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What Is Mirror-Work?

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  • Written By: Lakshmi Sandhana
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
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  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2016
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Mirror-work is a type of embroidery that involves attaching lightweight pieces of specially made mirrors to fabric with intricate embroidery. Extremely popular in various parts of India, mirror-work is also known as shisha embroidery. The word shisha stands for glass in Persian. Mirror-work is thought to have been introduced to India in the 13th century by the Mughal dynasty. Shisha embroidery is very popular in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Orissa, and Haryana, who have evolved their own subtle styles over time.

Craftspeople attach mirrors to fabric to add extra dimension to their designs. The small pieces of reflective mirrors add a dazzling appearance to any material it is attached to. Mirrors are normally used to make churdhidars, which are sets of trousers with tops, blouses, and skirts. They may also be attached to wall hangings and curtains or found on cloth purses and footwear. Mirror-work is typically found on strongly colored, bright clothes and is used with many different types of embroidery to accentuate the beauty of the design.

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The mirrors, or shisha, come in varying shapes and sizes and are mostly mass produced. There is some handblown shisha, which is referred to as antique shisha, that may have slightly more irregular shapes as they are hand cut. For the most part, commercially available mirrors have thin layers of glass on top of silver backing and are machine cut. They may be square, polygonal, or triangular in shape and vary from very tiny pieces to large bits of glass. They typically have no holes and are attached to the fabric with the aid of various decorative embroidery stitches.

Mirrors may be used within designs to represent the eyes of birds and animals or be the centers of flowers. Used with a variety of different-colored threads, these designs may contain mirrors of different sizes as embellishments. Pillow cases, cushion covers, and bed spreads augmented with mirror-work make for very intriguing home accessories and are much in demand. It is possible to buy shisha rings, which are pieces of mirror contained within embroidered stitches.

Using mirror-work results in giving a design or pattern a three-dimensional feel. Artists employ the herringbone stitch, chain stitch, and the satin stitch to hold the mirrors in place. Embroiderers may also use the stem stitch, the detached chain stitch, and the blanket stitch. They attach mirrors initially to the fabric with a set of structural stitches that hold them in place. Then, they use intricate embroidery stitches over the top with vibrantly colored thread until the mirrors are secured in place.

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ysmina
Post 6

@burcinc-- That's a good question.

First of all, the "mirrors" are not like normal mirrors. They're very thin, small and light mirrors in various shapes with circle being the most common. Some Indian outfits with mirror work are very heavy because of the use of hundreds of mirrors in addition to hundreds of beads. But many Indian outfits without mirror work are heavy as well, especially the lehengas and bridal wear. If small amount of mirrors are used and if the outfit doesn't have lots of bead work, then the outfit won't be heavy.

Indians are not the only ones who use mirror work in clothing. It's also used in traditional outfits in Central Asian peoples. For example, one can see hats worn traditionally by women in Turkmenistan with mirrors.

burcinc
Post 5

How do people wear these outfits with mirrors? Won't the outfits be very heavy?

stoneMason
Post 4

The Rajasthani churidars with mirror work are dazzling, very beautiful. They also have matching dupattas (shawls) and jewelry.

I have a skirt with mirror embroidery. It's not a very sophisticated design and I'm not sure where in India it was made. I bought it from an Indian boutique at the mall. I enjoy matching the skirt with a plain, single color shirt or tunic. The mirrors and hand stitching on the bottom of the skirt grab a lot of attention, so I make sure to stick to something simple for the blouse.

I was at a friend's house the other day and had worn this skirt. My friend's toddler was absolutely amused with my skirt and couldn't stop looking at it and touching it.

irontoenail
Post 3

@Mor - Mirror-work can tend to be very bright but I suspect that you only really notice it when it is and the more subtle uses of mirrors in clothes and other items just go unnoticed. Mirrors can add quite a lot of elegance to a design if they are used in the right way.

Mor
Post 2

@umbra21 - A scarf might be an exception, but usually I wouldn't recommend that anyone wear too much mirror-work unless they are doing it with a traditional costume. It can be very overwhelming, particularly when matched with bright colors. It's essentially the same as wearing giant sequins, after all.

Whenever I see people wearing it as a casual, everyday thing, it always comes across as someone trying a little bit too hard to appear to be free spirited or something.

umbra21
Post 1

Mirror-work can be so exquisite when it is done well. When I was at university we had a fancy dress dance and I couldn't really afford to buy anything expensive. I found this gorgeous silver and white scarf with beads and mirrors worked into the design at a thrift shop and it really didn't even matter what else I wore with it, because it was enough to improve any outfit.

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