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Humshehri: Thinking Pakistan's History

Thinking Pakistan's History


Urdu Version

The traditional shirt of Balochi women, pashk is embroidered in the front and can take several months to complete.


Pashk 1
Balochi Pashk

Pashk is the long embroidered shirt that Balochi women wear. Not only is it distinct in its embroidery and style, pashk has remained a permanent feature of the Balochi woman’s dress for centuries. Shaped like a loose dress, the pashk is usually mid-calf or ankle length and flares out to create a frock-like effect. Embroidery covers the front and sleeve cuffs of the pashk. The embroidery is so fine that it takes several months to a year to complete one pashk.

Materials and technique

The pashk is made of several pieces of cloth that are sewn together. A round neckline with a small slit and a tie at the neck opening is typical of this dress. The sleeves, though loose, narrow down at the wrist, while the lower part of the pashk, from the waist to the hem, usually flares out.

Patterns and motifs, usually distinct to different localities in Balochistan, are embroidered on a separate piece of cloth before being attached to the shirt. At least four embroidered panels are sewn on the pashk. One square panel, known as zi, covers the length of the area from shoulders to the waist, while two smaller panels are attached to the wrists. The fourth panel, known as zoptan, is sewn from the waist to near the hem of the pashk. This panel is straight at the bottom but has a peak at the top. The sides of peak are not sewn to the shirt, allowing this panel to be used as a long pocket.

Although the arrangement of these panels is consistent throughout Balochistan, the fabric of the pashk and the cloth that is embroidered upon vary from region to region. About a hundred years ago, women would keep silkworms for the purpose of making silk thread, which they would dye themselves. But as commercial cotton thread became readily available, they transitioned into using that. The embroidered cloth used to be dark and not very fine, but now silk, cotton and even chiffon are used for this purpose. Embroidery, also referred to as pacca (meaning firm), or doch, is done in a variety of colors. In the Makran region, traditionally only six colors were used. Red and maroon occupied the greatest space, while dark green, black, white, and royal blue were less prominent. Elsewhere is Balochistan, numerous other colors are used. Today, preferences and tastes play a greater role in determining the color choice. In addition, small mirrors in different shapes are sometimes incorporated into the embroidery.

Patterns and motifs

The arrangement of stitches and regional motifs gives Balochi embroidery its uniqueness. Numerous types of stitches, ranging from simple to complex, are used in Balochi embroidery. These stitches are arranged in geometric patterns to create a style that’s distinct to a certain area and even to a woman’s situation in life. A mother who has lost her only son might refrain from using certain stitches in her embroidery, while a widow will be identified by the use of simple threads. Different patterns can also help to identify the area to which the woman belongs. Some patterns are more prominent in the works of Kalati women while other patterns identify the woman from the Makran region.

About seventy motifs have been identified in Balochi embroidery and each has its own name. Motifs such as chicken feet, diamonds, flowers and arrows are common. One motif has even been linked back to the 7000-year-old pottery found in Mehrgarh, Balochistan.

Find out more

Books & Articles

“Balochi Embroidery/ Doch.” The Encyclopedia of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Craft Revival Trust, UNESCO.

Jahanbani, Mehremonir. “Baloch clothing and embroidery today.” Balochi Linguist. Apr. 2011.