Indian Zari Embroidery

Drawing of three men seated at a gold embroidery frame. Delhi, 1870 Drawing of three men seated at a gold embroidery frame. Delhi, 1870 Drawing by John Lockwood Kipling. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK, acc. no. 0929:30/(IS).

Craftsmen in India and beyond produce various types of metal threads and metal thread embroidery. The general Indian term for goldwork embroidery is zari. The word zari is ultimately derived from the Persian word for gold, zar. The term zari can be used to describe various types of metal threads and ways that they are used as embroidered decoration.

Men, women and children in the Indian subcontinent, particularly the northern part of India, have carried out professional zari work for hundreds of years. At the end of the twentieth century, the main zari production centres in India were in the cities of Agra, Delhi, Jaipur, Lucknow, Surat and Varanasi. Zari thread comes in various forms based on the type of metal thread used and the style of work. The main types are:

Badla work: Badlais an embroidery technique whereby a metal strip (lamé) is twisted round the warp and weft of a piece of cloth, or through the holes of net (tulle) to create a series of knot-like dots. This technique is often used to decorate clothing, such as dresses, head coverings, saris and shawls.

Chikna: a shiny zari thread.

Gota work: in some parts of India, such as Jaipur in Rajasthan, an appliqué cloth is produced using a fine material that is decorated with silver and gold ribbons, such as made from and with lamé, passing or purls. The ribbons are worked into the shapes of small birds, animals and human figures, etc., and highlighted using coloured silks. These small designs are then cut out and sewn down to the ground cloth of a sari, etc. Related to this type of work is kinari.

Kalabattu: a thick braided gold thread that is often used for decorating the borders of garments, such as saris and head coverings. A finer version of the kalabattu is used for the drawstrings of bags, tassels, necklaces and so forth.

Kamdani: a form of embroidery carried out on light-weight materials intended for caps, scarves and veils. In some areas of India, lamé strips are used to create a flat, all-over design that resembles a satin stitch. This style of work is called hazara butti (‘a thousand lights’).

Kataoki bel: an embroidery form using a stiff canvas as the ground material. Its surface is filled with sequins. A variation of this technique is where a design is outlined on net, and filled with zari stitches and spangles. Kataoki bel is used as a border on a garment such as a sari.

Kinari: a form of gota work that includes metal thread tassels and fringes. Kinari is mainly made by members of the Indian Muslim community.

Kora: a dull zari thread.

Makaish: This is one of the oldest styles of metal thread work and is done with silver lamé (badla). The wire itself serves as a needle, piercing the material to complete the stitches. A variety of designs is produced in this manner.

Sitara: a small star-shaped bracteate. It is used for floral designs and embroidery called salma-sitara.

Tikora is a spirally twisted gold thread (purl and crinkly purl forms) that is used for complicated designs.

Tilla or marori work: a form of embroidery using gold thread (lamé, passing or purl) that is couched onto the surface of the ground cloth.

Zardozi: a heavy and elaborate form of embroidery using a variety of different types of metal thread, as well as spangles, beads, seed pearls and wire. The ground material includes heavy silks, velvets and satins. Zardozi is often used to embellish wedding outfits, heavy coats, cushions, curtains, canopies, animal trappings, bags, purses, belts, as well as shoes and slippers.


V&A online catalogue (retrieved 9th July 2016).


Last modified on Wednesday, 24 May 2017 16:18
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