Baluch Embroidery

Baluch woman's dress, acquired at Karachi, late 20th century. Baluch woman's dress, acquired at Karachi, late 20th century. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum, acc. no. 2008,6039.2.

Baluch embroidery is a form of decorative needlework associated with the Baluchis. The Baluchis form an ethnic group in the extreme southeast of Iran and neighbouring parts of Pakistan (together generally called Baluchistan), and in the extreme southwest of Afghanistan. In addition, Baluch families can be found in India as well as in the Gulf States and Oman.

A major feature of Baluch clothing is the embroidery that appears on the trousers and dresses worn by women. The cap is the main embroidered item for men. The basic outfit for a Baluch woman or girl consists of (a) a pair of baggy trousers (shalwar), (b) a knee-length dress (pashk) with pleats (chin) on either side of the waist, and (c) a large rectangular shawl or head covering (chadar). Nowadays, the trousers and the dress are made in the same material, with a complementary coloured head covering.

A Baluch woman's dress invariably has four panels of embroidery (doch): a large yoke covering the chest (jig), which contains a central patterned strip (toi), two panels on the sleeve cuffs (banzar; banzari), and a long, narrow, rectangular pocket (pado, las), which runs from just above the waist line to the hem of the skirt.

The embroidery used for these panels is often referred to as pakka, meaning firm or solid, as the ground material is completely covered with fine stitching. The designs are geometric and often worked in lines. The style and quality of the embroidery depend on whether the garment is going to be used on a daily basis or is intended for a feast, such as a wedding. Cotton yarn is used for less complex forms of embroidery designs for daily dresses, while silk garments with silk and metallic threads are used for special occasions.

The basic designs, before the actual embroidering, are normally first printed onto the ground material using very small wooden or metal blocks (similar blocks are often used in India for the same purpose). Sometimes, hand embroidered panels from worn-out dresses are cut off and re-sewn onto new garments.

By the end of the twentieth century, more and more women were wearing machine-embroidered decorations on their garments. In some cases the designs are sewn directly onto the garments.

Boys and young men wear caps (topi) that have a characteristic, scalloped shape cut out at the centre front. Normally, women embroider these caps for their husbands and sons. The colours used for the caps tend to be in orange, pink or red thread, with gold or silver coloured plate or lurex. In addition, small pieces of mirror (shisha) are often worked into the designs.

Digital source (retrieved 7 June 2016).

British Museum online catalogue (retrieved 7 June 2016).


Last modified on Monday, 03 October 2016 17:54