Exquisite Threads from Kashmir

From the Collections posts

One of the most recent additions to the Museum’s anthropology collections, accessioned about six months ago, is this intricately embroidered jacket from Kashmir with a historic link to the Indian craft movement. 

This intricately embroidered jacket is one of the Museum's newest acquisitions. © AMNH/D. Finnin

This intricately embroidered jacket is one of the Museum's newest acquisitions.

© AMNH/D. Finnin


The jacket came to the Museum, along with 10 other pieces, from the collection of Enakshi Bhavnani, author of Decorative Designs and Craftsmanship of India. The late Mrs. Bhavnani traveled widely through India with her husband, film producer and director Mohan Bhavnani, including trekking into the inner Himalayas. She was an active member of the Crafts Council of India, which was founded in 1964 to support artisans and keep their crafts relevant and marketable amid rapidly changing economies at home and abroad. 

This jacket is notable for “the embroidery, the stitching, the array of colors, and the variety of patterns,” says Laurel Kendall, chair and curator in the Division of Anthropology. “It’s just exquisite.”

Embroidery is an ancient art. As Bhavnani notes in her book, bronze needles found at the archaeological site of Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan’s Sindh province suggest that some form of needlecraft has been practiced for thousands of years. Also striking is continuity over time and place.

“Each region naturally has worked out its own modes, influenced by particular environmental conditions, customs, and history,” wrote Bhavnani. “But all through there is a similarity in the use of the basic stitches like the satin, stem, chain, darning, running, and herringbone, which have been used in a multitude of ways with varying inspiration to give each embroidered object a characteristic beauty all its own.”

Kashmir, long associated with the high-quality fabric woven from the wool of cashmere goats, also has its own recognized tradition of embroidery, characterized by delicate designs with motifs following nature—a tradition well represented in this jacket’s exuberant interweaving of birds and flowers.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Member magazine Rotunda.