Women in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan embroidered intricate patterns—known as phulkari (flower work) or bagh (garden)—with silk threads onto handwoven cotton cloth, producing brightly colored shawls. Phulkari were worn during important events in women’s lives. This shawl was known as a vari da bagh, or gift to a bride, and it was made by a woman to welcome her son’s future bride. Intricate shawls like this one could take up to ten years to embroider. The expensive silk embroidery thread was often purchased in small batches as family finances allowed, resulting in subtle irregularities in color in an otherwise highly uniform pattern. The woman who embroidered this shawl also introduced some deliberate irregularities into her work, creating distinctive medallions of white, gold, and green (see detail, below). Such disruptions to the textile’s symmetry have been explained in two ways: to protect the shawl’s wearer from the evil eye or to record family history by marking important events, such as a birth or death that occurred over the course of a piece’s production.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.