Volume 58 Number 4, June 2007

Threads & Voices: Behind the Indian Textile Tradition

Edited by:  Laila Tyabji
Photographs by: Siddhartha Das
Binding: Hardcover
Specifications: 144 pages, 160 illustrated
ISBN: 978-81-85026-79-4
Dimensions: 305 x 241 mm

This is a volume with a difference – interpreting the textile through the contemporary craftspeople that make it, as well as including the voices of the designers and craft interventionaries who work with them. A single theme – the story behind the stitches, the people behind the products – runs through the book. The articles, by textile historians and designers, cover kani of Kashmir, phulkari of Punjab, chikan of Lucknow, Rajasthani block printing, sujuni of Bihar, weaving and mirrorwork of Kachchh, ari and ari bharat of Banaskantha, doria of Chinnur, Lambani embroideries of Karnataka, and the resilient symbol of swadeshi – khadi.

Laila Tyabji is founder member and Chairperson of Dastkar, a Society for Crafts & Craftspeople, established in 1981. Helping craftspeople, especially women, learn to use their inherent skills as a means of employment and independence is the crux of the Dastkar programme. Laila's own speciality is textile-based crafts, especially embroidery and applique, using traditional skills and design as a base for products with a contemporary appeal.
Siddhartha Das is a communication designer who primarily works in the cultural domain and with traditional Indian crafts. 

Introduction
Laila Tyabji

Picasso Gets a Sewing Machine: Current Trends in Rabari Textile Arts
Lachhuben Raja and Pabiben Soma in conversation with Judy Frater

In Search of Perfection: Chikankari of Lucknow
Paola Manfredi

Chippas of Rajasthan …Bindaas Unlimited
Meeta and Sunny

Embroidered Gardens of Flowers: Bagh and Phulkari of Punjab
Jasleen Dhamija

Weaving a Vision: Doria of Chinnur
Uzramma and Annapurna M.

Kashmiri Embroidery
Jenny Housego

Charkha: The Hand Spinning Wheel
Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee

Life Passages in Embroidery: The Lambani Women Artisans
Lakshmi Narayan and Maianna von Hippel

Sujuni of Bihar: Stitching Women’s Lives
Skye Morrison

Warp and Weft: Tradition and Change, Craftsmanship and Innovation, Artisan and Art in Bhujodi
Master Weavers Vishramji Valji, Hamir Vishramji, Shyamji Vishramji, and family in conversation with Judy Frater

Threads and Voices: Embroidery as Identity and Empowerment
Laila Tyabji

Glossary

Index

Introduction
Tyabji, Laila
Vol. 58 No. 4, June 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-794, pp. 1-3

Outlines the scope of the volume: glimpses of craftspeople and crafts in transition. Many are working in traditions that are centuries old but new to the marketplace and urban lifestyles. Craft has been a catalyst for personal growth and social and economic changes. The voices are those of the craftspeople, designers, and those working for craft NGOs.

Picasso Gets a Sewing Machine: Current Trends in Rabari Textile Arts
Frater, Judy
Vol. 58 No. 4, June 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-794, pp. 4-17

Embroidery plays a pivotal role in nomadic life - as portable wealth, outlet for creativity, for auspicious occasions. Through Pabiben and Lachhuben, a moving account of the rites of passage of the nomadic Rabari women who, empowered through their embroidery, have become their own designers and entrepreneurs. Most of them no longer embroider for their own use and cultural influences from the outside world have infiltrated their aesthetic and homes. In the process, they have discovered their voice and world-view. In 1995 the Nath, a group of Dhebaria elders banned the making and use of traditional embroidery - deemed too expensive. For a year Pabiben's village did not observe the ban, but they were fined for this. In circumventing the ban, a new style was born - hari jari. Kachchhi Rabari women too began to seek work to supplement their earnings. They continued to work in the fields, got items machined, and added hand-stitched details. Traditional skills were being lost. Kala Raksha Trust stepped in to coordinate design and pricing with the Kachchhi women. Now innovations, technology, and fashion are their hallmark. Other artisans included are Monghiben and Rani.

In Search of Perfection: Chikankari of Lucknow
Manfredi, Paola
Vol. 58 No. 4, June 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-794, pp. 18-29

The author came to India and white on white embroidery became a part of her life. It began as an academic interest in classical chikankari but the need was felt to understand the tradition in depth. Encouraged by Laila Tyabji, she began a journey with the women embroiderers of SEWA Lucknow, who broke the stranglehold of middlemen. The approach was to revive and enhance the features of excellence typical of the workmanship on old pieces. Described are the repertoire of stitches, the history and evolution of chikan which began as a male activity in the aristocratic environment of Lucknow. The artisans featured here include Nasreen, Khurshida, Rukhasana, Amita, and Chanda.

Chippas of Rajasthan ...Bindaas Unlimited
Meeta and Sunny
Vol. 58 No. 4, June 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-794, pp. 30-43

How Raghunath Nama of Kaladera, a hand block printer and wife Kalawati turned a dying craft into a prosperous business - converting the weaknesses of the process into strengths; the flaws into innovative design elements. With the support of the authors, both activists, the artisans started using natural dyes and to cater to a middle class market attempted a mix of hand and modern inputs which would generate rural employment. The authors also worked with patwas, thread workers, successfully creating a new range of accessories for the urban buyer.

Embroidered Gardens of Flowers: Bagh and Phulkari of Punjab
Dhamija, Jasleen
Vol. 58 No. 4, June 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-794, pp. 44–53

The author recalls the time when women in the Punjab created their own phulkaris, linked to ritual and celebration. Each region and family had its own patterns: in West Punjab which is rich and fertile it was stylized forms of flowers; in arid East Punjab, the colours were more vivid. The article reflects not only the beauty of these pieces but the genesis of the author’s journey as a Punjabi woman who grew up with women of the family embroidering, and textile historian.

Weaving a Vision: Doria of Chinnur
Uzramma and Annapurna M.
Vol. 58 No. 4, June 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-79-4, pp. 54–63

The authors, both from the organization Dastkar Andhra, narrate an upbeat story of how in one pocket of Andhra Pradesh, the handwoven cotton doria of Chinnur, dyed in natural colours has been revived and successfully reintroduced to the urban market. The weavers of the Padmasali community played a big role in creating the new fabric. Narrated here are the stories of weavers Rajjaya, Odhellu, Vollala, Sattaiah, Shankar, Laxmaiah, and the dyer Kattubadi Yellappa.

Kashmiri Embroidery
Housego, Jenny
Vol. 58 No. 4, June 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-794, pp. 64–75

A foreigner drawn inexorably into the magic web of Indian craft, the author writes of the craftspeople and crafts traditions of Kashmir. The time-consuming and labour-intensive weaving and embroidering of luxurious pashmina shawls has survived due to the quality of its products and ironically because of the unrest in the state which has led to lack of employment opportunities in the state. Increasing numbers of young people are now in the weaving and embroidering trade creating a new generation of craftsmen with skills technical and spiritual (embroidery is seen as a form of meditation in Sufi tradition). Pashmina has been an important part of the trade between Ladakh and Kashmir. Women artisans are relatively few.

Charkha: The Hand Spinning Wheel
Bhattacharjee, Tara Gandhi
Vol. 58 No. 4, June 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-794, pp. 76-87

An account of how, khadi has woven its way through the Indian national movement and through the author's life as Mahatma Gandhi's grand-daughter. Here, textile becomes history as the spinning and weaving of khadi moves from being a once resilient symbol of swadeshi and the freedom movement to an occupation that was to help millions become self-reliant. The reality of Khadi today - degeneration and mismanagement of Khadi institutions, dependent on subsidies. The spinners and weavers while turning out priceless yardage remain in poverty. Yet the role and philosophy of Khadi and village industries can be reawakened to reach out to neglected regions and the poor. The lack of availability of charkhas and raw cotton has led to a dearth of good quality khadi.

Life Passages in Embroidery: The Lambani Women Artisans
Narayan, Lakshmi and von Hippel, Maianna
Vol. 58 No. 4, June 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-794, pp. 88-97

The story of the Lambani tribal women of Sandur reflects their social and economic empowerment through embroidery at their cooperative in Karnataka. Their work features metal, mirrors, shells, and the traditional fabric colours of red and indigo. The authors run Village India Arts to market Sandur products and the Kendra artisans work with new colour palettes and design styles to create viable contemporary products such as wall hangings for urban customers. Here modernity has made the women stop wearing their own embroidery, yet their craftsmanship has become a source of livelihood. The artisans profied are: Shanta, Paru Bai, Subbi Bai, Gowri Bai, Parvati Bai, Roobi, Shailaja, Gomli Bai, Sita Bai, Ruku Bai, Tippava, Lakshmi Bai.

Sujuni of Bihar: Stitching Women's Lives
Morrison, Skye
Vol. 58 No. 4, June 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-794, pp. 98-107

An account of cross-cultural struggles and small successes through sujuni - the straight-stitch narrative embroidery that Bhusara has made famous. In 1989, the NGO Adithi helped three women develop sujuni as an income generator. Today 500 women form the Bhusara Mahila Vikas Samiti. Traditionally sujuni depicted stories of Hindu gods, today they carry social messages. Exposure to international exhibitions led to a boom and bust system: raw materials weren't there, wages were owed, funds were missing. The author made many trips to Bhusara to commission work resulting in the first sujuni exhibition at the Textile Museum of Canada. She undertook a Adithi-Nabard project to upgrade the artists' skills. Drawings and colours are a crucial part of sujuni; higher payments were allocated for this. Now they have regained their confidence, bringing new work to new markets. Sujuni is a living textile art, with important social events marked on cloth. The artisans include: Archana Kumari, Drawing Nirmila, Elbina Tudu, Salma Mirandi, Subarsini Soren, Vibha Devi, Sanju Devi, Nitu, Gunita Gupta, Sikku, Sendu, Jaikali Devi, Rimjimkumari, Chanda Devi, Leela, Malati, Ruby, Sushila, Kalpana, Gayatri.

Warp and Weft: Tradition and Change, Craftsmanship and Innovation, Artisan and Art in Bhujodi
Frater, Judy
Vol. 58 No. 4, June 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-794, pp. 108-119

Among the Meghvals of Kachchh, woollen weaving has been a profession for men for generations. In 1965, Prabhaben Shah of Sohan's came to Kachchh and she thought of converting the woollen odhani to a shawl. Meet Vishramji of Bhujodi and his sons Hamir and Shyamji and their development of the dhablo, rough shepherd's blanket into designer shawls that maintain the distinctive design identity of their Kachchh weaving tradition. These master weavers talk about the changing world of the craft, design, and art. The weavers of Bhujodi have found prosperity and now want to help their community. Winning the President's Award motivated Vishramji to try something new - a completely decorated dhablo, subsequently finer wools, subtler colours. Exposure too has brought new clients, new ideas. But they have not overlooked their large base of local buyers and they continue to make traditional unmistakably Kachchhi dhablos.

Threads and Voices: Embroidery as Identity and Empowerment
Tyabji, Laila
Vol. 58 No. 4, June 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-79-4, pp. 120-130

Through the stories of Puriben, Gauriben, and others, the author presents an account of the successes and struggles of the Ahir women embroiderers she works with in Datrana Banaskantha. Embroidery was not seen as a way of earning but as a requisite of womanhood. Years of drought had made living off the land difficult. They still had no idea that embroidery had a demand in the city and could provide a regular income, till SEWA stepped in, in 1985. Dastkar and the author were invited by Elaben Bhatt of SEWA to help generate new products, different motifs and stitches. With so much commercial work these women now have little time to decorate their own clothing. They travel the world with their creations and participate in workshops with international artists on collective pieces. Their economic empowerment has even extended to their playing crusaders for the community. The artisans featured are: Puriben, Gangaben, Jaumiben, Manguben, Kashi, Gauriben, Raniben.