle cases, mobile phone covers and even styled ready-to-wear garments. Their work is loved by those who are attracted to exotic, vivid colours and hand made designs.
Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A Lambani wall hanging which is sold as a gift item showing their great quality of work. A judicious juxtaposition of stitches and mirrors make the entire piece stand out.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Detail of the wall hanging shows the intricacy, fineness and an attractive randomness in how the designs have been placed.

The base cloth dyed in madder red is the most preferred colour for their work.

Lambani Embroidery: Embroidery as a commmunity practice, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A table top mat in Lambani embroidery follows a simple geometric pattern with bold rather than fine stitches, large mirrors and a border of cowrie shells, a favourite embellishment of the Lambani community.

Lambani Embroidery: Embroidery as a commmunity practice, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Fringed with woollen tassles, a small round piece of Lambani embroidery can be used as a coaster or a simple piece of décor.

These are made by younger girls when they are first initiated into the traditional skill.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Detail of a wall hanging; a very fine piece of embroidery that shows every stitch style and technique in Lambani embroidery.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

It shows the use of embellishments like tassles, cowries and buttons. This piece won the UNESCO Seal of Excellence award.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A closer detail of the little squares that make up the patchwork of the award-winning Lambani embroidery.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Each piece of Lambani embroidery is unique to itself and is never replicated unless it is for a multiple order of small commercial pieces rather than show pieces as in this detail.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A detail of one of the corners of the award-winning Lambani piece showing the patterns within wavy lines changing after short distances, mirrors of different sizes being used, and a bold dramatic edging in contrast to the central squares which are in lighter, gentler colours.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Another unique piece of Lambani embroidery in a more subtle, contemporary colour combination.

Lambani Embroidery: Activities in Sandur Kushala Kala Kendra, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Design interventions to suit the production of a larger number of commercially viable products have helped Lambani women simplify their designs and make everyday articles as fashion accessories.

They ensure the presence of some part of their signature styles such as cowrie shells, tassles and mirrors.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The Lambani identity is firmly stamped on this contemporary sling purse sold at craft bazars and at the Lambani store in Sandur.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Motley Lambani stitches and layouts seem pieced together in this contemporary bag that is designed to serve as an exotic fashion accessory.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Small sling purses are also made in the Lambani work place to suit contemporary colour preferences, which often means toning down reds and blues and working out colour ways in softer shades. However, Lamabani embroidery still retains its identity by using tassles and
cowrie shells for clasps.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Pouch bags are popular in the Indian market, especially for evening wear. Lambani embroidery in the traditional deep red or indigo blues with mirrors or cowries make them dressier and more attractive.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A heritage hotel in Hampi shows off the local skills of its local Lambani women by using their embroideries in its interior décor.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

An embroidered Lambani piece displayed in the heritage hotel in Hampi as wall art.

Lambani Embroidery: Products and stitches, 2018, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Read more about the Lambanis and their colourful embroidery traditions here:

- Nomad embroideries flourish amidst stone
- Lambani’s coloured homes and embroideries
- Creating rhythms with needle and thread

Dastkari Haat Samiti
Credits: Story

Text: Jaya Jaitly
Photography: Chirodeep Chaudhuri
Artisans: Sandur Kushala Kala Kendra
Ground Facilitator: Ankit Kumar Singh
Documentary Video: Chirodeep Chaudhuri
Curation: Aradhana Nagpal

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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