Tag Archives: weaving

India Journal: Tribal Textiles in Bhuj, Gujarat

Finally, I have landed in Bhuj, Gujarat, after hectic days in Ahmedabad followed by three nights at a secluded safari camp, Rann Riders, in the wilds of the Little Rann. This borders the town of Dasada where marsh and salt desert are home to rare wild ass and migratory birds. Internet connection impossible.

Tribal Rabari Toran hangs over door, marks sacred space.

Tribal Rabari Toran hangs over door, marks sacred space.

I have a lot of catch up to do between then and now. For the moment, I’m highlighting some tribal textiles of western India in the state of Gujarat, where I’ve been for the last six days. It’s hot here, over 92 degrees Fahrenheit, with dust clouds everywhere.

Working the pit loom in Bhujodi, a seated flying shuttle version like Oaxaca.

Working the pit loom in Bhujodi, a seated flying shuttle version like Oaxaca.

This area is known as The Kutch (Kuh-ch) and borders Pakistan on the west. The area is populated by nomadic and semi-nomadic herding people who came from Saudi Arabia, the Sindh, and Mongolia. They came with camels, donkeys, sheep, goats and cattle. Some continue their nomadic lifestyle, moving camp each season in search of grazing lands.

Seated Muslim woman, tribal Wandh group

Seated Muslim woman, tribal Maldharis group, the Banni, Kutch

The ethnic mix includes Hindus, Parsi, Ismailis, Muslims and Jews. It is a region of rich religious, cultural and social diversity, and a long tradition of wool and cotton-weaving, fine embroidery, natural dye work and tie-dye. Most women, Muslim or Hindu, wear the bandhani tie-dye head scarf upon marriage, in the language of textiles.

Hand-painted dowry chests, Wandh village

Hand-painted dowry chests, Maldharis village

Many of the artisans and crafts people I’ve met this week have made their mark and participate at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. Several, like Jabbar Khatri, attended the 2016 International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca.

Women's ceremonial marriage mask, Wandh community, Bhuj

Women’s ceremonial marriage mask, Maldharis community, Bhuj

Most are friends of Australian Carole Douglas, who has brought small groups of travelers to the region for the last 17 years. Carole recommended that I connect with Kutch Expeditions guide and vintage textile dealer Salim Wazir, who took us to the White Salt Desert known as the Great Rann of Kutch.

A prized cow with Wandh herders, Bhuj, Gujarat

A prized cow with Maldhari herders, Bhuj, Gujarat

To get there, we passed tribal villages of Rabari, Ahir and Jat peoples, stopping along the way to visit a few of the more accomplished artisans. Their embroidery and weaving is distinctive and can be identified by group and sub-group.

Fine vintage textile embroidery example from Salim Wazir

Fine vintage textile embroidery example from Salim Wazir

In the small Maldhari settlement, a group of 43 Muslims live in mud huts with thatched roofs. The men tend cattle and sheep, and collect honey and gum arabic. The women cook, sew and embroider in the Mukko style using metallic threads.

Village elder tells us about her dreams for her family

Wandh village elder tells us about dreams for her grandchildren

Salim explains that the group has lived in this area for over 350 years, migrating from the Sindh, now Pakistan. They prefer mashru cloth, as do all tribal Muslims because the warp is cotton.

Man's beaded ceremonial marriage mask, in mock demonstration.

Man’s beaded ceremonial marriage mask, in mock demonstration.

According to Muslim tradition, they are not allowed to wear silk next to their bodies and mashru is a way to have the luxury without violating the law. (We met a mashru weaver in Buhjodi just a couple of days before, one of the remaining few who make cloth in this tradition.)

Bhujodi mashru weaver Babu Bhai, on flying shuttle pit loom

Bhujodi mashru weaver Babu Bhai, on flying shuttle pit loom

The raised platform floor of the village where the Bungha round houses are situated is hard packed mud, like adobe, soft to walk on barefoot and easy to clean with a broom. The area can flood during monsoon season, becoming a muddy mess, and the tribe then seeks higher ground.

Wandh village round huts. Each serves a family unit.

Maldhari village round huts. Each serves a family unit.

There is nothing for sale here except the exchange of a visit and hospitality. It is a refreshing stop along a tourist route to the Great Rann that is becoming commoditized with synthetics and crudely embroidered or beaded trinkets.

Door latch, secured by a keyed lock

Door latch, secured by a keyed lock

I asked the elders what they dreamed of for their children and grandchildren. A better education, they replied. I am as old as you are, another said to me, and I have not seen the world as you have. They want their children to know what goes on in the world.

Traffic jam on the way to the Great Rann of Kutch

Traffic jam on the way to the Great Rann of Kutch

There is no school here and opportunity is limited. They want the government to build them a school, but there are not enough children to populate it. If there is a health care emergency, they travel 45 minutes by bus or auto rickshaw to Bhuj for services. We have no future, they say, but we must be happy with what we have.

A visit to embroiderer Sofiya Mutwa, Dhordo, The Banni, Kutch

A visit to finest embroiderer Sofiya Mutwa, Dhordo, The Kutch, Gujarat

I ask what I can do to help. Salim and I discuss the downsides of giving money, which corrupts values. He suggests a length of hand-spun cotton that they can use for their embroidery work. They can only afford to buy synthetics and this would be a valued gift. It’s on my shopping list and I will give the fabric to him before I leave to present to the village women.

Sofiya Mutwa demonstrates tiny stitches to secure tiny mirrors to cloth.

Sofiya Mutwa demonstrates tiny stitches to secure tiny mirrors to cloth.

My experience in India is mixed. I have only met open, warm, helpful and friendly people of all faiths and backgrounds. The interaction with them has shaped my experience. Talented NGO representatives work here to support the weaving and needlework talents of many, to keep the traditions alive. I’m grateful for their dedication and energy.

Example of Wandh embroidery work

Example of Maldhari embroidery work, now embellished with commercial bric-a-brac

Yet, there is dust everywhere. Cattle roam the streets and graze on roadside garbage. Tent cities are filled with the impoverished. The crush of cars, auto-rickshaws and the sound of horns honking is a way of life. Intense. Loud. Persistent.

Henna painted hands will wash off. Tatoos on Rabari women are permanent.

Henna painted hands will wash off. Tatoos on Rabari women are permanent.

The food is wonderful and I’m going to bring Indian cooking into my repertoire. I’ve decided to end my visit early and return to the USA five days sooner than planned, to rest, reflect and write more about this experience.

My travel companion, Fay Sims, models heavily embroidered apron.

My travel companion, Fay Sims, models heavily embroidered apron.

I want to end this journey in Bhuj, and not in the big city of Mumbai, so that being in textile heaven will be the last of my India memories.

Typical village scene, India

Typical village scene, Gujarat, India

And, of course, I’m in search of a second piece of luggage to carry all these textiles home.

Sofiya Mutwa embroiders small sampler to become pillow cover

Sofiya Mutwa embroiders small sampler to become pillow cover

Where to Stay:  Bhuj House B&B or Hotel Prince, Bhuj, Gujarat, India

How to Get Here:  Fly from Mumbai to Bhuj on Air India or Jet Airways, less than $100 USD one-way. Travel from Ahmedabad overland by private car/driver on 8 hour journey at cost of 6,000 rupees or about $100 USD one-way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

India Journal: Double Silk Ikat of Patan Patola, Gujarat

It’s two-and-a-half hours from Ahmedabad to the town of Patola in the Patan district of Gujarat. Only four ikat weavers continue to make the double it — both the warp and weft threads are knotted then dyed to form intricate patterns of birds, flowers, elephants, dancers, monkeys and trees on silk.

300 year old Salvi family silk Patola it, Gujarat, India

300 year old Salvi family silk Patola, Patan, Gujarat, India

The double it refers to the fact that both sides of the fabric are identical. There is no reverse or back side. How do they do it?

Ikat weaving in process, Salvi family workshop

Ikat weaving on the loom, Salvi family workshop

Our guide at the Calico Museum, where a dazzling collection of Patolas (as these ikats are called) is displayed, says these weavers are like gods. The masters come from the Salvi family.

Rohit Salvi, master Patola double ikat silk weaver, entrance to old village workshop

It was my mission on this trip to make a pilgrimage to their studio workshop. Australian friend and Gujarat expert, Carole Douglas, told me to be sure to ask to go their home.

7th generation weaver, Rahul Salvi

7th generation Patola weaver, Rahul Vinayak Salvi

Traditional Gujarati brides will wear a Patola for their wedding. A complete silk sari will take three years to make and cost about $20,000 USD, millions of rupees. These are by special order. A small handkerchief size is a mere $200 USD, suitable for framing! None available for purchase.

Salvi dye studio, where concrete tubs are used to wash silk

Salvi dye studio, where concrete tubs are used to wash silk

As I entered the new showroom and demonstration area in the center of Patola Patan Weavers, Rahul Vinayak Salvi and his uncle Bharat Kantilal Salvi greeted me. Rahul explained that he is the youngest of three brothers. His two elder brothers are doctors and he studied architecture. He decided the art would not survive unless he learned to weave, so he left the profession and is now becoming an accomplished weaver and dyer, working alongside his cousin.

Patola double ikat on the loom, with indigo and cochineal natural dyed silk

Patola double ikat on the loom, with indigo and cochineal natural dyed silk

The family works in natural dyes: indigo, cochineal (which they buy from the USA at a cost of $300 USD per kilogram), pomegranate and madder. The raw silk comes from China, which they buy wholesale in Bangalore.

Graph paper is used to plot out the design, just like Mexican weaving

Graph paper is used to plot out the design, just like Mexican weaving

First, each strand of silk is spun, then eight strands are spun together to make an 8-ply thread. It’s then washed then soaked in rice water. After drying the strands are stiff enough to tie for dyeing. Rice water is used in this part of the world for ikat making. In Mexico, we use atole or corn starch to stiffen the cotton threads.

Detail, tied silk threads, ready for next dye bath

Detail, tied silk threads, ready for next dye bath

As I understand it, the Salvi family came to Patan from Maharashtra.  In 1960, Gujarat split off from Maharashtra to become a separate state. This double ikat silk weaving technique is unique to Gujarat and is found no other place in the world.

Patola ikat in natural dyes of indigo and cochineal on the loom

Patola ikat in natural dyes of indigo and cochineal on the loom

At the Salvi showroom, there is a small museum that displays examples of ikat from around the world: Japan, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand and Africa.

Weft threads dyed with ikat (tie-dye) technique

Weft threads dyed with ikat (tie-dye) technique

Missing is an ikat example from Tenancingo de Degollado, State of Mexico. I promised to send them a Mexican ikat shawl to add to their collection, along with a Oaxaca contact where they can source cochineal to buy directly.

Can you see the bird and dancer in the warp threads?

Can you see the bird, elephant and dancer in the warp threads?

I am in awe of the skill and mathematical artistry required to create these masterpieces. The family creates about three or four sari’s per year, made on what looks like a back strap loom, though wider. Yet it is operated like a seated pedal loom, with the sheds opened by a traditional wood shaft.

Loom and warp threads, an abstraction.

Loom and warp threads, an abstraction.

 

 

 

 

 

India Journal: Top Artisans at Nature Bazaar

Nature Bazaar is an effort by the Delhi Department of Tourism to bring the best artisans from throughout India to the city for permanent exhibition. Or, let me say, the space is permanent and the artisans rotate. So, it’s more of a pop-up and the artisans change about every six weeks. This group goes until November 30, 2016.

Indigo-dyed organic cotton block print from Rajasthan

Indigo-dyed organic cotton block print from Rajasthan

I returned on my own so I could leisurely browse the textile collection, speak with the makers, and go through the stacks of cloth in search of indigo blue, red madder, turmeric root dyed yellow cloth. I didn’t want to miss anything. This extended to a three-hour meander to uncover as much as possible.

Left, block print of turmeric with indigo over-dye. Right, madder "chicken tracks" with indigo over-dye. Yardage.

Block print yardage, turmeric w/ indigo over-dye (L). Madder w/indigo over-dye (R).

My textile artists friends tell me that the Nature Bazaar cooperative is the best source for India arts in Delhi. Funds from the purchases go directly to the artisans who participate.

Waiting patiently for customers, Nature Bazaar

Waiting patiently for customers, Nature Bazaar

My friend Lee Schwartz, who just returned from a 10-day tour of Rajasthan, claims she saw nothing of the quality on the tour that she encountered at the National Crafts Museum in Delhi. After a visit there, today, I still rank Nature Bazaar as the top shopping spot in Delhi, with second place going to FabIndia.

Artisan from Ahmedabad folds shawls inset with mirrors embroidered to silk.

Ahmedabad artisan folds shawls inset with mirrors embroidered to silk/wool blend.

As with Oaxaca, it’s important to know where to source. I’ve decided to focus  this India visit on textiles and not on typical sightseeing and monuments (though tomorrow we leave for Agra and the Taj Mahal).

Fine miniature paintings with gold leaf, an art form

Fine miniature paintings with gold leaf, an art form

There is so much here that zeroing in on what is important to me helps conserve energy.  It’s impossible to get to more than two or three places in a day because of the intense traffic, horn-honking and dust. It just wears you out!

Indigo dyed patchwork quilt, with dresses, blouses on table.

Indigo dyed patchwork quilt, with dresses, blouses on table.

At Nature Bazaar, I met Margaret Zinyu, who has a degree from the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. She planned to go into fashion design but decided to return to her native Nagaland, in northeast India on the Myanmar border, to work with local weavers using cotton dyed with indigo. She is just starting her company Woven Threads and this bazaar was the premiere of her products.

Margaret Zinyu of Woven Threads

Margaret Zinyu of Woven Threads, Nagaland, India

India is at the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road. The people here are a multicultural blend of Asians and Europeans, Hindus and Muslims. There is as much diversity here as I see in Mexico. The people from the Himalaya foothills, part of India, bring their kite flying traditions to the crafts of the country, for example. These are for sale at the Nature Bazaar, too.

Most of India's indigo is cultivated in Tamil Nadu, in the south

Most of India’s indigo is cultivated in Tamil Nadu, in the south

Wood carved stamps used for block printing at Nature Bazaar

Wood carved stamps used for block printing at Nature Bazaar

There are also several stalls with hand-wrought silver jewelry from the Himalayas and Afghanistan. Many of the designs looked North African, like those I had seen in Morocco and southern Spain.

Tribal jewelry maker from Himachal Pradesh.

Tribal jewelry maker from Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayan foothills of India.

Example of ornate silver earrings inlaid with garnets and embellished with pearls.

Example of ornate silver earrings inlaid with garnets and embellished with pearls.

There is no cochineal here, of course. This is a humid country and the insect is only  found in hot, dry climates like Mexico where the nopal cactus thrives. So madder, the red dye that is more the color of red earth than intense carminic red, is what is found here. However, indigo is king in India and the British capitalized on its export starting in the early 17th century. Today, it is only cultivated in Tamil Nadu in the south of the country.

India's indigo from Tamil Nadu, in the south

India’s indigo from Tamil Nadu, in the south

Walking the streets and riding the Metro, I see women of all ages wearing saris and the shalwar kameez pantsuit with tunic top and harem-style pants dyed with indigo blue. Women’s clothing of India is beautiful, lightweight and easy to wear.

India's sari, block print with gold and indigo

India’s sari, block print with gold and indigo

Mexican indigo is extracted from the native plant Indigofera suffruticosa, known as añil, found in the tropics of the Americas.  Native indigo from India is Indigofera tinctoria, known as true indigo, and is found in Asia and Africa.  The plant and leaf structures are different, but the process to produce the color is the same.

Handmade palm brooms

Handmade palm brooms

The most intense blue comes by dipping the cloth at least several times in the indigo dye bath.

Papier mache toys and mobiles

Papier mache toys and mobiles at Nature Bazaar

My goal on this trip is to bring back examples of  of cloth dyed with indigo, using a variety of weaving, tie-dye and printing techniques.

Textile Fiestas of Mexico guide book by Sheri Brautigam, with a little help from Norma Schafer

It was early 2016 and I’d just returned from taking a group of textile travelers to Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico, to study the ikat rebozos of the region.  Textile maven and friend Sheri Brautigam was in Oaxaca putting the final content and photos together for her upcoming book, Textile Fiestas of Mexico.

With A Little Help from My Friends in Mexico

When Sheri is in Oaxaca (her home is Santa Fe, NM), we like to hang out together.

ONE Space Open: Ikat Textile Study Tour to Tenancingo, Feb. 2-10, 2017

I took her with me and introduced her to the Feria del Carrizo (river reed basket fair) in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca, just across the road from where I live in Teotitlan del Valle. She loved it so much, she decided to include it in her book! At the end of January each year, it’s a special event that includes hand-woven river reed baskets, lampshades, fish traps, music and amazing food. 

Tenancingo weaver Jesus Zarate with his amazing ikat butterfly rebozo

Tenancingo weaver Jesus Zarate with his amazing ikat butterfly rebozo

Sheri’s deadline was fast approaching. She wasn’t sure she could get back to Tenancingo to interview and photograph people, something I had well-documented. I suggested that perhaps I could produce that chapter for her.

Smokey and steamy dye pot, the alchemy of natural dyes

Smokey and steamy dye pot, the alchemy of natural dyes

I also suggested that she include a chapter on the natural dye wool textiles of Teotitlan del Valle, focusing on the process of using indigo, cochineal and other plants and minerals.

Hands in the cochineal dye bath

Hands in the cochineal dye bath

Sheri sent the suggestion to Karen Brock at Thrums Books, the co-publisher, and she agreed.

If you are traveling to Mexico for any reason, this is the book you want in hand to explore the rich textile culture. It includes how to get to the textile regions, what to look for, where to shop for the best, where to stay and eat.

Of course, if you want a personal, immediate experience, come with me!

Cochineal from acid (lime juice) dye bath -- brilliant color

Cochineal from acid (lime juice) dye bath — brilliant color. All natural!

Let me know how you like it if you do get a copy. We are interested in your feedback for the next edition!

 

Cuetzalan del Progreso Hosts Annual Fair, Puebla, Mexico

It’s sunrise in Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla, Mexico. I’m high in the mountains of the Sierra Norte where the indigenous language of Nahuatl is spoken. Beaded and embroidered blouses are predominant here. This is one of the original ten Pueblo Magico‘s and my second visit here. Definitely worth the return!

Selling handwoven and embroidered wool ponchos on the market steps

Selling handwoven and embroidered wool ponchos on the market steps

The triangular scarves and ponchos called huipiles (that I know as quechquemitls) are still woven on back strap looms. Local women walk barefoot on cobbled streets that climb and wind vertically through the village.

Sleeve detail, cotton embroidered blouse, Cuetzalan, Puebla

Sleeve detail, cotton embroidered blouse, Cuetzalan, Puebla

The women and girls are adorned with blouses featuring colorful figures of birds, barnyard animals and flowers, winding vines. Bodice ruffles are edged in turquoise, orange or red. Depending on their village of origin, the cap sleeve could be shirred or plain.  Men wear traditional white shirts and pants, their feet protected by hand-hewn leather thongs, their heads covered in woven straw hats. Traditions are strong here.

Shirred cap sleeve with elaborate embroidery, Cuetzalan, Puebla

Shirred cap sleeve with elaborate embroidery, ruffles, Cuetzalan, Puebla

I’m traveling with my sister Barbara, who I met in Mexico City earlier in the week. We joined up with friend Merry Foss in Cuetzalan for the annual Feria del Cafe, the raucous celebration of regional coffee.  The coffee farms here are plentiful. We are at the right altitude and the beverage is delicious.

Finely embroidered bodice panels waiting to be made into a blouse, Pedro Martin Workshop

Finely embroidered bodice panels waiting to become a blouse, Pedro Martin Workshop

I’m using Sheri Brautigam’s guidebook, Textile Fiestas of Mexico, to find the textile artisan Pedro Martin at Taller Mazatzin known locally as Casa Rosa. The book has an ample section on Cuetzalan. To get to his village of Cuauhtamazaco, 30 minutes from town on a winding mountain road, Barbara and I hop into the back of a covered pick-up truck that is lined with passenger benches. In remote regions of Mexico, this transport mode serves as the major means of getting around. Cost is 8 pesos each.

Alfredo Pisarro and crew at Pedro Martin Workshop

Alfredo Pizarro (2nd from left) and crew at Pedro Martin Textile Workshop

Pedro, his brother Alfredo Pizarro, cousins and nephews, work magic on a back strap loom. They innovate the traditional huipil design to combine colors and patterns that yields a fine cotton gauze.  For blouses that have the intricate, detailed embroidery, they source the bodice panels from only the finest needleworkers who live in remote villages and work only in 100% cotton.

I'm modeling an innovative two-tone huipil from Pedro Martin textile workshop

I’m modeling an innovative two-tone huipil from Pedro Martin textile workshop

In the studio, it is the men who cut the patterns, sew and weave.  Pedro Martin and his family participated in the Feria del Rebozo at the Franz Mayer Museum, Mexico City, last year.

Using local transportation in and around Cuetzalan, Puebla

Using local transportation in and around Cuetzalan, Puebla

Internet service here is intermittent. So, I’m writing before we go off to another village where Merry Foss started a textile cooperative seven years ago. She is doing an expo-venta tomorrow morning with a group of collectors from Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico, who are also here for the fair. The women of Merry’s cooperative make extraordinary beaded blouses, called chakira. The beads originally came to Mexico from Europe and Asia as ballast on the Spanish galleons and the China Poblana shirt was born.

Embellished huipil (quechquemitl) with lots of bling, Cuetzalan, Puebla

Embellished huipil (quechquemitl) with lots of bling, Cuetzalan, Puebla

Most of the embroidery and beadwork around town is made for the tourist market and is of average quality. No fine needlework, no finished seams. You see the finest work being worn by the women themselves. The trick is to be able to locate the best of what is made. You can find a few pieces in the artisan market. (See Sheri’s book for details.) But, I’ve been asking the ladies, Where can I get one like yours? 

Vendors on the steps leading up to the market, Cuetzalan, Puebla

Vendors on the steps leading up to the market, Cuetzalan, Puebla

As the coffee fair started, I wandered to the church courtyard beckoned by the waft of copal incense. I met a group of women gathered waiting for a celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The majordoma, or leader of the group, kept the copal incense burner alive with intermittent puffs of breath on the burning coals.

The mayordoma turns to smile at me. I made a 100 peso contribution to refrescos.

The majordoma turns to smile at me. I made a 100 peso contribution to refrescos.

How to get to Cuetzalan: It’s a six-hour bus ride from Mexico City on ADO or Primera Plus. Almost four hours from Puebla on Via. Buy your tickets in advance. You can’t do this online! Sorry.

Where to stay: We are happy at Casa de Piedra, a clean, lovely hotel set down the steep hill from the plaza. It looks like a stone fortress. Great breakfast and views.

Taller Mazatzin, Pedro Martin Concepcion, tel: 52-1-233-759-3992. Get the colectivo truck at the station on the street behind the church.