The origin of embroidery has a long and time-tested history and is recorded in the annals of history from time immemorial. The art was perfected in ancient Egypt, Northern Europe and China. Intricately designed and embroidered clothing, religious objects, and household items has been hallmarks of social status and signs of affluence and wealth of the family in many ancient cultures and civilizations in Persia, India, China, Byzantium, and medieval England. Hand Embroidery is a traditional art form passed from generation to generation in diverse cultures and the art-oriented dwellers of Swat has inherited this profound tradition from the artisans of Ghanhdara.
Embroidery is the needle artwork on a piece of satin, cotton, canvass or dresses etc with a silk, cotton thread, yarn or golden lace. Embroidery or hand sewing is the movement of embroidery needle from the backside of the fabric to the front side and back to the backside of the fabric. The thread stroke produced this way is called a stitch. In the context of embroidery, an embroidery stitch means one or more stitches that are executed in the same way, forming a recognizable and definite shape or figure. Embroidery patterns are formed by many embroidery stitches, either all the same or different, either following a printed chart, following a design on the fabric or even working freehand with colourful or dyed thread or lace.
Swati embroidery has a great significance and has won a unique status due to its innovative and creative underpinning all over the country. In the past when modern embroidery accessories were not easily available, pure silver yarn was used in embroidery and the dresses decorated this way were very heavy and ostentatious. As most of the females remain in the boundaries of their home in the values driven society of Swat, they have adopted this art as their past time especially the young girls who have not yet been married. These talented girls of the artistic valley of Swat decorate and adore all the dresses, shawls, blankets, bed sheets, pillow covers, table cloths, veils, head scarves, handkerchiefs, caps etc which were to become a part of their dowry after their marriage. The verses, mosaics, natural landscapes, animals, flowers, fruits, vines and artistic symmetries created through crochet by these aesthetic girls are the most sought after works of embroidery in Swat. The golden lace embroidery of Swat has acquired a distinct recognition in the valley as well as in the country.
The beaded and mirrored embroidery around the necks of the dresses and endings of Kamees (Shirt) and Sadar (Shawl) with golden and silver ribbons studded with artificial gemstones and Laloona (coloured glass beads) specially created for the brides, are the exquisite, unique and typical creations and products of the artistic embroiders of Swat. These aesthetic and artistic handicrafts of Swat have a very high demand in the local and international market.
According to the centuries old tradition of vale of beauties Swat, the virgin bride is attired in rosy satin embroidered with golden lace and studded with sparkling beads and stones, adorned with golden ornaments, necklaces, bangles, rings, earrings, and typical Jhoomer (ornament for tresses) and Natkai (ornament for nose), anxiously and nervously waiting for her bridegroom in her decorated bed with drooping and covered head like full moon surrounded by tiny stars. Some of these adorable handicrafts especially the mirrors, beads, gems and seashells embroidered and embellished dresses and shawls show similarity with Kalash culture in the secluded valley of Chitral.
The markets of Swat are flooded with these exclusive Swati handicrafts and the visitors, national and international search out every nook and corner of the valley to procure these precious and invaluable artifacts of the serene and aesthetic valley of the glamorous Swat.
Apart from the influences from other tradition, the artisans of Swat have established their own footprints in the art of embroidery and garments. The peculiar and typical Sharai (woolen shawl for men) is specially weaved and made from local livestock fleece, which is considered, must for the freezing winter in the valley and revered for its immemorial tradition. Sharai has its own established cottage industries in Swat at Salampur in Marghazar valley where seasoned artisans remain engrossed in making these traditional outfits throughout the year in different colours and shapes. These artisans are called Jollagan (weavers) and are respected through out the valley for their skill and mastery in the field of weaving. They also weave woolen cloths, which have attained a special status in the region. Theses woolen clothes and shawls are in great demand during winter and the cloth merchants collect huge revenues and profits in the season. The other very famous winter outfit created by these hardworking artisans is the woolen cap/hat called Pakool in the local vernacular. It is an indigenous product, which is considered, must for men in winter especially for senior citizens. It is available in several hues, shapes and shades depending on the age and taste of the wearer.
Another unique and indigenous creation of Swati artisans is a woolen rug or carpet called Lamsay in Pashto. The method and contents for constituting a Lamsay are itself unusual and interesting. First freshly fleeced wool is taken from livestock, is spun with a local tool made of wood and a cord with a huge wooden hammer called Daindut. After the wool is spun then it is spread on a straw mate, sprinkled with water designed with different dyes especially pink, black and dark red without using any geometrical instruments with bare hand. The straw mate is then rolled up and tread on for a specific period of time and at last the labour of the artisan is rewarded in the form of Lamsay. These rugs or Lamsay are very famous especially among the nomad and people living in mountains.
Swat is undoubtedly a place on earth where traditions and customs rule high and its talented people have been brought up in the lap of pure Mother Nature. They have been brought up by Nature and taught how to tackle the severities of Nature by Nature itself. The traditional handicrafts and seasoned artisans are the assets of Swat that is a source of pride and popularity for all the citizens of this exotic valley.
Braids or Bachookay is the exquisite and unique creation of the beautiful damsels of Swat. Bachookay is contrived from long black threads of silk, cotton woven together in a narrow strip and embellished in the end with golden or silver lace, beads and sometimes-small tinkling bell gongs (Gongrey). The rustic community of ladies first smears mustard oil on their long and combed tresses and locks and bind the plaits in the ostentatious Bachookay which usually dangles over the hips in a seductive manner. It is an essential decoration accessory for the ladies of Swat especially the aged ladies of the household. Bachookay is the exclusive creation of Swat and is in vogue from time immemorial. It is the part and parcel of ladies life in great in the uniquely beautiful valley of Swat.
Bolsters play a very important role in the traditional society of Swat where Hujras (center of meetings of local folk) attract diverse community members after dinner to discuss local, political and international issues and progress. Usually Hujra is a huge hall spread with local rugs and carpets and bulky bolsters (Boojona) upon which the people rest their tired and exhausted backs sipping Green tea or Black tea. These bolsters are an important feature of a Hujra decorated with colourful cotton or silk threads, tassels, golden lace, beads and hollow silver made bells and an indispensable commodity in the Hujra in Pukhtun culture. The ingenious and beautiful damsels of Swat create these embellishments which has rendered the Swat a place on earth ruled by traditions and cultural values.