Cristin McKnight Sethi
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Entangled histories of craft and conflict
The story of phulkari textiles in The Singh Twins’s Slaves of Fashion
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An often-quoted line from the Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib and attributed to the Sikh spiritual leader Guru Nanak, proclaims ‘when you embroider your own blouse, only then will you be considered an accomplished lady.’ The close connection between textile labor, particularly hand embroidery, and constructions of gender is well known and in South Asia has persevered beyond Guru Nanak’s sixteenth-century declaration. Recent craft revival initiatives and income generation projects geared towards female makers use textiles as a focal point, further solidifying this connection between textiles, ideas of femininity, social activism, and economic development. This chapter explores these themes by examining the case of embroidered textiles known as phulkaris which were historically made in pre-Partition Punjab. Now actively produced in both India and Pakistan, these textiles have become icons of Punjabi identity and remain deeply connected to histories of women’s work and constructions of gender. From recent phulkari revival initiatives by women’s cooperatives in both India and Pakistan, to the incorporation of phulkari imagery in the Slaves of Fashion series by the UK-based artist The Singh Twins, phulkaris have emerged as potent symbols that offer insights into new ways of thinking about textiles, social activism, and gender.

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Threads of globalization

Fashion, textiles, and gender in Asia in the long twentieth century


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