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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Crafts in Kutch Part 4 - Little Stitches


Most people think of embroidery when they think of crafts in Kutch. Each of the dozens of communities in the region has a different style, passed down for generations (mostly) from mother to daughter. Particularly in nomadic communities, embroidery serves as a form of wealth that can be transported easily when the community moves. It is also a significant form of wealth brought as dowry when a girl gets married. 

Historically, women embroidered everything from dowry bags to camel belts, but today fewer communities embroider. Some NGOs (such as Qasab, Kala Raksha, and Shrujan) are working to preserve traditional embroidery by hiring women to embroider items that might appeal to a broader audience, like purses and kurtas, using traditional techniques. Khamir doesn't work with embroidery because so many others do.

There are dozens of embroidery styles in Kutch, and you can read a pretty decent description of the communities and different styles here

Styles of Embroidery

From December until March, my primary project was working on an exhibition highlighting textiles - mostly embroideries - from Kutch and it's neighbor, Sindh, now in Pakistan. It was a crash course in Kutchi communities, customs, and history. I worked with an excellent team of people composed of the head of my NGO, a recent NID graduate who had studied exhibition design, and A.A.Wazir, a local textile collector, in implementing the exhibition. I loved having people from all over the world come to Khamir to see the exhibition, and even got to practice French with some of them!

I have lots of information leftover from the exhibition, but won't bore you with it. Instead, I will just give you a basic sense of what it contained.

The Exhibition

Room One of the exhibition.
Room Two of the exhibition.
The collector, Wazir-bhai, showing off his pieces.
This is Wazir-bhai's most prized piece, and with good reason. The stitches are RIDICULOUSLY tiny, and it is COVERED in mirrors and thread. We had a representative of the Indian craft division of the government visit, and he said he had never seen anything like it.
This hook embroidery is traditionally done by men - originally shoemakers. Royalty hired them to make beautiful wall hangings like this one, which was either in a palace or taken on hunting expeditions to decorate the tent. You can see the Moghul and Chinese influences in it.

I love this applique quilt cover -- it is so whimsical! I also enjoy the mix of textiles-
mashroo, tie-dye . . . it is clear that the woman who made it recycled her family's old clothes. A note that though elephants are a popular motif in Kutchi and Sindhi textiles, there have never actually been elephants in Kutch. Instead, Rajastani kings riding elephants probably came through the region at some point in history, and the image became integrated into the visual culture. 

This applique bed canopy is covered in sequins, representing stars, and is a design representing the universe. When you are laying and looking up at the canopy you are seeing the night sky. 

Bandhani (tie-dye) is a pretty complicated craft. I have been
working on a piece of my own and it has taken me weeks just to do a small portion.

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