Embroidery pioneers in Kutch are breathing life into a lost art

From the drought-ravaged regions of Kutch and poverty-stricken Central India to a quaint Himalayan village, embroidery pioneers are breathing life into a lost art.

Published: 08th September 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th September 2019 02:06 PM   |  A+A-

A group of women being taught different kinds of embroidery

A group of women being taught different kinds of embroidery

In the IT hub of India, Bengaluru, a young professional has resolutely put away her smartphone and laptop, and picked up an embroidery hoop, needle and thread. She is making a gift for a friend. “My keypad-punching fingers sorely need a different kind of exercise,” she says. 

Hundreds of kilometres away in a village in Kutch, a young girl has put down her intricate embroidery work and picked up her smartphone to send a picture of it to a design supervisor at Shrujan, an NGO.  

In a world running on hand-held devices, embroidery is a new medium providing exercise for hands and eye. It is also an ageless source of income.

In 1969, Kutch was hit by severe drought. Chanda Shroff, a volunteer from Mumbai, helped to set up a free kitchen in Dhaneti village. The villagers were reluctant to accept charity. Chandaben saw the exquisite embroidery on their clothes and found a way to provide the women a sustainable and dignified livelihood.

Born then, Shrujan Trust now not only provides work to around 4,000 women across 120 villages but also has revived the exquisite embroidery techniques of the region.

“Embroidery is a way of life for these women. When you buy their handmade products, buy it for their value rather than out of pity.

Respect the artisans and find out their stories. It is the only way to preserve our crafts,” says Ami Shroff, managing trustee, and daughter of the founder.

The women of Kutch engage in intricate embroidery techniques like aahir, jat, pakko, mutwa, kharek, rabari and soof, some of which require a keen sense of arithmetic and geometry to translate. The techniques have been passed down from generations. “We encourage people to dig out the oldest embroidered art they can find so we can help revive them.

We pay craftswomen who use such stitches a little more than those who use common stitches,” reveals Ami. To keep these methods from fading away, Shrujan set up Living and Learning Design Centre in 2016 as a unique crafts museum and craftsperson-dedicated, multi-dimensional craft education and resource centre.  

Bhopal-based NGO Aham Bhumika runs a learn-and-earn project based on Gond embroidery—a traditional art form of Central India—that benefits members of its poorest inhabitants. “We aim to turn a severely under-resourced community self-reliant,” says Subrat Goswami, co-founder of the organisation.

In the Himalayan village of Satoli, young women are earning through embroidery. Deepa Pathak, a member of a local group trying to protect the native oak forests, began training young girls in embroidery and giving assignments so that they can increase their earnings, and not chop off oak tree branches.

Deepa founded Chandi Maati to teach the women to make the simple hand-embroidery running stitch called Kantha. Chandi Maati designs the embroidered work and sells them online. Embroidery revival as a movement is part of a larger native textile revolution in India to empower and earn.

HELPING HANDS

  • Shrujan Trust provides work to around 4,000 women across 120 villages in Kutch through intricate embroidery techniques like aahir, jat, pakko, mutwa, kharek, rabari and soof.
  • Bhopal-based NGO Aham Bhumika runs a learn-and-earn project based on Gond embroidery—a traditional art form of Central India.
  • In the Himalayan village of Satoli, NGO Chandi Maati is trying to teach the women to make the simple hand-embroidery running stitch called kantha.
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