Zardozi, the ancient art of metal embroidery

photo source

If you have ever seen an Indian bride wearing a traditional wedding outfit, you couldn't help noticing the elaborate embroidery that her dress was richly decorated with. It is the famous zardozi style. This ancient art has been mentioned as far back as the Rigveda, where it has been described as the attire of gods. It used to be a privilege enjoyed only by aristocrats and royalty. Maharajahs wore ceremonial cloths decorated with zardozi; elaborate panels were hung on their walls and for ceremonial processions their elephants and horses were adorned with zardozi spreads and saddles.

Zardozi is one of the styles of zari, metal wire embroidery. The manufacture of real zari threads was once a large and important industry. Originally genuine gold, gold-plated silver or pure silver yarns were used. Today metallic yarn is generally of gold- or silver-plated copper or synthetic plastic yarn.

There are various types of zari threads that help to create intricate designs: thicker and thinner varieties; spirally twisted; dull or lustrous. Additionally small round metal pieces in the shape of a star, seed pearls or precious and semi-precious stones are used in zardozi embroidery.

Pair of princely gold thread zardozi court shoes. Northern India, 19th century. Photo source

Woman’s pillbox hat. Rayon satin with gold- and silver-coloured zardozi, plastic pearls, and glass beads. 1960s Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection

Woman's ensemble, mid 20th c, Delhi. University of Hawaii Virtual Museum

Zardozi work is used for decorating heavy coats, cushions, wall hangings, anipal trappings, canopies, shoes and, of course, bridal wear. The main materials for this are heavy silk, velvet, brocade or satin.

Lady Curzon’s white satin "orchid gown". She wore it on state occasions in Delhi when she was Vicereine of India. The train is fourteen feet long, and, together with the bodice and skirt, the entire ensemble is richly embroidered in zardozi style. Fashion Museum, Bath 

Lady Curzon's dress detail. Photo source

Cloak, 1920's, silk with metallic threads zardozi embroidery and dyed ostrich feathers. This opera cloak or cape is made from silk embellished with Indian zardozi embroidery in gold and silver metal threads. It was originally worn as a skirt with a bodice of the same beautiful fabric in around 1910. However with changing fashions, the owner converted the skirt into this stunning cape in the 1920s.  Museum of New Zeland

Zardozi embroidered jacket from Anamika Khanna

These days zardozi is used to make exquisite evening dresses, coats, fashion accessories like purses, handbags, belts, shoes; ceremonial adornments like badges and insignia; furnishing accessories like cushion covers, wall hangings and boxes etc.


  1. Wonderful arts and crafts Olga. I can imagine that it takes weeks or even month to complete such a gorgeous garment. And I can imagine the woman who wears it needs some help. It must be very heavy.
    The small short jacket on the last pic I would like to have.
    Have a fine weekend my dear!

  2. What amazing pieces, the dress and cape are beautiful. The modern short jacket has a Spanish matador look, very stylish. xx

  3. Beautiful master pieces. Some of the are rather sculpture!

  4. I have one piece of fabric with zardozi embroidery which I occasionally use as a table runner! I love lady Curzon's dress and that cape, how opulent! x

  5. These are masterpieces and so inspiring to see. I have seen pieces using these materials in museums and some home decoration accessories and Christmas ornaments. Hope it appears on some clothing soon because I would buy it! The jacket you have shown us in gorgeous.

    blue hue wonderland

  6. Wow! What an incredible amount of handwork these pieces required! And the train on Lady Curzon's dress must have been very weighty indeed.