There lies a hidden gem of the textile world in the heart of India, nestled amidst the fertile plains of Bihar – Sujani or Sujini embroidery. This intricate and mesmerizing craft passed down through generations, has transformed simple, worn-out garments into masterpieces of needlework, breathing new life into discarded fabrics. Not only is the fabric and the makings of it sustainable, but stitched into it are the threads of history and culture that have defined rural Bihar.
History and origins
The name Sujini finds its roots in the word Sujani where Su means “easy and facilitating” and Jani means “birth”. Traditionally, the Sujini technique was used to put together a quilt from old saris and dhotis for newborn babies. A simple running stitch was used to put the scraps of cloth together and prospective mothers contributed to the design as well by stitching their hopes and dreams for the baby onto the quilt. The earliest traces of this embroidery style can be found in 18th-century Bihar amongst the women belonging to the lower castes. It possibly began as a ritualistic practice in tribute to Chitiriya Ma, the lady of tatters.
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What does Sujini embroidery symbolize
Sujini embroidery symbolizes the amalgamation of disharmonious pieces of cloth into a harmonious whole. With every piece of cloth affixed to the one preceding it, the act of stitching speaks of the tenderness and care found in a mother’s love. When a baby is swaddled in a quilt built with the Sujini technique, they are not only warm but also protected by the good wishes and prayers that their mother stitched into the foundations of the cloth.
Techniques of Sujini embroidery
Sujini embroidery, an art form characterized by its simplicity and elegance, employs a unique running stitch known as kantha. The process begins with selecting a base fabric, typically cotton or silk, and cutting it to the desired size and shape. A design is then meticulously drawn onto the top layer using a tracing sheet, a tracing wheel, and blue chalk. The embroidery commences with a fine-running stitch, progressing from the background towards the foreground. Motifs are accentuated using a chain stitch, with black or brown threads for outlines and vibrant threads for filling. The finishing touches involve a hemming stitch along the fabric’s edges, followed by washing with kerosene to remove blue chalk marks and ironing.
Sujini embroidery designs
The most traditional designs of Sujini embroidery are sun and cloud motifs which are symbolic of the life-giving process. Other common designs include fertility symbols, sacred animals, and mythical creatures embroidered to protect the infant against the forces of evil. They’re essentially protective wards that are used to attract the blessings of the Gods. The designs are primarily mapped out in threads of red and yellow, where red represents blood and yellow represents the sun. Darker colours are preferred while practicing this embroidery. Today, Sujini embroidery has evolved to include more designs that include other motifs of nature such as flowers, leaves, trees, and animals and geometric patterns too.
The evolution of Sujini embroidery
However, with time Sujini embroidery evolved to decorate more than just baby quilts. The unique designs made with a simple running stitch poured out of the hands of the women in Bhusra onto blankets, bedsheets, curtains, tapestries, and more. The original tradition of making Sujini embroidered baby quilts had almost died out by the time the 20th century rolled around, however, it was revived in 1988 by Nirmala Devi who belonged to Mahila Vikas Sahyog Samiti (MVSS) which was a grassroots-level organization that promoted the economic independence of rural women and championed the cause of female financial empowerment. The baby quilts were still made but the women turned to bedspreads and adult quilts to appeal to a larger market. Today the Sujini embroidery is protected by a GI tag and taken up exclusively by 600 women across 22 villages from and around Bhusra and Madhubani.
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