Thursday, July 9, 2009

Brief History of Phool Patti Ka Kaam

“Phool Patti Ka Kaam” is a traditional embroidery style from North India. This delicate form of appliqué work was originally done using fine cotton fabrics. Phool Patti embroidery dates back to the Mughal period. It is said that in those days this work was embroidered on 'shalukas' worn by the begums of nawabs. The need for embellishment and the hot summer weather are said to have given birth to phool patti embroidery. ‘Patti-ka-kaam’, as it is commonly called, originates from Aligarh district of Uttar Pradesh in North India and is also referred to as “Aligarh work” sometimes. The embroidery form is typical of the state of Uttar Pradesh and the only other city in India where this embroidery is also practiced is Rampur, Uttar Pradesh.

As the name suggests, the embroidery motifs are in the shape of flower petals or leaves. “Phool” means “flower” and “Patti” means “leaf” in the local language spoken in the region. This textile decoration style consists of little bits of fine ‘mull’ fabric which are cut by hand and deftly folded and shaped into tiny petals, leaves and other geometrical and floral shapes. These are then embroidered onto the fabric to create a variety of intricate patterns. The entire embroidery is done by hand including the finish of edging and joining of the seams.

Being a peasant art form, the traditional inspiration is primarily from the natural surroundings. Floral motifs dominate the designs as artisans sought inspiration from the beauty of flowers, leaves and fruits such as rose, lotus, grapes, mango, melon seeds, grains, others. Some dominant motifs are five and three petal flowers, branches and stems with leaves, tendrils, creepers, paisleys, bunches of grapes and others. In keeping with the Islam traditions, human and animal figures are avoided.

Several thousands of women living in different parts of Aligarh are estimated to be involved in Phool Patti work currently. This work has remained the domain of women and girls from entrepreneurs, designers, trainers, patti karigars, workers, seamstresses as well as launderers. Men however have sometimes been involved in marketing and helping their artisan wives also, such as in cutting of the material. The patti karigars or embroiderers in Aligarh are often the poorest women in the city many are illiterate. Income from working with this craft provides a means of employment and wages in the security of their homes for many illiterate women from economically backward communities.

The group of artisans my mother worked with during the 1970s and early 80’s were mostly younger women and girls. Their mothers/guardians had, after due consideration to safety and other issues, given them permission to come to our house to work and learn. Most of them, as I recall, wore veils, usually black in colour called “burkha”. However, as soon as they were in Mamma’s work room they would take off the burkha to cool off the sweat under the fan. Their relationship with my mother went much beyond the work arena. They discussed their family, marriages, relationship problems and others which she listened with empathy and interest and also contributed through her advice and suggestions.

This delicate appliqué embroidery finds limited mention in the repertoire of Indian embroidery forms. Though much is written and researched bout other embroidery forms from India, including from North India such as chikan, a review of literature indicates a paucity of publications or articles on patti work embroidery or its artisans. Currently the Centre for continuing Adult Education at the Aligarh Muslim University, conducts a skills building project working with patti workers and has done a study on the profile including wage earnings of the artisans. The review for this publication could also only track one study at the Department of Home Science of the University which had researched with patti work and its artisans. Perhaps thus, though innovations are being explored by the AMU centre, among embroideries of India, as well as in designer palettes, Patti Ka Kaam has not managed to secure a significant position despite its unique characteristics. However, its thoughtful use can enhance an ensemble and take it from mundane to the extraordinary.

This photographic journey is an attempt to explore the background, examine different phool-patti shapes and their intricate designs, collate the experiments with embellishments and innovations, including on different garments and household linen of phool patti work. Though only a glimpse of Saleha Khan’s work with the women and girls from Aligarh, this publication is for those who might want to appreciate, collect, learn, promote, work or experiment with this special embroidery style of Phool Patti Ka Kaam.


  1. very elaborately mentioned..thanx a reeli helped me to study for ma xam.. nice wrk..

  2. Thank you Farah for a very interesting read and what a beautiful thought. Helping the less fortunate to help themselves with what they can contribute. Each item is unique as it is all done by hand. The next level is to reach out to a larger audience via the internet. Take a picture of each item, describe its use and dimension and post it in the web market space:
    All the best and good luck!

  3. Can u pls help with the contact details of the people doing patti work

  4. Hi.can u pls help me with contact details of persons doing Patti ka kaam

  5. Hi, can u please help me connent wity some artisans

  6. Hi Farah
    Can you connect me with some of your artisans

  7. Hey
    Can you please help me with contact details of the artisan

  8. can you please provide me the contact details of these person.who is doing embroidery work.