|Recognizing the role traditional handlooms and designs play in contemporary fashion, we have over the past months initiated a series of interviews with fashion designers. In this interview we do away with the question and answer format to allow two designers to answer our concerns by weaving the story of their interaction and collaboration with the traditional crafts.
Traditional craft has been and shall be a reflection of the cultural, socio-economic, climatic and historic state of the society at all times. So saying that it has to be “preserved” has two connotations, the first being the preservation from exploitation and commercialization and the other being from the change that the craft is going through with the influences of the current market environment. The latter is inevitable. The former is where we can exercise some degree of control. A craft is bound to absorb and reflect what it breathes and we can only filter some of what it breathes, which is motive enough for pondering, looking out and taking action.We at Sirali, that is my partner, Rahul and I have been associated with traditional crafts since childhood. However the ‘feeling’ for it came during our design trips to Bhuj, Bagru and Barmer in the formative years of our work. When we first met, Rahul, who comes from Rajasthan, was already breathing textiles and I had been freshly bitten by the Bhuj bug .The synergies instantly sparked the common interests and a journey began.
|Since then we have researched block printing practices in and around Delhi, in Jaipur, more specifically Ajrakh printing in Dhamadka village in Kutch, Suf and other embroideries in Sumraser sheikh-Bhuj and Jaisalmer, Sindhi embroidery in Bajju, Rajasthan and Chikan in and around Lucknow, Bandhini in Bhuj and Mandvi in Kutch, as well as experimented with the Japanese ‘Shibori’. Our collections, aimed at the urban market incorporate chikan, block prints, bandhini and shibori.|
|Our trip to Kutch opened our eyes to the fact that so many craft skills: printing, weaving, embroideries, tie dye coexist in a single area, each craft form having a different root but in the same surroundings. There still are places and unexplored domains within our own country that could make us feel like tourists in our own land.
Our work with Urmul Seemant Samiti took us to the depths of Bikaner and Jaisalmer. That so many influences have traveled through the North Western Frontier Provinces, through Pakistan and have become our own is fascinating. We conducted design workshops for the artisans focusing on the technical and the quality angle i.e. introducing them to new fabrics, teaching better stitching techniques, new embroidery placements but conveying all the time that it is important to stay close to the roots.
One such discovery was with Chikankari:
|CHIKAN: OUR JOURNEY WITH A CRAFT
The first trip to the town of Lucknow had more meanings than one. It was about discovering the roots of chikankari as well as the commercial aspect of it. At the root depth of the art there was so much to accept, learn and take forward.
|The trip was about feeling the feelings of the craftspeople and the journey the art form had traveled. The heat wave in the midst of the dust sent us the first feeler of what was to be the physical path of the trip. A shared auto rickshaw, two hand drawn cycle rickshaws and an hour and half later we reached a village called Khadra on the banks of the river Gomti, where the craft has been practiced ever since its being. A small group of women from all walks of life, religions and levels of learning were seen working in collectives called “centers”. The chance to be with national & state awardees, who have been commissioned by the government to propagate and shoulder the craft, was like an oasis in the desert.|
Unlike the transfer of design on fabric as we did at our end, the traditional way of printing the design with hand blocks is still prevalent. Gum from the babool tree is blended with indigo to transfer the design onto the fabric and to allow it to stay on for a prolonged period of time.
|The work is divided between the groups as per their specialization with the stitches and the skill levels. The job is issued out to women who cannot venture out of their houses after marking of the pattern on the fabric length. Post embroidery, the fabric barely looks recognizable and hardly like a piece of art but it carries the story of the lives of the people who decorate it, either for the need of a livelihood or for the sake of the art.|
|It goes through its final cleansing at the banks of the river Gomti where all the dirt, all its traces and all the stories with it are washed off in soda and soap. It’s only now that the images of the art begin to be seen.
Working With Crafts
As for the future of the craft, it is as bright as its past if we accept the fact that like us craft too has to make a journey and live and grow within the environment. The responsibility is that of all the stakeholders : designers, retailers, exporters and consumers to keep alive the soul of the craft.