Delving into the Incredible Wool Crafts from Kachchh

In my previous blog post, I wrote about the use of local wool by the indigenous communities of Kachchh and the indigenous wool economy of Kachchh.

It is phenomenal how what is abandoned by the sheep, becomes supremely resourceful for the human. The self-reliant, nomadic tribes of Kachchh preferred hardy, multi-purpose products for their daily use and the wool from their animals came in handy.

Mobile pastoral herders and systems have significantly influenced the ethos of craft practices in Kachchh and artisans adapted materials and evolved their practices to suit the needs. Each community also utilized custom-made handcrafts as an identity, and its products and clothing served as a means of communicating non-verbally. At the heart of this system lay community interrelationships, threads of interdependence that tied communities and economies together. [1]

The use of indigenous wool gave birth to a resilient ecosystem in Kachchh because of its versatility. This ecosystem engaged artisans such as the spinners, weavers, dyers, felt-makers and embroiderers along with the herders to create a cohesive value chain that was in sync their local ecology and environment. 

Many local communities in rural Kachchh still practice handicrafts for a livelihood. Handicraft sector is the biggest employment generator after Agriculture in Indian rural economy. According to the 2011 Census, there are over 68 lakh artisans in the country, of which more than 55% are women. [2]

Let me take you through the wool value chain and wool-crafts of Kachchh

  1. Pre-processing of wool

    Every year in early summer and after the harvest in October, the sheep have to be sheared for their well-being. The Maldharis (pastoralists) call for competent shearers who have the know-how and expertise in shearing the sheep without nicking, cutting or otherwise harming them. The raw wool is handed-over to the hand-spinners.
    The Rabari spinners card the raw wool to conclude the pre-processing of raw wool.
    They pluck on clumps of fibres to align them in a single direction. This arrangement is known as Puni. Puni-fication of fibres completes the pre-processing cycle. Spinners hold one puni at a time and spin them into yarn.
    Puni: a traditional term for a bunch of hand-cleaned and hand-carded fibres. They are analogous to slivers in a mill spinning system.

  2. Charkha and Takli spinning
     Spinning is the art of twisting and turning raw fibres into yarn. The first instance of spinning is about 9,000-10,000 years old, using drop spindles. The charkha, as we know it today, began to be used widely since 500 AD. The charkha revolutionised spinning and opened a sea of possibilities. Today, most hand-spinners from the Rabari community use a charkha.

     

    Though, the herdsmen of Kachchh still practice drop-spindle or takli spinning. Takli spinning requires no tools except a large pebble or a small piece of wood lying in the path! Both sheep and camel herdsmen spin at all times; while taking it easy under a tree, ambling with the assembly of their animals, or harried and hurried by headstrong ones in the herd.

  3. Dyeing

     

    Subtle and elegant, natural dyes capture sparkles of the earth like no other material. Dyes of every region present a sketch of the local vegetation, climate, and ecology. Natural dyes are produced out of organic and mineral sources from the plant matter and the earth. These dyes are applied onto raw wool/ yarn/ fabric in diverse methods, as per the requirement of the textile.
    The Khatri community in Kachchh has been practising natural vegetable-dyeing for centuries. Wool has a special affinity for vegetable dyes. This is because the myriad reactive groups of woollen fibres are trained to capture dyes at first sight! Generally, woollen yarns are dyed with dexterity by the dyers and then handed over to the weaver.

  4. Types of weaving and woven products
    Every weave establishes itself on warp-threads, the taana, stretched on a loom. A textile is formed when the baana, the weft, crisscrosses the taana, always so, at right angles. The interplay of the taana and the baana presents a sea of possibilities to a weaver to create stunning textiles such as rugs, carpets, shawls, blankets, skirts, sarees and fabric for clothes. There are various weaving techniques, technologies and different types of handlooms owing to the diversity in geography and communities of Kachchh. Weavers of Kutch have woven portable Kharad looms, Panja looms, throw-shuttle looms, and latest fly-shuttle looms. The weavers have absorbed all these changes without banishing the past. The weavers’ community continues to use all these different looms and hence can produce a wide diversity of products.

      • Starting from Kharad Weaving:

        Kharad loom is easy to set-up, also known as the nomadic loom it is used to weave thick woollen rugs known as Kharads. Because of the kind of effort and dexterity that go behind hand-weaving a kharad rug, only 3-5 pieces can be woven by a weaver in a month. These rugs can last more 100 years when woven with hand-spun yarn. 

      • Tangaliya Weaving:

         

        Tangaliya weaving, also known as Daana weaving is mainly practised by the Dangasia community, this form of weaving requires a high skill level and an eye for accuracy. Tiny dots of extra weft are twisted around a number of warp threads, giving an effect of bead embroidery to the fabric. This intricate process of twisting extra weft while weaving creates beautiful geometrical patterns and forms. The essence of Tangaliya weaving is the compositions created by colourful dots, which is simultaneously created on both sides of the fabric. This woven fabric is majorly used in garments and can also be used for shawl and blankets. [3]

      • Dhabla Weaving:

        Dhabla is a versatile hand-woven quilt that was used by the Rabari community of Kachchh. It is a big handy shawl that can be used as wind-cheater and rain cover during monsoons, as a rug to sit and as a quilt during the night. It is colourful, adorned with extra weft motifs in different shades and hues.

      • Ludi Bandhani:

        The Rabari women wear thick odhani (veil) known as Ludi. The women wear their odhanis all day, transitioning from hot days to the cool nights of Kachchh. Generally made from local wool, the Ludi is living proof of many indigenous communities coming together, the herder and spinner from the Rabari community provide the hand-spun yarn and embroidery, the weaver from the Meghwal community weaves the ludi and the Khatri community performs bandhani (tie and dye) on it.

     

    • Kutchi shawl:

      The Kutchi shawls are unique, durable shawls woven by skilled weavers through traditional Kutchi weaving. The shawls are so popular and magnificent that the weaver community of Kachchh procured a GI tag for the Kutchi shawls to protect their authenticity.

  5. Tabaria Wana:

    The Tabaria wana is made with sheep and camel hair yarn. The Maldharis hand-spin the yarn through takli-spinning. The weaving of the Tabaria-wana is set up solely using the body as a loom, as specific parts of the body become tools to weave, no other external tool is used to create a Tabaria-wana. As herders couldn’t find weavers everywhere they went, they found a way to weave without a loom. This is used by Maldhari pastoralists to cover the camel’s udder or as carry-bags.

  6. Namda:

    Felting, also known as Namda, is the most versatile of all wool-craft. As a non-woven craft, felt from wool is known to be older than the art of spinning and weaving. Felting was majorly practised by nomadic tribes across Asia and Europe because they possessed a large herd of wool-bearing sheep and camels.


    In Kutch, the Pinjara and Mansuri communities create felted namda from indigenous sheep wool. Cleansed and dyed wool when packed between layers of wet cloth and rolled multiple times, transforms into solid pieces of textile. Seemingly a conjurer’s trick, this is a result of the ability of wool fibres to interlock when whirled against each other. Namda artisans can create products of different shapes and thickness. Namda textiles in the past served as saddles and rainwear. Namda is still used to create saddle blankets for horses and camels in local nomadic communities. Artisans of present-day make a variety of patterned felted rugs, mats, and mattresses.

Today the number of artisans in each of these crafts is either in single or double digits. Khamir is nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit amongst weavers to sustain and preserve the magnificent Kutchi wool-crafts. Khamir has focused on providing services to foster a spirit towards business development. By sourcing various kinds of yarn, training weavers to dye cotton yarn, stocking dyestuffs, offering design development training, and facilitating craft exhibitions, Khamir is helping weavers to build sustainable businesses. [4] Khamir is promoting the local wool value chain for artisans to get control over the sourcing of natural raw materials. This also makes the craft production ecologically sound and environment-friendly.

If you want to sustain the patronage of the exquisite Kutchi woollen crafts, you can reach Khamir at info@khamir.org or eshop@khamir.org to learn more about them and buy them. [5]


Citations:

[1] Goradia, Meera, et al. “Study of Wool Economy of India, Phase 1: Report.” Centre for Pastoralism, Sahjeevan, 2018.

[2] Balaji, Roshni. “What the Artisans and the Handicrafts Sector Want from the New Government.” YourStory.com, 30 May 2019, yourstory.com/socialstory/2019/05/artisans-handicrafts-expectations-narendra-modi-government.

[3] Textilesofindia An initiative to share the treasures of Indian textiles to the globe. “TANGALIYA WEAVING.” TEXTILES OF INDIA, 9 Apr. 2020, textilesofindia.in/tangaliya-weaving-textiles-of-india/.

[4] “Kachchh Weaving.” Khamir, www.khamir.org/crafts/kachchh-weaving.

[5] Special mention to Shouryamoy Das, Khamir team, all the wool artisans for the information; Pratishtha Chetri, Ishaan Raghunandan, Living Lightly and Khamir for the photographs.

Aishwarya is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Khamir in Bhuj, Gujarat. For her Fellowship project, she is designing a unique range of craft products and publicity materials to support local artisans reach new markets, increase their income, and secure their livelihoods. Born and brought up in a small town, Aishwarya always questioned the increasing dichotomies between the developed and developing world. To channelize her curiosity for social impact, she decided to pursue her graduation in mass communication. During her undergrad, she participated in the YES Foundation Media for Social Change Fellowship to learn about the impact of social media in the development sector. She did an internship with the Indian Express as a journalist and photojournalist, where she covered issues ranging from mob lynching to climate change. A stint at TEDxGateway 2018 gave her an opportunity to work with inventors from around the world, learning aobut the power of storytelling as a medium for change. Aishwarya made a documentary on the Juvenile Justice Act 2015 to study the increase in juvenile crime rate and the discrepancies between the act and implementation. In 2018, Aishwarya participated in a 15-day entrepreneurial train journey across rural India to meet social change-makers who enlightened her about the balance between social impact and profitability. This experience also made Aishwarya look at her hometown in new light: she learned about problems related to declining tourism and waste management. She founded her own nonprofit, ARTC Foundation, to solve these issues. In her free time, she enjoys reading, travel, and photography. Aishwarya is honored to be serving as an AIF Clinton Fellow to expand her horizons in the development sector.

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