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How to Embellish Garments Using Shisha

May 29, 2013
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“Indian embroidery seeks to engage in a contest with the sun,” said 19th-century writer Théophile Gautier, “to have a duel to the death with the blinding light and glowing sky. At all costs its duty is to shine and glitter and to send forth the prismatic rays: it must be blazing, blinding and phosphorescent-and so the sun acknowledges defeat.” This battle is fought with tiny mirrors called shisha, which are held to the fabric in a cage of stitches. No one has yet documented how these mirrors came to be used in Indian embroidery or who developed the technique. In A History of Textiles, Kax Wilson claims that the mirror work originated with the hill tribes of southern India, who sewed beetle backs onto wedding garments. Orthodox Hindus, disapproving of this practice, used pieces of mica instead. Eventually bits of glass or mirrors were used. Author Jacqueline Enthoven believes that shisha was developed by clever servants who admired the jewels embroidered onto the maharanis’ clothing. At first they probably salvaged chips of broken jewelry. Later, the mirrors were manufactured and practically everyone could afford them. The most charming story is Jean Simpson’s in Shisha Mirror Embroidery. Shah Jahan erected several…

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