When I was 7 years old, I watched my mom hand-embroider Halloween costumes for my older sisters and me for weeks on end, starting in early September and finishing right before October 31st. Every day after work she would sit down at the dinner table, pull out her needles and get to work, whistling to herself and looking up at me smiling, then back down to the fairy princess costumes in front of her. One year, while she was working on the costumes, I asked her why she did this every year, and she would wink at me and say, “because my daughters are one-of-a-kind.” Then I would just blush and kiss her on the cheek.
Fourteen years later and my mom no longer embroiders - work got the best of her, my sisters and I got older, and her extracurriculars, if you will, just started to fade out. That made me upset; I wanted to know why she stopped and, better yet, why she started in the first place. One Christmas while visiting home, I turned to her and said that for Christmas I wanted an embroidered bag, done by her. She looked at me with the most bewildered expression and asked, “Where did that come from?” Her response made me beyond uncomfortable; I felt like I was trying to pry myself in on a piece of my mom that she had no interest in sharing. She smiled again and suddenly I could hear my dad laugh in the background and say, while dripping sarcasm, “You owe me ten bucks. I knew they would come asking about how to embroider one day, It’s all the rage according to Vogue, didn’t you know?” My mom just rolled her eyes at my dad and started to explain what he meant.
My mother’s family is from India, which is part of her heritage that she and her mother rarely explored, however her grandfather made sure to keep certain customs intact in their American household. Some of that meant perfume-making, some meant cooking, but my mom’s favorite was embroidery. My grandmother was taught by her father, and she in turn passed it down to my mom. My family is full of creatives – graphic designers, cartoonists, event planners – so it didn’t surprise me that my mom had such a skill, but what surprised me most was her love for the technique and how it connected her to a part of her DNA that she didn’t know much about.
While growing up in India, my great-grandfather learned “the craft of two hands,” due to its important status symbol that the stitched clothing represented. It is a skill that takes hard work, patience, and dedication, and is always unique in that it is an expression of the embroiderers themselves. My grandmother once told me that my great-grandfather always styled his designs after animals and nature, due to his love for his pet elephant. She said that “each stitch meant something different and represented a singular part of [an individual's] personality.”
Embroidery has crossed oceans and began to grow in popularity all over the world, and in the fashion world, it is quickly making a comeback. From larger brands like Marc Jacobs to smaller boutiques, embroidery is being seen on everything from shoes and bags to pants and skirts. These styles have been shown on runways for the past few seasons and will continue for years to come. But for the people of Indian cultures, the mass awareness of the embroidery technique represents the acknowledgement and appreciation of their devoted art form.
Embroidery is much more than just a way of designing clothing, it is an art. From Chikankari to Kashidakari, the Indian embroidery types vary both in appearance and technique, each showing boasting a unique style and aesthetic. Since India is such a fusion of cultures, the crafts and the artistry have become some of the most cherished. So when my mom asked if I wanted her to teach me how to embroider, I jumped at the chance to learn. Now, let’s just see if I am patient enough to learn.
Author: Aubrey Rojas