WORK by GIAN KAUR
Gian Kaur came to the UK from the Punjab in the mid-1960s. When growing up in Punjab, she embroidered and sewed cushions, pillow cases, sheets and a tea cosy for her marriage in 1963. She also made lace out of crocheted thread work.
She was so passionate about embroidery in her youth that her father worried about her sight weakening. He joked about her embroidery: ‘Would the sheet get stronger (pakki) if you keep working on it?’ So she either embroidered when he was not in the house or when she was at her friend’s house.
The artworks captured her inventiveness as well as desires. She recalled that even though she did not have a ‘kettle’ when she was making a tea cosy in the late 1950s, she dreamt that one day she would purchase one. Now she has been through several, but she has never used the tea cosy, preferring to keep it in pristine condition. The scene on silky satin captures a picture of spring, of new lives and future hopes.
The white sheet with the basket of flowers is embroidered with bharni kadai - that is, embroidery with an intensity of colourful thread. It is hemmed in with a triangular pattern out of red thread.
When Gian came to the UK, she put her creative talents to the side to work as a sewing machinist in a factory to mass produce women’s garments. It was there that her eyesight weakened as well as developing other health problems from the dusty work conditions.
Some of the embroidered work in Gian’s oeuvre was part of her mother’s heirloom when she got married in the 1930s in the village of Sara in undivided Punjab. Her mother’s generation also wove textiles in the home using either a standing wheel or a portable spinning wheel (known as the Gandhi Charkha).
Items in Gian’s textile heirloom include a dhurrie made by her mother, Karam Kaur, in the 1940s, and phulkari that was made for special occasions such as weddings. They were among some of the items that women carried with them as they travelled from home to home.
Phulkari is a style of embroidery technique on stitched cloth from the region of Punjab that nowadays extends over India and Pakistan. Literally meaning flower work, phulkari was used for shawls and domestic decor. It is made with silk floss thread on coarse hand-woven cotton called khadar or khadi. Earlier, colours were made out of natural dye (kaccha rang) and can run so extreme caution has to be taken when washing.
Even though traditionally phulkari would not be sold in the market, it has seen a recent revival with designers incorporating the pattern into garments, accessories and home decor for mass consumption. It has also inspired other artistic works and colours including the GRID Heritage logo.