The origin of Phulkari has not been traced. Where, Phulkari has been mentioned in the famous, Punjabi folklore of Heer Ranjha (a love tale) by Waris Shah. “Its present form and popularity goes back to 15th century, during Maharaja Ranjit Singh's Reign”.
Phulkari plays a very important role in a girl’s life. Birth of a girl marks the beginning of the child’s grandmother of the task in creating the future bride’s trousseau, which is worn by the bride when she walks around the sacred fire during her wedding ceremony. When a woman gives birth to a boy she is given a Phulkari which is worn by her when she goes out for the first time after delivery, and during any religious festivals. Likewise when a lady dies her body is covered with Phulkari.
Phulkari was never fabricated for sale; it was embroidered by a family for its own use, for every important moment in their local life like wedding, birth, and religious functions, therefore the birth of this handicraft was mere domestic necessity and not any artistic motive. Finishing a “Phulkari” signifies an important step for a girl to become a woman, as is mentioned even in the holy book for the Sikhs ““Only then will you be considered an accomplished lady when you will you – self, embroider your own blouse.”
The embroidery work was made on a plain cotton fabric (khaddar) whose thread was manually spun, loomed and dyed with natural pigments, which would be joined either before or after the embroidery to form desired designs. Khaddar could be of various colours, but the most popular was red (red being auspicious), and it was considered as a colour for youth whereas white was used by mature women or widows.
The embroideries were a mere reflection of their life. Things that they see, observe, vegetables that they eat, animals that they owned, were embroidered. Every woman had her way of embroidery, her way of representing. Just like any other daily chores she would teach this art to her daughter, thus there are no techniques or patterns that have been documented. For the same reason each family had their own styles, patterns and designs.
Embroidering on the rough coarse material “khaddar” reflects the tough, hard nature of the Punjabi women. Use of bright colours portrayed the colourful life and the use of different motifs reflected their observation, their imagination. Wearing a “Phulkari” adds delicacy, grace, simplicity to their heavy build personality.