Embroideries of Kutch: Much more than a craft
Kutch is famed for its fabulous embroidery, the breadth and depth of which are simply unparalleled. There are about sixteen different types of embroidery that are still practiced by artisan communities that live in the desert. Typically women used brightly coloured threads to hand-embroider motifs from nature and daily life. These are often embellished with tiny mirrors to create a unique effect that is instantly recognisable as belonging to the region.
Each community has its own characteristic technique with different colours, motifs and styles. For example, the Ahir technique of chain stitch is used to create motifs of birds and animals in outline, while the Rabari is a complex, composite style that results in bold, striking designs.
Much more than a craft, the techniques are a visual manifestation of identity and each craftsperson weaves time-honoured bonds and relationships into the rich patterns.
Ajrakh Timeless Impressions
Ajrakh is a complex artisanal technique of block printing and resist dyeing that dates back as early as 2000 BC. The word ‘Azrak’ means ‘blue’ in Arabic and the craft is characterised by exquisite geometrical patterns in a vibrant indigo and crimson palette.
The blocks used to create Ajrakh are hand-carved from teak. Multiple blocks are used to create the intricate patterns and the process requires great skill and patience. The original technique requires that both sides of the fabric are printed by a method called resist printing. One colour is printed and then the artisan must wash the fabric and wait until he can print the next one. Many believe that the word ‘Ajrakh’ is actually derived from the phrase ‘Aaj ke din rakh’ or ‘Keep it for today’ – a sentiment quite opposed to today’s fast-paced world!
Dyes are made from natural materials like indigo, henna, turmeric, pomegranate, jaggery, iron and mud. Alum is used to fix colours and make them fast. There are nearly sixteen steps in the printing, dyeing, washing and treating process and it can take up to three weeks to create a small length of beautifully printed Ajrakh fabric.
Our Spring Summer 2018 collection features an Ajrakh-inspired capsule. We have used textiles like chiffon and silk jacquard and woven them with motifs inspired from this technique.
Bandhani: Spellbinding Patterns
Bandhani is perhaps one of the most widely recognised crafts from the Kutch region – a fine form of ‘tie-and-dye’, where tiny hand-tied knots create circular patterns that resist the dye. The earliest evidence of Bandhani dates back to Indus Valley Civilisation suggesting that the technique was practiced as early as 4000 B.C.
The term Bandhani is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘bandhan’ or ‘tie’. The technique involves dyeing a fabric which is tied tightly with an impermeable thread at several points, thus producing fine patterns that vary depending on the manner in which the cloth is tied. A meter length of cloth can have thousands of tiny knots known as ‘Bheendi’. After a complex process of tying, dying and rinsing, the craftsperson pulls away the ties carefully to reveal the circular, dye-resistant patterns on the fabric. Bandhani tying is traditionally a family trade practiced by women and passed on to their daughters. It is believed that the first Bandhani saree was created for a royal wedding and even today, it brings good fortune to the bride who wears it.
We have taken inspiration from this technique and created bespoke silk jacquards, woven with tiny circular motifs similar to those created by the Bandhani tie and dye process. Instead of the bright colours typically associated with this craft, we have chosen a fresh, sky blue for more contemporary styling.
Pashmina Cashmere from Cashmere
Ancient texts indicate that the use of cashmere or pashmina for garments was pioneered by Nitghz Beg, a skilled weaver at the court of Sultan Zayn-Al-Abidin, ruler of the northern Indian state of Kashmir in the 15th century. Originally called pashmina (a Persian word meaning ‘soft gold’), the exquisite fabric was popularly referred to as ‘cashmere’ because of Kashmir, its place of origin.
The source for cashmere is the downy, winter undercoat of the Changthangi goat (capra hircus). The local Changpa community, who rear the goats on the barren, mountainous slopes of the Himalayas, say that as ‘the day shortens, the wool of the Changthangi grows finer’.
Changthangi goats shed their coats naturally in spring and less than half the fibre is fine enough to be woven. Pashmina fibres are typically 12-15 microns in thickness, 1/6th the thickness of a human hair. The threads are so delicate that they cannot be machine-woven. Skilled artisans carry out the entire process of spinning, weaving, dying, embroidering and finishing the fabric. It takes 15-30 days to create a length of plain pashmina. When the fabric is embroidered or loom-woven, it can take from one to five years to create a single, intricately worked, shawl.