DHARWAD: In earlier days, it was customary for a bride in north Karnataka to have a blue-black Ilkal sari with a distinct embroidery called Kasuti as part of her trousseau. The beauty of the Kasuti lies in its contradiction: simple yet intricate, traditional yet having a global pattern (Kasuti has a strong likeness to the Holbein, Celtic and Assisi designs of Europe).
Kasuti comes from the words Kai (hand) and suti (cotton), meaning weaving in cotton. But this tradition, prevalent mainly in north Karnataka, seems to be losing its grip, like most handwoven crafts, to machine-made designs and modern clothing.
That’s where organisations like Initiatives for Development Foundation (IDF) have stepped in. The IDF has been training unemployed women in Kasuti under the banner Kai Krafts. Around 200 women have already undergone training and more are getting lessons in the embroidery work.
Aparna Sirsalmath, project head, said, “We are imparting training with a twin aim. First, we want to restore the artistic tradition and help out the artisans. Second, we want to empower the womenfolk. In 2010 we started the programme and 178 trained artisans have already made it their source of income. We are also assisting them in getting orders.”
Beneficiaries of this free training are from rural areas. Unskilled women are trained for 15 days and the semi skilled for eight days. “We have contacts with corporate sector, especially textile industry, to bag orders for trained artisans,” she added.
Earlier artisans were not getting proper remuneration for their work. “When Kai Krafts conducted research in 2010 to understand reasons for the decline of Kasuti, we found that one,
women artisans were getting meagre wages, and second, was the impact of globalisation,”
Mahadevi Bandari, a Kasuti artisan from Dharwad, said, “Earlier, it was difficult to survive only on my husband’s earnings but now I am also able to contribute to the household. Kasuti works on kurtas, bags, wall hangings, gift items, umbrellas, calendars and so on are in great demand. On an average, I earn around `5,000 a month. IDF trust members provide us work and we do it from our home along with our domestic work.”
Rihana Dodmani and Firdhos, two other embroiderers, said, “Kasuti needs a lot of creativity and patience. Initially we thought that we may not earn much from it but we were wrong.”
The artisans have imparted Kasuti designs to not just saris or kurtas but to umbrellas, stoles, folders, quilts, purses, handkerchiefs and so on. Sirsalmath said, “Some of our clients are helping us to spread the charm of Kasuti in the US, UK and Australia by selling our products there.”