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Weaving New Interpretations for Traditional Textiles and Techniques using Design Interventions

Introduction

The article is a summary of Design Intervention by the author done during period of 2018-2019, to create new designs in traditional Extra-weft weave of Bhuj, Gujrat with Kala cotton yarn.

Field visits along with interviews with weavers to understand the traditional techniques and motifs revealed some gaps that could be addressed. The aim of the effort is to promote –

  • Hand-spun Kala cotton yarn in the weft and warp
  • Adapting and re-interpreting traditional motifs to create newer versions
  • Yarns dyed in eco-friendly herbs and vegetable dyes.  

Kala cotton is indigenous to the Kutch region, and is unique as it does not require any pesticides or modern fertilizers. Since it is a purely rain fed crop, and is immune to pests and diseases that normally plague cotton plants, Kala cotton crops can be grown in the arid conditions and require very little investment. As opposed to modern cotton growing, indigenous cotton varieties are a viable alternative for small farmers as the entire production chain of people working with cotton can generate income in a sustainable manner.

Indigenous cotton varieties are a viable alternative for small farmers as the entire production chain of people working with cotton can generate income in a sustainable manner. India once boasted of nearly 20 varieties of indigenous cotton that were cultivated in earlier times.

Extra Weft technique is like jamdani where an extra weft yarn is placed in regular weave so that motifs can be made. Traditional shawls with the hallmark extra-weft technique of Kutchh are woven with geometrical motifs and borders. The same motifs are being used on all items – sarees, shawls, blankets, stoles – with some variation in its size and orientation. These motifs are inspired from nature and day to day life. The experiments have resulted in stoles of kala cotton that create a modern look but retaining the essence of traditional weaving techniques.

Extra Weft technique is like jamdani where an extra weft yarn is placed in regular weave so that motifs can be made. Traditional shawls with the hallmark extra-weft technique of Kutchh are woven with geometrical motifs and borders. The same motifs are being used on all items – sarees, shawls, blankets, stoles – with some variation in its size and orientation. These motifs are inspired from nature and day to day life. The experiments have resulted in stoles of kala cotton that create a modern look but retaining the essence of traditional weaving techniques.

Design Intervention: New Motifs and Design Process

During field visits, the authors found that:

  1. Usually, weavers do not want to experiment with new motifs unless it is an order with ensured financial returns.
  1. The traditional designs are ingrained in the craftsmen minds and easy to weave.
  2. Weavers do not want to use hand spun yarn of kala cotton now as it is more expensive and breaks in warping process if not done with care. So, most of them are using mill made yarn that comes in cone.
  3. Weavers do not want to use natural dyes in their yarn as it increases the cost whereas the customers do not want to pay a higher price. Chemical dyed yarns are easier to source and bright colors are available.

Hence, the authors suggested newer interpretations of traditional motifs, and persuaded two weavers to weave new motifs with natural dyed yarns of Kala cotton yarns. The yarn was sourced from NGO Khamir in Kutch – training women of villages to spin the kala cotton yarn with Peti Charkha of traditional type. The yarn was dyed at home using natural dyes like Pomegranate rind for yellow, Sappanwood Pink, Myrobalan (harda) as mordant, black from iron rust water and Madder for red (manjishtha) too. Indigo blue and black dyed kala cotton yarns are widely available in Kutch so it was sourced from the local market by weaver. The hank was dyed fully in the dye bath – sometimes in original twisted form, and at other times a little opened up. This gave the Ikat type look to yarns at the time of weaving. Pictures show the dyed hanks at home

In the following example, a pair of a peacock and a peahen was made on a base of blue/Ivory yarn in a stole. A “Hut” shape was also introduced in the background of the ends of the stole. Another variation was to give a composite shape of peacock with various other motifs in its body, like Dhungla, Popti and Sathghari motifs. Natural Indigo and Madder dyed yarns were used on white background of plain weave in a stole. Shown below are motifs where two peacocks are facing each other in close proximity. These motifs were spaced out and another simple diamond motif of “Satkhani” was placed in the middle. Peacocks are an integral part of hand embroidery in Kutchchi style, symbols of the monsoon rains in an arid region. Weaver, Champa Siju from Bhuj, found it challenging and experimental to make these motifs first time in extra-weft technique of weaving. Some of the motifs developed by her shown below –

Design process by Weaver Champa Siju

The weaver made designs by sketching out her imaginative trees, birds, scorpion and hut. Some sketches are shown below. The sketches were sent by whatsapp to the author for consultation. This shows how a weaver is a designer too as she or he knows intuitively, how to represent ideas in motifs so as the culture of the region is contextualized in the best manner.

Key Results:

The design intervention had three main areas of application that were new –

  1. Use of Natural dyes in hand spun yarn – Chemical dyes were not used at all. All hand dyed natural dyes were used to create the yarn dyed look on stoles.
  • Motif experimentation and its placement – The finished products were simpler in design with lot of space around motifs and colored simple stripes in borders.
  • Hand spun yarn – The use of natural Ecru unbleached yarn as warp and indigo/black dyed weft gave a Chambray look to the fabric. The loom and stoles used mill-made Kala cotton yarn in the warp and handspun Kala cotton yarn in the weft direction. The full warp-weft hand spun kala cotton weaving was attempted by weaver many times, but failed as warp kept on breaking, It is a traditional method and tools are not available anymore as knowledge has died along with the older generation.

Some of the stoles developed are shown below in pictures

Future prospects for weaver:

Care should be taken that experimentation and exploration during the collaborative process between the craftsman and the designer must maintain the integrity of the traditional craft, and retain its identity The pit-loom is in the weaver’s home and she has recently started selling her products online from home in Covid time. The stoles are totally sustainable products and are being marketed under the label “Indigo Amour” at a start-up level by author. The Artist/Designer and the Craftsman/Artisan- can be a symbiotic relationship. This coming together of the Old and the New can create a new design idiom and the link the past and the present.

Online References:

  1. https://www.instagram.com/champasiju/
  2. https://www.instagram.com/indigo.amour/
  3. https://www.khamir.org/crafts/weaving
  4. https://www.facebook.com/khamircrafts/

This paper was presented at the conference, ‘Recent Trends & Sustainability in Crafts & design’, at Indian Institute of Craft & Design, Jaipur in November 2019.

All images are property of the author and clicked by her.

Author:
Seema Chaudhary, Associate Professor, School of Fashion Design, Unitedworld Institute of Design (UID)

Disclaimer: The opinions / views expressed in this article are solely of the author in his / her individual capacity. They do not purport to reflect the opinions and/or views of the College and/or University or its members.

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