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2013: Textiles and Cultures of Western India

2013: A Textile Tour to Western India Trip Highlights by Leslee Budge

October 14th – October 31, 2013

The Subcontinent of India has produced sophisticated textiles since prehistoric times. There is evidence of textile production in the Indus Valley from about 3000 BCE, though few examples have survived the monsoon climate. In the 1600’s with the arrival of the British and Dutch, textile began to be traded directly with Europe where they became highly fashionable. A number of words that are in our English lexicon give evidence to the popularity of Indian textiles: calico, pajama, gingham, dungaree, chintz and khaki. Today, textile production is the second largest employer in India.

In October 2013 the Textile Arts Council sponsored a three week trip to Northwestern India where we traveled to the cites of Mumbai, Bhuj, Ahmedabad, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur and finally Delhi. Along the way we visited the workrooms and shops of Indian artisans, museums and archeological sites.

Bhuj is the capital of Gujarat — within this state is the desert region of Kutch in the far Northwestern corner of India boarding the Arabian Sea and Pakistan. It is home to the Hindu herding caste, the Rabaris, known for their intricate embroidery with mirrors. We spent several days there with Judy Frater, who twenty years ago started the Kala Raksha School. Her goal was to provide practical and relevant education on technology and marketing to the traditional craftsperson.

The pieces of fabric the Rabari women embroider are made into garments and wall decorations.

In this picture we are at the home of Vanka Kana Rabori, a dealer in antique Kutchi Rabaris embroideries, pictured here holding a chakla (square embroidery).

We were privileged to visit the homes and workrooms of Khattri Alimonhamed Isha (tie and dye); Ramu Derrai Meghral, a quilter who has been juried into the Santa Fe Folk Art Market; a home where many of Judy’s former students showed us their woven art; and Shyamji Vishramji who has won the Indian National competition in weaving (Pictured is a close-up of his weaving). On our way from Kutch to Ahmedabad we stopped at the home/atelier of Dr. Ismail Khatri to learn about block printing techniques using natural dyes.

Our highlight in Ahmedabad was the private Calico Museum of Textiles, which has a vast collection of textiles from India with several rooms that explain techniques for weaving, dyeing and embroidery. The textiles on display included court textiles used by the Mughal and provincial rulers of 15th to 19th centuries, regional embroideries of the 19th century, tie-dyed textiles, and religious textiles. The most intricately done pieces were the embroideries by the Mochi, professional embroiderers who used an ari (an awl-like tool with a hook) to create a chain stitch so fine the fabric looks like it was printed not embroidered.

The most beautiful city we visited was Udaipur, which is situated on two lakes. Our hotel overlooked lake Pichola. While in Udaipur we visited the Sadha Women’s Handicraft Enterprise where needy women learn patchwork, applique and embroidery. This was actually an industrial shop complete with computerized industrial machines, a Laser cutter to cut out appliqué pieces, and industrial fabric ‘saw’ to cut the patterns.

We traveled on to the “Blue City” of Jodhpur, called blue because of the many homes that are painted blue to indicate Brahmin, the highest Hindu caste. When we visited the Mehrangarh Fort, a grand sized fort situated high on a hill, we could see the blue homes below. We spent the afternoon going by jeep to the rural village of Salvas, famous for its dhurry rugs, hand woven from cotton or wool.

Our final city was Delhi. Before reaching our hotel, we stopped at an oasis of quiet and green, the Sanskriti Museum. It housed one of the most beautify displayed, though small, exhibits of India textiles we had seen.

And yes, some of us had an extension to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra.


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