Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 1 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L.

mka Maya Heath

~ Kasuti ~ Indian Origins of Blackwork
by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Summary Kasuti (also spelled kasauti and kasooti ) is a form of counted thread embroidery that originated in southern and central India between the 8th century CE in what is today known as the State of Karnataka. The word “Kasuti” derives from “kai” meaning hand, and “suti” meaning cotton, that is, handwork done in cotton. It can also be a derivative of the word “kashida” , a word derived from Persian meaning embroidery. This period (the Chalukyas Period) is regarded as a golden age in the history of South India and Karnataka. There was a tremendous revival of the arts and culture, the women of the courts were well versed in 64 arts and one of them was Kasuti. More recently it is theorized to have been Extent of Badami Chalukya Empire, 636 practised by the Lambani tribe who migrated to CE – 740 CE (includes Gujarat and Karnataka) Gujarat from Rajasthan and then down to the South in Karnataka during this time. Kasuti was brought to Egypt by way of the Indian Ocean trade routes sometime in the 12th -13th Century CE (Ayyubid Period). Just as Europe can trace the origins of its blackwork traditions to 13th century Egypt, so Egypt can trace the origins of the art to textiles brought there by way of the Monsoon Trade Routes. It is still practiced today as a traditional women’s craft in Maharashtra and Karnataka, particularly in the cities of Dharwad, Hubli and Bijapur. Its present day revival is due to the efforts of a few NGO's and some women craft activities.

Part I – Historical and Social Background

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 2 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

The Monsoon Cycle and Indian Ocean Trade –
Monsoon Wind Cycle Trade Winds

The monsoon winds in the Indian ocean start every year near the end of May in the Arabian off the coast of Somalia driven by the warming and cooling or the Asian landmass. From May to September they blow outward from Africa passes in a half circle that brings it very near to the Arabian Peninsula before it goes in a south-easterly direction to India. From October to April the direction is reversed blowing back west.This cycle is also called The Trade Winds.

Fig. 1 The Indian Ocean Trade Routes
Indian Ocean Trade

2nd Century BCE-3rd Century CE Egypt – Ptolemaic to Roman Eras

As early as 150 BCE, Greek sailor Hippalus identified the monsoon wind cycle. By Roman times, Roman ports on the Red Sea such as Berenike and Quseir el-Qadim served as bases to funnel the goods from the India then trough ports through the ports of Eudaemon Arabia and Ocelis in Aden, up the Red Des to Berenike or Myas Harmos, then across the eastern desert to Koptos. Goods were then transported by boat up the Nile northward to Cairo, Alexandria and the Mediterranean. The wealthy Roman empire had a seemingly insatiable appetite for Asian spices, incense, jewels, silks and fine luxury goods. This access to Asian luxuries came at a substantial cost. The Red Sea ports had very limited sources of water and no viable agricultural land. They were also under constant threat from sea pirates and land-based brigands so that a constant military presence had to be maintained both at the ports themselves and for the caravans crossing the desert. The expense of maintaining the ports was only sustainable as long as there was a market for the luxuries the traders provided. As the Roman Empire went into decline in the

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 3 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

As early as 150 BCE, Greek sailor Hippalus identified the monsoon wind cycle. By Roman times, Roman ports on the Red Sea such as Berenike and Quseir el-Qadim served as bases to funnel the goods from the India then trough ports through the ports of Eudaemon Arabia and Ocelis in Aden, up the Red Des to Berenike or Myas Harmos, then across the eastern desert to Koptos. Goods were then transported by boat up the Nile northward to Cairo, Alexandria and the Mediterranean. The wealthy Roman empire had a seemingly insatiable appetite for Asian spices, incense, jewels, silks and fine luxury goods. This access to Asian luxuries came at a substantial cost. The Red Sea ports had very limited sources of water and no viable agricultural land. They were also under constant threat from sea pirates and land-based brigands so that a constant military presence had to be maintained both at the ports themselves and for the caravans crossing the desert. The expense of maintaining the ports was only sustainable as long as there was a market for the luxuries the traders provided. As the Roman Empire went into decline in the 3rd century CE, the market for the goods declined and vanished making the maintenance of the ports unsustainable. Although some minimal trade did continue, the ports went into decline and were eventually abandoned. Egypt turned economically and culturally to the Mediterranean and the Byzantine Empire.
Renewal of Red Sea Trade 7th-13th century CE

The Muslim conquest of Egypt in 642 BCE brought a new period of order and stability. The first Arab rules reopened the old Roman Canal with the Nile. The Red Sea trade resumed with the rise of the Fatimid rulers in the mid-10th century CE who reopened the routes connecting the Red Sea with the Nile Valley. Trade continued from this time forward establishing Egypt as an economic force and cultural hub for Indian goods. With the fall of Bagdad to the Mongols in 1258 CE, expanding the Red Sea/Indian Ocean trade routes became even more advantageous. The rising power and affluence of the Fatimid Caliphate (909–1171 CE) stabilized Egypt and set it in an excellent position to become the hub of the Muslim world, filling the vaccum of both power and commerce left in the absence of Syria. The Ayyubid dynasty (1174–1250 CE) further consolidated the region. With the strength of a stabile government to support the necessary ports and caravan trails, the Indian Ocean route supplied a thriving demand for luxury goods such as incense and spices, funneled through Egypt

Trade in Textiles

From both Roman and Arabic periods, we have an abundance of Indian cloth fragments and document verifying a thriving trade in textiles, especially cotton. Although textiles did not constitute the bulk of commercial shipments, they made up some part of it, and surviving

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 4 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

documents attest to Indian muslins as both yard goods and clothing were brought as gifts from the India traders to theirs wives and daughters as well as to various business and social contacts in addition to their value for trade in the open markets.

Part II – The Embroidery
Historical Record

India - It is regrettable that, due to the climate of southern India, no textile remains have been found that date to before the 15th century CE. However, the presence of bronze needles found at the site of Mohenjo-Daro suggests that as early as the 3rd millennium BCE, woven cloth was embellished with embroidery. There is a long and and well-established folk tradition of techniques and motifs ascribing this embroidery style to the Chalukyas Period (circa 8th century CE). This period (the Chalukyas Period) is regarded as a golden age in the history of South India and Karnataka. There was a tremendous revival of the arts and culture, the women of the courts were well versed in 64 arts and one of them was Kasuti. More recently it is theorized to have been practised by the Lambani tribe who migrated to Gujarat from Rajasthan and then down to the South in Karnataka during this time. Egypt - We are more fortunate with the dry Egyptian climate. A great many fragments of both garments and household linens have been well preserved, giving us a well established timeline of materials, techniques and design. We can see that, up until the Fatimid period, the majority of embroidered textiles were done in split stitch. (see illustration). Although this style continued well into the 16th century CE, we see it joined by counted thread work. Beginning late 12th -early 13th century CE, we have extensive examples of pieces done in pattern darning, running stitch and double running stitch. The advent of this new and distinctive style coincides directly with the reopening of Indian Ocean commerce. Although no archaeological evidence has been found to date, one can theorize, given the supportive evidence we have, that textiles with this style of embroidery were brought to Egypt from southern Indian as early as the 12th century and, perhaps, earlier. Given the extensive tradition of textiles and embroidery in Egypt, it is more than likely that this new style was adopted and expanded upon until at least the Ottoman conquest of Egypt early in the 16th century CE.

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 5 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

16

Fragment of embroidery – silk on linen – Egyptian Mamluk Period 13th -14th century 17

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 6 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Fibers –
Cotton Fabric Cotton cloth has been the fabric of choice for both garments and (India) household objects for at least 4000 years. In Kannada (or Canarese), the language spoken predominantly in the state of Karnataka, the word “Kasuti” derives from “kai” meaning hand, and “suti” meaning cotton, that is, handwork done in cotton. It is generally believed that the first cultivation of cotton was in India. Cotton cloth was produced in Indian by the 3rd millennium BCE from finds made at Mohenjo-Daro. In 1500 BCE., cotton was referred to in a Hindu Rig-Veda hymn mentioning "threads in the loom." We also have references in the Ramayana and Mahabharata detailing textile weaving and embellishment between the 15th and 2nd centuries BCE. By 1000 BCE it was a major product of export to Egypt and Southeast Asia. We have written accounts from Assyrian and Babylonian tablets from the 7th century BCE referring to the Indian cloth trade. Silk - Floss Silk floss was known in both India and China. Finds from Egypt are almost exclusively worked in silk which was imported in bulk through the Indian Ocean trade and dyed locally. In India, this traditional work is done in silk. Silk floss was imported to Egypt where it was dyed. As cotton was the principle fabric fiber of India, Linen was predominant in Egypt since pre-dynastic times. Its crisp tight spin and weave made it the ideal ground for counted thread embroidery both in Holbein stitch and pattern darning. We have hundreds of examples from the 12th through the 16th century of work in a wide range of patterns and complexities – much of it geometric but depicting birds, trees and other animals – decorating both clothing and household linens. It a majority of examples, the linen was left undyed and the design was worked in monochrome.

Linen Fabric (Egypt)

Dyes & Colors – Some of the earliest finds of mordanted dyes were made at
Mohenjo-Daro and date from the 3rd millennium BCE. As evidenced by the presence of dye pots and a fragment of cloth wrapped around a silver pot. By the 12th century, from block printed fabrics commonly traded on the Indian Ocean routes, we can see that a range of color-fast colors were available including various shades of green, red, blue, marigold yellow and black. We also see from trousseau lists found in Egypt from this same time period that a wide range of colors were available for both silk and linen.

Uses – Because we have no period examples, we must rely on folk tradition to define
applications in period. But it is a fact that clothing and household furnishings remain much the same regardless of period.

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 7 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Embroidered Cushion Covers It is the tradition to have a couple of embroidered saris as part of the bridal trousseau. The pallu (the throw of the sari, which covers the bosom and the head) is very elaborately embroidered. In Maharashtra and Karnataka, very elaborate Kasuti is embroidered on a great variety of articles. Ilkal saris are well suited for Kasuti work because they are traditionally dyed indigo which billiantly shows off the lighter colored embroidery a blueblack indigo dyed fabric. Chandrakala saris, also part of the trousseau have an indigo warp with a black weft giving it a shimmering effect to set off the embroidery.

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 8 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Technique – Kasuti is made up of counted thread stitch

patterns. It can be done directly on the cloth by counting the warp and weft threads. If the weave is too fine to see properly for counting, then the pattern is worked on gauze net attached to the cloth. This acts as a form of waste cloth so that counted work can be done on finely woven cotton and then removed when the work is complete

Stitches –
Kasuti Embroidery is done with four main stitches:

Gavanti or Gaunti

Gavanti (meaning “knot”) is a double running stitch. This is basically a Holbein Stitch used in straight, horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines.

34

Muragi

Muragi is a variation of double running stitch used to create a zigzag running stitch that looks like a ladder. Small motifs like squares, hexagons, octagons and ladders are created with this stitch.

37

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 9 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Neygi or Negi

The name of the stitch is derived from the Kannada word neyi “to weave”. This is a darning stitch in which long and short lines are used which gives the effect of weaving. It is also known as Pattern

39

Darning

Menthe

41

Menthe is a Kannada word which means fenugreek seed or a forked stitch, cross stitch. This stitch is mainly used to fill in the motifs.

Motifs – As is typical in many forms of folk embroidery, the motifs and designs in
kasuti are taken from things seen in everyday life. Animals Birds Elephant

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 10 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Deer / Gazelle Peacock Cow Objects Kalasha– A large open mouthed pot mnost often depicted planted with a tulsi. A tree-like plant form representing Ocimum tenuiflorum, Holy Basil, an herb held sacred and often used as medicinal in Ayurvedic practices. Taken together with confronting animals and birds in its branches, this motif strongly recalls Tree of Life motifs used in Persia and the middle East from ancient times. Gopuram or Gopura, is a monumental tower, usually ornate, at the entrance of any temple, especially in Southern India. They are topped by the kalasam, a bulbous stone finial. Carts Plants and Flowers Rangoli – Stars, Medallions and squares decorative designs made on the floors of living rooms and courtyards during Hindu festivals. They are meant to be sacred welcoming areas for the Hindu deities. The purpose of Rangoli is decoration, and it is thought to bring good luck. Design-depictions are often circular or geometric arrangements and may also vary as they reflect traditions, folklore and practices that are unique to each area. It is traditionally done by women. Buti - is a small single stand alone pattern, either geometrical or pictorial, that can be used to sprinkle over a large area. Bands and Fillwork – Miscellaneous patterns of either geometric or representational motifs forming a band used as edging, framing or part of a larger composition.

Comparison of Motifs –
Even given the idea that form follows function in the way the squared stitches build patterns and images, there are strong similarities between traditional Indian Kasuti patterns and those used in Egypt.

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 11 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Confronting Birds on Tree of Life – Hamsa Finials
As seen in these examples, the confronting bird motif has been a familiar constant in Middle Eastern design since ancient times. Similar patterns of confronting creatures have been found from Byzantium to Persia from ancient times. What makes these designs distinctive is elements of the design, that is, the way the birds are drawn with the particular five-branched “hamsa” tails and finials and curling feathers along the backs of the larger ones.

Work in Holbein Stitch – garment Fragments – 13th -14th Century CE Egypt – silk on linen

Indian Traditional Patterns with Bird, Tree of Life and Hamsa finials

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 12 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Rangoli, Carpets and Stars –

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 13 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

India – contemporary band detail – stars formed with negative space using nested rosette elements 47

India – Large carpet star composed of nested rosettes 48

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 14 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Egypt - Garment fragment with stars in square Double running stitch with pulled thread work and colored filling stitches Mamluk Egypt, 13th-15th century Epstein, Concernynge the Excellency . . ., p. 80

Egypt - Mamluk period (12501517): Linen embroidered with blue cotton, in pattern darning and running stitch; Ashmolean Museum Oxford: Inv.Nr. 1984.154 Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt by Marianne Ellis

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 15 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Egypt - Band fragment – design composed of rosette and square elements forming large star pattern with negative space 49

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 16 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Appendix A A Sampling of Charted Traditional Designs

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 17 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 18 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 19 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 20 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 21 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 22 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 23 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 24 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 25 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Endnotes
Also known as : Dharwari Kashidakari meaning, embroidery from Dharawar. Kashidakari is the Persian name for a type of needlework ClickHubli.com - http://www.clickhubli.com/kasuti-embroidarydesigns.htm - Accessed: 5-11-2012 Dhamija, Jasleen. Editor 1933- and Crafts Council of India, Asian Embroidery. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications & Crafts Council of India, 2004. p. 173 Facey, William. “Queen of the India Trade” Saudi-Aramco World. June 2006, http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200506/queen.of.the.india.trade.htm El-Abbadi, Mostafa. “The Greatest Emporium in the Inhabited World” University of Alexandria. http://www.unesco.org/csi/pub/source/alex5.htm Accessed: 5-1-2012 Ibid. Barnes, Ruth. Indian Block-printed Cotton Fragments In the Kelsey Museum, the University of Michigan. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993. p. 6 Sidebotham, Steven E. and Wendrich, Wilhemina Z. “The Berenike Project – Brief History of Berenike” University of Delware , University of Leiden (Netherlands), the Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw (Poland) http://www.archbase.com/berenike/english1.html Accessed: 5-6-2012 Barnes, p. 6 Ibid., p. 8 Dhamija. P. 173 Gillow, John and Nicholas Barnard. Indian Textiles, London: Thames & Hudson, 2008. p. 14 Ellis, Marianne, Embroidered and Samplers from Islamic Egypt, Oxford: Ashmolean Museum Publications, 2001. Kuhnel, Ernst, Islamische Stoffe aus Agyptische Grabern, Verlag Ernst Wasmuth, Berlin, 1927

Kuhnel, Ernst, Islamische Stoffe aus Agyptische Grabern, Verlag Ernst Wasmuth, Berlin, 1927, plate 28, item 4915, explanation p. 51
16

Tissus d’Egypte Temoins du Monde Arabe VIIIe – Xve siecles, Collection Bouvier, Editions de l’Albaron - Societe presence du livre, Geneve, 1993. plate 186, pp. 290-291.
17

Dhamija, p. 173 Gillow, p. 14 Ibid., p. 17 Gordon, Stewart. When Asia Was the World . Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2007. p. 67

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 26 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Ibid., p. 16 Ellis Dhamija, p. 42 Ellis A mordant is a substance used to set dyes on fabrics or tissue sections by forming a coordination complex with the dye which then attaches to the fabric or tissue. It may be used for dyeing fabrics, or for intensifying stains in cell or tissue preparations. The term mordant comes from the Latin word, "mordere", to bite. In the past, it was thought that a mordant helped the dye bite onto the fiber so that it would hold fast during washing. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mordant Accessed: 5-30-12 Gillow, p. 14 Barnes, Ruth. Indian Block-Printed Textiles in Egypt: The Newberry collection in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Vol. 1, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. pp. 52-61 Stillman, Yedida Kalfon. "Female Attire of Medieval Egypt: According to the Troussean Lists and Cognate Material from the Cairo Geniza” University of Pennsylvania (January 1, 1972). Dissertations available from ProQuest. Paper AAI7313478. http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI7313478 Ibid, p. 175 ClickHubli.com - http://www.clickhubli.com/kasuti-embroidarydesigns.htm - Accessed: 5-11-2012 Ibid, p. 177 Sarah;s Hand Embroidery Tutorials – Kasuti Lesson 1. http://www.embroidery.rocksea.org/handembroidery/kasuti/kasuti-lesson-1/ Posted: 31 Jul 2010. Accessed 5-13-2012 Sameeksha School of Emboidery - Gallery - http://www.sameeksha.asia/gallery/gallery.html Accessed: 6-1-2012
34

Ibid. Gavanti and Muragi look identical on both sides of the cloth and, and taken together, are what came to be known in Europe centuries later as “Blackwork” or Holbein Stitch.
37

Mridula's School of Embroidery & Fashion Design – Gallery. Chennai, India. 12 Feb 2006. https://picasaweb.google.com/mridulaschool/KanthaKasutiSamplesOfAncientIndianEmbroideries#5108507 801512273346 Ibid.

39

ClickHubli.com - http://www.clickhubli.com/kasuti-embroidarydesigns.htm - Accessed: 5-11-2012 Ibid.

Kasuti – Origins of Blackwork in India 27 by Safiya bint Suleiman al-Mualima, O.L. mka Maya Heath

Sameeksha School of Emboidery - Gallery – http://www.sameeksha.asia/gallery/DSC00969.JPG Accessed: 6-1-2012
41

Ellis,. Plate 30 Page 48 Kuhnel, Ernst, Islamische Stoffe aus Agyptische Grabern, Verlag Ernst Wasmuth, Berlin, 1927. Table 31. Fig. 3177.( Ref Page. 56) Mary Corbett’s Needle and Thread – “Hand Embroidered Sari” – http://www.needlenthread.com/2009/02/beautiful-hand-embroidered-indian-sari.html - Posted: 19 Feb 2009 – Accessed: 5-2-2012 ClickHubli.com - http://www.clickhubli.com/kasuti-embroidarydesigns.htm - Accessed: 5-11-2012 Handi-Crafts Center – “Kasuti Embroidery, Kasuti Embroidery Designs and Patterns, Kasuti Stiching Process, Kasuti Design Gallery” - http://handicrafts-center.blogspot.com/2012/03/kasuti-embroidery-kasutiembroidery.html Accessed: 5-13-2012 reposted from Sujee Daara. http://embroiderystitches.blogspot.com/2011/01/tiniest-kasuti-work-i-have-seen.html Accessed: 5-21-12 (Please Note - Each stitch is about 1mm apart and the back part of the work looks exactly like the front... we wondered where they hid the start & end thread. A little bit of background on this Vrinda aunty visited one of her acquaintances, who was probably the principal/teacher of Women's Training College. She had this sampler at her place and had probably been worked by some students. Aunty treasured it as that's the best and tiniest piece of Kasuti we've ever seen.)
47

ClickHubli.com - http://www.clickhubli.com/kasuti-embroidarydesigns.htm - Accessed: 5-11-2012

Arte & Ricamo - http://www.artedelricamo.com/ricamo/notizie-arte-e-ricamo/il-ricamo-kasuti-in-indiaparte-prima.html, Accessed: 6-18-2012
48 49

Ellis, p. 50

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful