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Manpreet is a phulkari artist based in the small town of Patti near Tarn Taran in Amritsar district in Punjab.  After completing her schooling and college studies, she saw how difficult it was to find gainful employment that paid more than Rs. 3,000/4,000 (£30-40) per month in the local area. Her financial situation encouraged her to consider other options of earning an income. She noted how much competition there was within the boutique sector and decided that the best option would be to set up a business based on her creative skills. Since 2015 she and a few other phulkari artists have been running an embroidery business in Patti called Parveen Phulkari House.

Phulkari, which is translated as ‘floral work’, encompasses a range of designs that include geometrical shapes, flowers and other motifs in bold and contrasting colours of thread.  Manpreet speaks about phulkari’s auspicious and iconic status in Punjab: ‘Phulkari is popularly viewed as being authentic. That’s why phulkari can be found at auspicious occasions in Punjab. There is a strong bond between Punjabi culture and phulkari.’ Textile art  is associated with life-course events, and embroidered shawls and dupattas (scarves) are used for adornment in customs and rituals at engagements, weddings and other celebrations.

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Typically made by women within the context of the home,  Manpreet learned about the art of phulkari from her mother and grandmother. However, when Manpreet began to consider setting up a phulkari business, she realised that handmade phulkari was a dying form while machine-made phulkari had captured the market. She comments:

‘Younger generations of women are not interested in making phulkari. The tradition is being forgotten…Things that are made by hand have their own quality. I think that cannot be found anywhere. Machine embroidery is done in ten days, but the embroidery that we do takes six months to a year to complete. If anyone gives you a phulkari as a gift to wear, it has lots of blessings and emotions attached to it.’

In an effort to revive and preserve handmade phulkari, Parveen Phulkari House runs workshops twice a year that are free for attendees who are awarded certificates from Punjab Agriculture University. The workshops are run in different kinds of places, such as someone’s home and a school during vacation periods. They also offer the attendees the opportunity to work with Parveen Phulkari House after having the training or they can proceed to set up their own businesses. The main interest is to share the knowledge and experience of phulkari embroidery so that its legacy can be continued. As Manpreet says, the challenge is to restore the value for phulkari: ‘If we don’t keep phulkari alive by not making them, wearing them or buying them, then one day it will be extinct’.

Watch podcast of Manpreet speaking about phulkari’s significance and her efforts to keep the creative tradition alive. 

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