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.