Use of Gold in Textiles

Singhal, Divya is a PhD scholar in the Department of Fabric and Apparel Science, Lady Irwin College, University of Delhi. The area of her doctorate study is the conservation of brocaded textiles in museums. A gold medallist and a meritorious student she has a passion for textiles and believes in combing technology advancement along with the transfer of benefit to traditional craftsperson's. She has worked as an Assistant Professor at Lady Irwin College for over a year before opting for further studies. Her M.Sc. dissertation was in the area of conservation of textiles focused on wet cleaning of museum textiles.

Gold has captured human imagination since time immemorial. It has provoked a powerful response in humans. It has been used for embellishment and adornment of human body since the ancient times. This adornment was not only limited to body in form of gold jewellery but it was also used to decorate the attire worn by the man. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy has described adornment in following words:

“The beauty of anything unadorned is not increased by ornament,

but made more effective by it……..a thing is ritually transformed

and made to function spiritually as well as physically.”

Gold was one such means of adornment which was used in various ways to adorn the body as well as the clothes worn. It was the noblest metal and enjoyed a special place in the lives of ancient people. Some civilisations considered it to be related to the sun because of its colour and thus worshipped it. Hindus believed it to be created by the fire god- Agni (Rivers, 1999).

Gold was considered as a symbol of royalty and wealth and was used in various ways to decorate the fabric. Gold and silver pigments were painted and printed onto the fabric to give it a shimmering look. Gold and silver threads were used to weave luxurious patterns into the fabric and the glittering patterns of gold embroidery combined with silk threads and semi-precious stones gave the illusion of gold embroidery on the body of the wearer.


Tracing the history of how and when gold started being used for decorating textiles is not easy.  But there are some sources of evidence which depict that embellishment with shining objects was a worldwide and ancient practice. Victoria Z. Rivers in her book “The Shining Cloth-Dress and Adornment” has pointed out that “Traces of textiles and other artifacts embroidered and decorated with gold were depicted in Assyrian bas-reliefs, frozen in the tombs of Scythian nomads, unearthed with the treasures of the Pharaohs, and preserved with the burial goods of the Andean cultures’ high priests and nobles. The quest for lustrous, seemingly magical silk and other valuable goods resulted in interaction between different cultures and civilisations and brought new-found wealth which created cities, empires and fortunes.”

It is believed that the ancient civilisations associated gold with the almighty power, i.e. God. Ancient Sumerians, Egyptians and Andeans respected gold and some considered it to be the sweat of the Sun. Hindus believed to be created by the fire god-Agni. Different civilisations attached different meanings to it. Some people feared it too. Indonesians believed that mining gold was a theft from the earth. West Africans believed that the gold had a spirit of its own which could drive a person insane (Rivers, 1999).

The exact date of origin of gold mining and its use in ornaments and textiles is not known but the archaeologists have found evidences from different ancient civilisations which suggest that use as well as trade of gold was very important in those times. Bas-reliefs, sculptures and burials from some early civilisations depict the use of gold in decorating the clothes worn by the kings and nobles. For instance, people of Elam used golden squares, circles and rings to adorn their solar deities. In the Babylonian and Assyrian cultures, design forms like rosettes, eight-pointed stars and crenelated shapes were used to adorn the clothes of gods and kings.

Persia became well-known for its gold work clothing by the first century B.C. Persians were skilled in incorporating gold and silver along with silk to form a prestigious fabric. This fabric was so much valued that the Persian rulers used to give these precious textiles to the subjects for their meritorious service instead of awarding medals.

China and Japan also started using gold and silver in their textiles by first century B.C. Infact Chinese were very highly skilled in creating highly refined textiles using gold and silver. Their sophisticated technologies and their proficiency in sericulture helped them to maintain a monopoly on the silk and gold thread trades until the sixth century A.D. (Rivers, 1999).


In India, Gold cloth existed in the ancient history similar to other civilisations. Stories of golden dresses of gods have been told since the vedic times (1500 B.C.) in India. It was the popular belief that the fire-god, Agni or Hiranyakt, created gold and it was associated with sun. Gold was also named as Hiranya after the fire-god. Being associated with the sun, gold was valued for its purifying and life-giving powers. Gold was also associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and several other Hindu deities. Gold had a religious importance in India. People used garments which were combined with gold in worship rituals as they expressed purity.

Not only was the cloth of gold from India important religiously, it was highly valued in other parts of the world also. The craftsmen used gold threads to weave and embroider intricate patterns on the fabric. It is said that trade of exotic silk and gold-thread weavings from China and India was vigorous from the seventh century to fifteenth century. Broach and Cambay were the ancient and famous seaports of India from where various magnificent Indian textiles like ikats, golden brocades and batik cloths were traded to other parts of the world.

Some travellers like Megasthenes, Curticus Rufus Quintus and Ptolemy mention the exquisiteness of fabrics made in India using gold. Megasthenes who was the Seleucid envoy at the court of Chandragupta Maurya has written a detailed account of the country at that time. Highlighting the love of Indians for fine garments he wrote, “They wore dresses worked in gold, adorned with precious stones and also flowered robes of fine muslin.” A mention was also made by Megasthenes that “The kings wore robes stitched in fine muslin with beautiful embroidery in gold and silver.”

A legend explains that Vasco-da-gama, a Portuguese invader had worn a gold embroidered muslin robe and tied a gold embroidered silk turban and used to rest his head on cushion that was finely embroidered with metal wire (Naik, 1996).

Homer has described the beauty of Indian brocades very beautifully through the following lines in Odyssey:

‘In ample mode

A robe of military purple flowed

Over all his frame; illustrious on his breast

The double-clasping gold the King confest.

In the rich woof of a hound, mosaic drawn,

Bore on full stretch, and seized a dappled fawn;

Deep in his neck his fangs indent their hold;

They pant and struggle in moving gold.

Fine as a filmy web beneath it shone

A vest that dazzled like a cloudless sun.

The female train who round him thronged to gaze,

In silent wonder, sighed unwilling praise.’

It is believed that Homer was explaining the popular shikargah design of Indian brocades and referring to these lines, Sir George Birdwood says that weaving of silk with gold was known to Indians since prehistoric times even before the date of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Ramayana and Mahabharata, the two great Indian epics talk of woven cotton, silk and woollen fabrics which were costly and decorated with gems and gold. Reference has been made to the Hiranyadrapi which was a shining golden cloak and Manichira which was a south Indian fabric having a fringe of woven pearls.




It is also said that gold-embroidered robes were presented to distinguished guests in the court during epic period. The story about the Rajasuya sacrificial ceremony in Mahabharat mentions woollen blankets inlaid with threads of gold which were gifted to king Yudhishtir.

Gold has been incorporated in textiles in various forms from early times, because of its comparative rarity and its material properties of malleability and ductility which makes it valuable. A single ounce of gold can be beaten into sheets so thin that when placed side by side upon the ground, they will cover 250 square feet. It is equally ductile. The same weight of metal can be drawn into a thread so fine that it will stretch over a mile in length (Gupta, 1996). Gold has been converted into fine wire called zari to be woven with other fibres like silk and cotton and to do embroidery. It has been made into various small pieces of decorations like salma, kora, dabka, gijai, chalak, tikora, kangri, champo, kinari which are used in zardozi embroidery. Gold has also been used for printing and painting of textiles in the form of pigment, powder or leaf (warak).

The term Zari used for gold wire is derived from a Persian word Zar which means gold. The history of gold and silver thread manufacture, known as the zari industry, is as old as that of Indian silk. Although many references are available in Indian scripts, literature, epics and travel documents, the origin of metallic thread seen in the fabrics has not yet been traced. However these references suggest that the craft existed in ancient times. George Watt in Indian Art in Delhi, 1903, has pointed out that the references to gold textiles in most of the ancient writings of India necessitates the knowledge of the art of gold wire making in ancient times.

Manufacturing of zari is a long and elaborate process comprising of several stages. The first stage is called potai or pavthan, which involves bar making and wire drawing. Silver was first converted to a bar about 45.7 cm long and 1.8 cm thick and the metal bar was known as pasa. The gold leaf was wrapped around the bar and heated in a furnace, till there was complete fusion of the gold leaf with the silver bar. The thickness of the gold leaf varied according to the requirement of gold thread, from pale yellow colour to a rich gold colour. In the next process, tarkashi or tania, the bar was drawn through a series of holes using a flat, perforated steel plate called jantri. The holes were of gradually decreasing size, each hole tapering slightly in its passage through the plate. Before drawing the bar was heated to make it soft. The repeated process of drawing resulted in obtaining a wire as fine as human hair. The fused coating of gold on the silver bar remained uniformly on the wire,



The third and the last stage of wire drawing is badla, the flattening process. The fine wire was then flattened by hammering on an anvil. The flattening was made uniform by skilfully adjusting the motion of the wire across the anvil. The flattened wire was subsequently wound

the length of which ran into several kilometres. The wire is then bent according to the shape required for the particular design.

round a silk thread. This was done to make the wire appear thicker than it is and to impart flexibility and strength to thread for being woven. Silver wire was produced by the same process without gilding the bar with gold leaf. The gold thread of silver, gilded by pure gold




with a silk thread core, was known as pure zari or sona kalabatun.

B.C. Mohanty in his book ‘Study of Contemporary Textile Crafts of India: Brocaded Fabrics of India’ has mentioned the following varieties of gold thread manufactured and used:

  • Pure gold thread or pure gold zari: Silver wire is wrapped around silk core thread and then gilded.

  • Gold thread no.1 or real zari: silver wire is wrapped around spun silk or mercerised cotton core thread and then gilded. This is slightly coarser than pure gold zari.

  • Gold thread no.2 or test ka pucca zari: copper wire is wrapped around spun silk core thread and then gilded.

  • Gold thread no.3 or kela zari no.3: copper wire is wrapped around art silk core thread and then coated with chemical gold colour.

  • Real silver thread or real silver zari no.1: silver wire is wrapped around silk or art silk core thread.

  • Silver thread no.2 or silver zari no.2: copper wire is wrapped around art silk core thread and then silvered.

  • Nim zari or half zari: copper wire is wrapped around silk or art silk core thread in different colours and then silvered. The copper wire spirals are comparatively wider apart. This is not made now unless specifically ordered.

  • Haldi gold thread or haldi zari: silver wire is wrapped around mercerised cotton core thread and then coated with chemical golden yellow colour.

  • Rasi or table zari: silver wire is wrapped around dyed golden orange mercerised cotton core thread and then coated with chemical golden orange colour.

  • Apart from the zari thread there are other materials which are used for Brocade weaving and embroidery. Following is a list of the items produced using metal threads:

  • Badla: The flattened wire of metal made after the drawing step.

  • Kalabattu or Kasab: The wire when twisted on core of silk or cotton becomes Kalabattu.

  • Tilla: It is a flat wire which cannot be threaded and is stitched on to the material directly.

  • Gijai: A circular thin stiff wire, so called because of its resemblance to an insect of that name.

  • Salma: A wire coiled in a zigzag manner and is used as an applique and is also stitched on.

  • Dabka: Coiled thin wire through which a threaded needle is passed. It is tied to the surface and has shine and polish.

  • Sitara: A small round metal piece which when set in an embroidery looks like a star, and used mostly in floral designs.

  • Thicker Kalabattu is braided gold-thread, used in the border, while the thinner variety is used at the end of laces of purses, tassels, strings, etc.

  • Tikora: Gold thread spirally twisted for use in curves and convolutions in complex designs.

  • Kora: Dull zari thread.

  • Chikna: Lustrous zari thread.

Making of Warak
is the thin sheet or leaf of gold or silver which is made by pounding. It is commonly seen as the top decoration on many Indian sweets and pan. This leaf is not limited to the decoration of food items only, instead it is used to decorate fabrics through a very specialized form of printing known as warak printing or gold leaf printing.

The making of warak requires great skill. It requires special tools and is an arduous process. In order to make warak a roll of gold or silver strip is taken which is generally 2 cm in width and 3 meters in length. This strip weighs 10 grams. Pieces of gold or silver are cut from this strip using an iron knife called falwa and pounded to convert them into wafer thin sheets called warak. Each leaf of warak is about 10 cm wide and 15 cm long. The pieces of gold or silver are placed between layers of parchment or thin membrane which is obtained from sheep, goat or deer hide. The layers of thin membrane are lined with finely powdered soapstone to prevent the sticking of warak on the membrane while pounding. A hide-pouch is made from the soft thick skin, in which all the layers of thin membranes alternated with gold or silver pieces are kept during pounding. The stack of gold or silver pieces with the layers of membrane is held firmly from the edges using bamboo tongs called chimp. This stack is then placed in the hide-pouch which is kept on a stone slab and pounded with a special mallet for about seven to eight hours and the position of gold or silver piece is changed twice in between this process. At the end of seven to eight hours of pounding the small piece of gold or silver is converted into a thin leaf which is called warak. The bag is now opened and each leaf of warak is carefully kept in sheets of kite paper.

Converting gold into zari or warak is the first step towards ornamentation of fabric using gold. The zari and warak work are the raw materials which are used to produce masterpieces of art. The gold wire or zari is used to weave exquisite brocade fabrics or it is used with other pieces of decoration in zardozi embroidery. The gold leaf or warak is used for printing on fabric thus producing attractive patterns on a cloth.

Craftsmen in ancient India were skilled in the art of drawing gold and silver wires of extreme fineness which could be used to weave a fabric producing literally a ‘cloth of gold’. These zari threads were combined with silk and cotton to produce different types of beautiful fabrics. Indian weavers were renowned for producing marvellous effects by weaving intricate patterns in gold and silver brocades. The weaving of silk or cotton with zari goes back to Vedic times as there are many references of this dazzling fabric in different Vedas. Rig Veda mentions the term ‘Hiranya’ which has been interpreted as the earliest equivalent of a brocade fabric. Mentions about fabric made of silk and gold have also been made in Indian epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Brocade is a term which suggests a fabric with a woven pattern that is purely decorative and independent of the base fabric. This is possible by the use of extra weft yarn or extra warp yarn and the base fabric is generally woven in satin, twill or tabby weave. Although a fabric made of any fibre, such as wool, linen or cotton can be decorated using this technique, the term brocade is generally restricted to richly designed fabrics woven with silk and gold or silver zari.

Brocade fabrics are either loom-finished or in yardage form. The loom-finished fabrics comprise of saris, odhnis, pankhas, patkas, etc. The brocade yardage serves as dress material, upholstery, curtains, etc.

The various types of gold brocades produced are the following:

  • Alfi: This is a patterned zari brocade used as dress material. It is an expensive and fashionable fabric used to make ceremonial outfits. In this type of material the gold or silver zari butis are outlined with coloured thread resembling meenakari or enamelling.

  • Tashi: It is a variety of gold and silk brocade in which the ground is worked with an extra warp of gold badla zari and the pattern created with an extra weft of silver badla zari or vice versa. These fabrics are used for making wedding robes, hangings, etc. and are sold by their weight instead of the yard.

  • Bafta or Pot Than: This material is lighter and used to make expensive garments and saris. The silk background is patterned with zari.

  • Tissue: It is a very fine, transparent and light weight material produced by using single silk warp and single gold weft. The main application of this fabric is in producing turbans, veils, saris and dupattas.

Although weaving of silk with gold was prevalent in many parts of India like Ahmedabad, Surat, Paithan, Aurangabad, Hyderabad, Murshidabad, Delhi, Lucknow, Tanjore, Kanjivaram, Madras, but Banaras was the main centre and the Banaras brocades were the most famous and formed a separate class. Each centre had its own speciality (in terms of technique, colours and designs used) in producing the brocade fabric. The various characteristics of the fabrics produced at different centres can be used to easily identify and distinguish each style.

Banaras, also called Kashi or Varanasi, is a city which is famous for its unbroken tradition of producing the dream fabric i.e. the Kinkhab or Kamkhwab. The Banaras brocades have derived their name Kamkhwab from the fact that these fabrics are so splendid and elegant that ‘a person cannot dream of it if he has not seen it’. The term Kinkhab means ‘golden dream’ signifying the extensive use of gold and silver thread which sometimes overshadowed the silk background completely. The brocades of Banaras have been famous since the ancient times as seen in some literary references. According to Buddhist literature, fabrics made in Varanasi were pleasant to handle, beautiful to look at, and expensive and were greatly popular with rich and discerning people all over the country (Agrawal, 2008). The process of brocade-making was intricate and elaborate. In order to weave a richly designed brocade about six to eight months were required. A great deal of workmanship was required to produce a kinkhab. The gold and silver threads were wound on small bobbins and introduced as extra weft in order to create the pattern. The designs used in brocades of Banaras can be broadly classified into five types:

  • Tasvir or pictorial designs which consisted of mythological scenes, animals and birds motifs and portraits or pictures as well.

  • Phulwar referred to the running patterns of flowers and leaves all over the ground fabric. The various designs under this category were adibel, daurbel, khajuribel, genda ki bel, cane patte ki bel.

  • Butidar designs were sprigged designs which were not connected with each other. If the motif was small it was called a buti and if it was big then it was called buta. Some of these designs were ashrafi, keri buti, chand tara, jhar buti.

  • Next category consisted of geometrical patterns made up of vertical, horizontal, diagonal and horizontal stripes.

  • Shikargah or the hunting scene was the most popular design which was very elaborate and consisted of animals, birds and human figures.

Paithan is one of the oldest cities in the Deccan region, situated on the northern bank of the river Godavari (near present day Aurangabad). It was the centre of ancient Dravidian culture and praised for its wealth and prosperity by the ancient historians and travellers from the west. The most renowned creation from this region is the paithani sari which is a gold and silk brocade. The weave is subtle yet rich. On a zari warp the weft is interlocked in different colours producing a fabric which shimmers like a mirror. This is the most distinguishing feature of this fabric. The closely woven and shimmering golden background has various stylised designs like tree of life, parrots, swans, peacocks and flowers which glow like jewel.


Kanchipuram, the temple town and abode of goddess kamakshi, was a famous brocade weaving centre of South India since ancient times. The fabrics produced here were known as Kanchivani. The traditional saris and dupattas had a fine cotton ground with a silk and zari border and pallu. Intricate patterns are woven into the body using gold thread. The characteristic feature of a kanchivani sari is the wide and contrasting borders. The border designs and colours are fairly different from that of the body. The sari is woven using three shuttles, one for the main body and two on the sides for the brocaded borders. The part where the body meets the border meets the body is sometimes marked by a zigzag line. The predominant designs include bird and animal motifs like deer, peacocks, horses, bulls, parrots, elephants and sun, moon and star motifs. Mostly dark and bright colours like red, blue, purple, orange, yellow and green are used.


Chanderi is an ancient town near Gwalior in central India. It is famous for its exquisite textiles. The weavers of Chanderi produced gold and silver zari patterned fine cotton and silk turbans, sashes, dupattas and saris which were popular among the Mughals as well as the neighbouring states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra. The cotton ground of these fabrics was of unusual fineness and delicacy; it was usually white (colours were also used) and had silk and zari borders which were very beautiful. Very fine and intricate floral creepers were used to ornament the borders. Pallu was decorated using floral butas arranged in horizontal bands. The borders and pallu were woven on a solid gold zari ground, and designs were inlaid in coloured silk threads giving the effect of jewels worked into rich gold ground resembling enamel work.

Other than the above mentioned brocaded textiles there are many different fabrics produced in different parts of the country which use gold zari in some form or other. It is either used to enhance the borders and pallus of saris (Maheswari, Dhrmavaram, Tanchoi, Ikat, etc.) or used to make small butis all over the fabric.


Decorating the fabric using metal wire embroidery is of ancient origin as is evident from various texts and epics. Embroidery using gold and silver wires is known as Zardozi and the community which practice this craft is known as zardoz. The earliest reference of objects embroidered with gold is found in the Vedic age. Although the exact date of origin of this craft is unknown but the zardoz community of Delhi have a popular myth to relate. The story is as follows: “Once a mosquito found entrance to a king’s head. The fluttering of this mosquito caused the king severe headache. Every kind of treatment had failed. Finally paigamber himself advised the head hakim in his dream that the king would be cured of his headache if he is hit by a shoe in the area of pain. The hakim narrated his dream to his associates. They executed a plan. A shoe decorated with pure gold and silver threads was ordered to be made for the purpose. The king was hit with the shoe. This killed the mosquito, curing the king of his ailment. He appreciated the artistic outlay on the shoe and desired to patronise the work. Other emperors and nobles followed him (Gupta, 1996).”

Various mentions have been made about cloth embroidered with gold in ancient texts. Rig-Veda mentions a term atka which symbolises a sewn garment embroidered with gold thread. The term hiranyair vyutarn indicates a garment which was worked with gold and reflected like sun. Valmiki’s Ramayana mentions a term swarnatantu nirmita, which means decorated with gold wire. Mahabharata also has numerous mentions about the cloth decorated using gold wires. Mention has been made about maharhavasthambra which was a costly robe used at the time of marriage of the five Pandavas with Draupadi. All these references indicate beyond doubt that embroidered costumes worked in gold, silver and precious stones were part of luxurious tradition during the epic period.


The zardozi embroidery is done on a karchob which is a rectangular wooden frame supported on two tripods which are called tipai. Karchob is also known as adda. This frame allows the craftsman to sit on the floor and work. This embroidery is also called karchobi which means framework. Apart from karchob, the other tools required for this embroidery are the following:

  • Scissors which are small in size. Traditionally artisans used a piece of glass or chinaware to cut the threads.

  • Needles of various thicknesses.

  • Fatila is a small wooden tool used for wrapping tilla on it for embroidery.

  • Ari is a small crochet-hook-like needle, with a fine notch on one edge, and the other edge fixed into a wooden handle for smooth functioning. It is used for hath ari work.

  • Hammer and dabber are other wooden tools which are used to beat the embroidery portion. The dabber is put under the surface for support; and the hammer gives light strokes on the upper surface. This light beating gives a lustrous look to the embroidery (Gupta, 1996).

The first step is tracing of the design on paper with a pencil. Once the design is traced small holes are punched on it at close intervals which would enable the design to be transferred on the fabric. Once the design sheet is punched, it is placed in position on the fabric to be embroidered.  In order to transfer the design on the fabric, the paper is smeared with a powder of either zinc, indigo or khadiya mixed with water. The power is chosen according to the colour of the fabric on which the design is to be transferred. The solution passes through the holes and design is transferred on the fabric. Traditionally this work of drawing the designs was done by nakkash who were professional artists. But nowadays the artisans of zardoz community make the designs themselves and these design drawings are known as khakhas.

After tracing the design the fabric is put in place on the karchob and stretched properly to assist the craftsman in carrying out the embroidery. The craftsman then lays the different varieties of zari thread and other metallic decoration pieces on the fabric as per the requirement of the design. In order to carry out this process the threaded needle moves upward from the wrong side and then from the surface to below.




There are some distinct styles which can be seen in zardozi embroidery:

  • Karchobi or zardozi is the heavier and more elaborate work done on velvet or heavy satin with badla. This type of embroidery was generally used for decorating coverings of different types like tents, coats, furnishings, animal trappings, shoes, umbrellas etc.

  • Kamdani is the lighter work which is generally done on finer fabrics like silk, muslin etc. which were more suited for apparels and other related accessories like dresses, veils, caps, scarves, belts, purses etc. This work requires minute skill and rhythm. The appearance is very pleasing and gives a glittering effect on the fabric. Hazara buti or thousand dots is a special design of this style.

  • Minakari is another important style where silk threads are used with zari and it resembles enamel done in gold.

  • Makaish is considered to be one of the oldest styles which is done using silver badla.

  • Another style is tilla or marori work in which the zari wire is twisted on the surface and a needle is pushed down to stitch the zari on the fabric.

  • Gota kinari work is the most popular style in which the gold border is cut into different shapes and sewed onto the fabric.

The zardozi embroidery has five basic designs which have further variations. They are:

  • Jali or tanke bandi ka kaam which comprises of geometrical patterns. Here the stitches are counted and the design is made. Some jali designs are chandi ki jali, chakle wali jali, suiyo wali jali.

  • Bharat designs which refers to the filling work as the name suggests.

  • Floral designs or patti and phul motifs.

  • Birds or pankhi motifs.

  • Animal or janwar designs.

Zardozi embroidery has been used since ancient times to decorate the apparels and other accessories of a costume. The use of zardozi was not restricted to apparel and costumes only, it was very popular for ornamenting furnishing items also especially during Mughal period. Zardozi was done on tent hangings, kanats, covers, spreads, trappings, umbrellas, carpets, badges, banners, uniforms, etc. Unstitched fabrics which were used as costumes or accessories like belt, patka, kamarband, shawl, misir, chunri, sari, etc were also decorated using zardozi embroidery.

Zardozi is practised in many parts of the country which include Srinagar, Agra, Delhi, Lucknow, Bhopal, Bareilly, Ajmer and Jaipur as the main centres. Other places which are lesser known are Hyderabad, Mumbai and Bangalore.

Printing of fabrics has been practised in India over many centuries and textiles printed in India were famous all around the world. Indian artisans were masters in printing the cloth using various styles, i.e. direct style, resist style, discharge style and mordant style of printing from very early times. A special type of printing which employed the use of gold or silver leaf called warak printing was a specialized form of printing done majorly in Rajasthan and gave glittering effect to the cloth. Another method which utilised gold or silver dust was called khadi printing or chamki printing was also practised. Both these methods gave a royal look to the dress and were very famous among the royalty. These techniques are practised majorly in Jaipur, Jodhpur, Barmer, Ajmer and Udaipur. Presently instead of pure gold and silver other metals are used to produce the same effect at cheaper rates.

This type of printing is characterized by the use of gold or silver warak or leaf. This technique of printing is expensive and was popular among the elites since many centuries.

The basic tool required for any printing to be carried out is a printing table which is padded using layers of blankets. On the topmost layer a fabric is spread which acts as back grey. To hold the printing paste a square tray is used in which a layer of felt is spread at the base and the paste is spread on it. Wooden blocks of various designs are used for printing. A small pouch filled with cotton is used to apply the warak. A rolling pin and a marble slab are required for polishing the printed fabric. An adhesive paste made of saras (gum) and white zinc powder called safeda is used for pasting warak onto the fabric.

The first step is to spread the fabric on the printing table and smoothen out all the creases. Next the wooden block is pressed on the adhesive paste in the tray and then stamped on the fabric at the desired location. Once the design is outlined on the fabric warak is applied onto the design by inverting the kite paper in which it is kept. Then the paper is lightly patted with the pouch filled with cotton which enables the warak to adhere to the paste and the paper is then lifted carefully. Once the warak pasted on the fabric dries, the un-pasted warak left on the non-design area is removed using a brush. This leftover warak is kept carefully and used to make gold or silver dust used in khadi printing. After the whole fabric is printed, it is spread onto the marble slab and burnished using a rolling pin. This step gives the printed fabric a beautiful glossy sheen.

Some of the popular designs used in warak printing are keri-ki-bel, keri-buti, genda, jawar bhat and religious deities like Krishna and Radha as seen in temple hangings.



Warak printing is popular for its use in pichwais or temple hangings. It is also done on dhotis, safas, saris and other ceremonial cloths.

or chamki printing utilises gold or silver dust to add glamour to the plainest of textiles. This type of printing was very famous in earlier times and was extensively applied on the costumes of royalty.

printing requires a special kind of block which is made of brass and one end of this block has the design perforated on it. This block is known as sancha. A wooden datta which is carved in a way so that it matches the contours of the sancha exactly is used along with it. The two together are used to stamp the design on the fabric in a syringe like action. A wooden table which is padded using blankets serves as the printing table. A brush is used to spread the gold or silver dust evenly on the design. The printing paste is thick viscous paste called rogan and contains white lead, zinc powder and an adhesive resin.



The fabric is stretched on the printing table and all the wrinkles are removed. The printing paste is slightly heated and poured into the sancha. The wooden datta is then inserted into the sancha and with a syringe like action is pressed out through its perforated end. The paste is then stamped on the fabric and forms an adhesive layer. On this the gold or silver dust is sprinkled and spread evenly with the help of a brush. Excess powder is collected back and resude. The process is repeated till the whole fabric is printed and then it is left to dry.



The common motifs used in khadi printing are phul, buti, chandani, mor, mogra, keri and khaja.

Khadi printing was very famous for decorating apparels like odhni, sari, turban, ghaghara, kanchli, angrakha, jama, etc.

The use of gold in textiles is an ancient art. It was used to depict one’s wealth and status in the society. Gold was converted into zari threads to be incorporated in the fabric while weaving and embroidery. It was also beaten into sheets and converted into powder which was used for printing on the fabric. Almost all the aspects of fabric construction have used gold in some form or other. With the passage of time changes have taken place in traditional methods as well as the raw materials used. Due to the high cost of gold and silver, imitation zari was introduced which had copper in it. This resulted in decline in the quality as well as appearance of the fabrics produced. Modernization also resulted in use of powerloom instead of handloom as it is fast and cheaper. The printing with gold leaf and powder also underwent the changes with time. Cheaper metal powders and flakes of mica replaced pure gold and silver in the printing of fabrics. Although one can see that the designs have remained more or less traditional which depict the essence of the craft. Efforts are being made by government and various NGOs to bring back the traditional methods and materials back into practice.

This paper was written under the supervision of Dr. Simmi Bhagat, Associate Professor, , Department of Fabric and Apparel Science, Lady Irwin College, University of Delhi


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