Sozni (also known as Sozan Kaari) is described as a popular needlepoint embroidery technique of meticulously fine embroidery layered to make the fabric look encrusted like a tapestry. Sozni artisans set out to embellish and adorn every day with ornamental designs using an array of different stitches, thread, and different types of colors. Sozni embroidery has been practiced by Kashmiri artisans for almost 500 years. It's mainly done in woolen and silk fabrics and is very famous for its use in Pashmina Cashmere shawls and jackets. In Sozni embroidery, the intricacy can range from 5 stitches per cm to 500 stitches per cm.
Most of the craftsmen who practice Sozni embroidery are mostly farmers from villages in the Kashmir valley. The majority of people in Kashmir's villages are involved in fruit, vegetable, cereal, or animal farming since Kashmir has always been an agriculturally rich region. A farmer does not work 365 days a year because farms are full of snow in winter. Hence, the farmers turn into sozni embroidery artisans in winters and embroidered shawls, stoles, apparel, and other fabrics. Farmers are extremely skilled and experienced embroidery artisans, and even their eyes have trouble following the intricate designs they make.
The Sozni embroidery technique is one of the most sophisticated forms of hand embroidery in the world. A form of needlework this fine, delicate, and art is only practiced in Kashmir, and there is no comparable form anywhere else in the world.
Steps of making a Sozni shawl
Sozni embroidery on a shawl is done in several steps. Here is the detail of each one of them.
Preparing the design
Embroidery is carried out on the shawl using a design prepared by the designer (locally called Naqash). The design is drawn on graph paper using geometrical techniques.
Carving a wooden block for Stamping
An assortment of wooden stamps is chosen from a walnut wooden block shop based on the design made by the designer. Fresh blocks of wood are carved as per the design if the design is new, which doesn't happen very often.
As the motifs hardly change, the blocks carved decades ago are still used as stamping blocks. Different blocks are used for the borders and different ones for the center.
Stamping the sozni shawl
A master craftsman stamps the design on the shawl using a wooden block dipped in chemical ink. During the printing process, only the imprint is left for embroidery. The process of stamping the shawl should be carried out by the steady hands of an experienced craftsman, and Kashmiri artisans are no less than perfectionists in this process. After the stamped shawl is approved by the master artisan, the colors are chosen for the embroidery.
Embroidering the shawl
The Sozni embroidery symbolizes an artist's perseverance, dedication, and skill. A single needle and thread are needed to embroider a Pashmina shawl in sozni, making it lightweight and fine. Embroidery takes a lot of hard work and concentration from the embroidery master. Sozni work is pure passion, and artisans claim it is their best time of the day when they are doing it.
The process of embroidery starts. Threads are chosen in silk and the base is Pashmina. The motifs usually are flowers, creepers, paisleys, and chinar leaves. The density of embroidery on Pashmina shawls varies from one to another. Sozni Jamawar shawls have thick all-over patterns, while those with loosely embroidered motifs are called Sozni Jaalidaar. The stitch can be an open chain, couching, buttonhole, or the famous herringbone stitch known locally as Kashmiri stitch.
Sozni Shawls - a heritage in itself
The aesthetics of Pashmina shawls and sozni embroidery are timeless. Their relevance has only grown with time. Sozni embroidery is classic, and that is what makes a Sozni Pashmina shawl regal. Depending on the density of the embroidery, each shawl takes a few months to complete and sometimes even longer. Depending on the density of the embroidery, each shawl takes a few months to complete and sometimes even longer.
Even though embroidery artisans must sit with their workpieces for 6-8 hours every day, yet they love their work the most. Usually, artisans work from a usual 9-6 daily, with proper breaks. In this time, they can even fit 500 stitches per square centimeter of the shawl.
Embroidering a Sozni Pashmina is a meticulous process. Sometimes the embroidery patterns are so dense that the Pashmina base is barely visible, and such shawls take 5 years to complete. In this process, there are times when a color chosen for embroidery does not produce the intended result. This stitch is undone and redone. Yet the artisans never get disinterested and work with as much vigor as they have on the very first day.
An artisan's hard work results in an impressive shawl that must be washed after completion. Having taken nearly a decade to complete, the shawl needs to be washed. The final washing of the shawl is done in Spring waters. Mild detergents are used, and the shawl is struck again and again against a smooth stone. The washer of Pashmina shawls is different from the rest of the washers in the valley. It is a professional and labor-intensive process that needs free-flowing water and many tough hands to manage. Later the shawls are dried on open grounds. There are no indoor spaces for drying Pashmina shawls. After the shawl is complete, it is given several finishing touches like cutting fringes, removal of any foreign material, etc. The shawl is now ironed and packed for sale in the markets.
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