Sozni, a popular needle-point thread embroidery, is an age-old craft from Kashmir valley. Sozni artisans set out to embellish and adorn every day with ornamental designs using an array of different stitches, thread, and different types of colours.
Hailing from Kangan area of Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district and raised in craftsmanship–oriented family, Nissar Ahmed (35) first learned Sozni art from his father. Now he is a well-known master craftsman called ‘Vosta’ in his area. Many people admire him for his skills.
“Sozni embroidery is a symbol of the artist’s perseverance, dedication, and hard work. I was only 12 when I started to learn and work on shawls as my family was already into this craft,” Nissar said.
He said the work involves a lot of time and patience of a craftsman.
“In order to make this embroidery, single-needle is needed. This embroidery requires massive hard work and concentration of a maker. This form of art is quite different from other types of embroidery,” he said.
Sozni work is a powerful expression of dedication and talent for Nissar Ahmed. He didn’t learn the art to make money. It was a pure passion. He wanted to learn it by heart and is quite proud of his work.
Sozni is one of the most sophisticated forms of needle embroidery in the World. This extremely fine, delicate and artistic needlework is only practiced in Kashmir and has no parallels anywhere.
It takes each shawl months to complete and sometimes one or two years. The leisurely pace and precision of a craftsman’s hard work ensures excellence.
Nissar Ahmed must sit with his workpiece for a period of 6-8 hours every day to create the labyrinth designs. He works from 8 am to 6 pm daily. He can fit 500 stitches per square centimeter of a cloth.
The process of making a Sozni embroidered Pashmina is a meticulous one. Sometimes the embroidery patterns are so dense that the Pashmina base is barely visible.
Pure Pashmina shawls are handed over to Nissar with embroidery print known as ‘Chaap’.
“Many artists work under me. I train workers of my village and distribute work among them. I ask them what colours should be used on the shawl,” he added.
The colours of the motifs are drawn from flowers, creepers and Chinar leaves. Wool, silk and cotton is very base cloth used. Embroidered Pashmina varies from one shawl to another. Some patterns are thick, some are more loose and some are condensed. Bootidar Pashmina shawl contains small booties of embroidery motifs spread all over the base of the Pashmina shawl.
The stitches are open chain, open stem, couching, fly, button hole and herringbone stitch locally known as Kashmiri stitch. Kashmiri sozni shawls are those fine beautiful clothing items used by women over arms, shoulders and sometimes over the head as well as they have unique designs.
Pashmina shawls are timeless pieces and their relevance only grows with time. Sozni work is as classic as it is contemporary. However, what gives Kashmiri shawls that beautiful design and style is actually the embroidery they have on them.
Another artisan, Muzzafar Ahmed, who has over 10-years of experience in the field, said Sozni craft, is a source of earning bread for him and his family. “I am no longer dependent on anyone.”
Muzaffar began working under Nissar along with his brother. “We have always loved our craft. We are trying to keep the traditional craft alive by bringing in new changes as well,” Muzaffar added.
Working on a Pashmina jam, a long shawl, Abdul Rashid(38) said, none among us can come closer to Nissar’s clean artistry.
“I have learned from him and I wonder if ever we can be masters like him. He has mastered the art to such an extent that one cannot differentiate between the front and back of his work.”
The Sozni embroidery can be done on any soft fabric, jackets, handkerchiefs, pocket squares and scarves.
Sozni embroidery technique has been followed by Kashmiri people for a long time. The integrity of handmade products is very different. This art can be a money and employment spinner for Kashmir and it boosts the local economy as well.
Kashmir has been a hub of handmade wonders, be it shawl making, embroideries, or architecture. The valley has always clung to what its locals create which is timeless.
“We should promote our culture and heritage. We should be proud of our heritage as it is loved all over the world,” added Nissar.