In­spir­ing Creativ­ity

Brinda Gill pro­files Shru­jan, a pi­o­neer­ing not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion which has worked to­wards nur­tur­ing tra­di­tional Kutchi hand em­broi­dery on gar­ments for the ur­ban mar­ket, since its in­cep­tion five decades ago.

Apparel - - Contents -

A pro­file od Shru­jan, which has worked to­wards nur­tur­ing tra­di­tional Kutchi hand em­broi­dery for the ur­ban mar­ket

If you ask Ami Shroff, Manag­ing Trustee, Shru­jan, how many styles of em­broi­dery are prac­tised in Kutch, she will in­form you that the fe­male ar­ti­sans work­ing with the or­gan­i­sa­tion presently prac­tise 50 styles, yet they are still dis­cov­er­ing new styles and count­ing! She elab­o­rates, “Kutch, lo­cated in western Gu­jarat, spreads across about 46,000 sq. kms of land. The di­ver­sity of crafts and em­broi­dery found in this re­gion is per­haps un­matched any­where else in the world.” And tes­ti­mony to her re­sponse is a won­der­ful spec­trum of finely em­broi­dered gar­ments, fea­tur­ing dif­fer­ent hand-em­broi­dered stitches, colours, mo­tifs, pat­terns and mir­ror work that speak vol­umes of the rich liv­ing her­itage of em­broi­dery of the com­mu­ni­ties re­sid­ing in Kutch and of Shru­jan’s ef­forts in nur­tur­ing them.


Em­broi­dery is one of the most fa­mous and vis­i­ble crafts of Kutch. “The sheer abun­dance and va­ri­ety of em­broi­dery in Kutch makes it spe­cial. This is why we speak of ‘the em­broi­deries of Kutch’, that is, re­fer to this craft in the plu­ral.” Tra­di­tion­ally, the women of Kutch em­broi­dered rel­a­tively coarse cot­ton fab­ric with colour­ful em­broi­dery and mir­ror work, with young girls craft­ing beau­ti­ful tex­tiles for their trousseaus. Each com­mu­nity had its dis­tinct em­broi­dery style that was passed on from mother to daugh­ter and it was worked as a per­sonal craft. How­ever, in the late 1960s, em­broi­dery also be­came a means of eco­nomic sur­vival. This shift was pi­o­neered by Shru­jan.


Shru­jan, a not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion, was founded in 1969 by the late Chand­aben Shroff and her fam­ily, as part of a famine re­lief pro­gram in the drought-prone Kutch re­gion of Gu­jarat. In 1969, Kutch had been dev­as­tated by drought for the fourth con­sec­u­tive year. Shru­jan, mean­ing ‘creativ­ity’ in San­skrit, was founded with the aim of pro­vid­ing em­ploy­ment to women in their own en­vi­ron­ment by en­cour­ag­ing their tra­di­tional em­broi­dery skills, and con­vey­ing the vi­brant Kutchi em­broi­dery to ur­ban cen­tres.

Fab­ric and threads were–and con­tinue to be– pro­vided to women for em­broi­dery to be done in their free time at home. The com­pleted work would be picked up from the woman’s house and she would be paid at that time it­self. In this way, the or­gan­i­sa­tion in­creased its reach and in the past five decades, Shru­jan has reached out to thou­sands of women. Presently, 4,000 women from 120 vil­lages (in­clud­ing some very re­mote vil­lages) and 12 com­mu­ni­ties cre­ate em­broi­deries for Shru­jan. In recog­ni­tion of her pi­o­neer­ing and far-reach­ing work, Chand­aben re­ceived the Rolex Award for En­ter­prise in 2006.


The fo­cus of Shru­jan is hand em­broi­dery. With 50 styles of em­broi­dery, each ren­dered in coloured yarns in the style of the in­di­vid­ual em­broi­derer, a vast range of work is pro­duced. The dif­fer­ent em­broi­dery styles in­clude aari em­broi­dery, a fine chain stitch, worked with the awl; the mutva or mir­ror work em­broi­dery; soof, which sim­u­lates the ef­fect of a wo­ven tex­tile; the pako, a tightly worked vari­a­tion of chain stitch; ahir which in­cor­po­rates an out­line of a mo­tif with chain stitch and its fill­ing in with her­ring­bone stitch; the jat worked with the cross stitch; the kam­bira, worked with the run­ning stitch. The ar­ti­sans are en­cour­aged to ren­der fine em­broi­dery, and are paid a higher amount for qual­ity work. The


break­down of the cost­ing of a gar­ment is: 35 per cent of the sale price goes to the ar­ti­san, 35 per cent in­cludes costs for the fab­ric and tai­lor­ing, and 30 per cent is for ad­min­is­tra­tion costs.


In­ter­est­ingly, while the em­broi­dery styles are tra­di­tional, the ex­pres­sion is con­tem­po­rary. This is done broadly in two ways. One is by giv­ing the mo­tifs a dif­fer­ent ex­pres­sion, that is, by scal­ing down the mo­tifs: work­ing them in softer colours/colour com­bi­na­tions of thread, apart from bright colours typ­i­cal of Kutchi em­broi­dery, and work­ing with softer colour com­bi­na­tions of em­broi­dery and ground fab­ric. The sec­ond is by cre­at­ing com­pletely new mo­tifs and de­signs, keep­ing the tra­di­tional artists as the in­ter­preters of the mo­tifs into em­broi­dery. “When asked about the new styles of Kutchi em­broi­dery, the women em­broi­der­ers have re­sponded that their em­broi­dery has al­ways been for the adorn­ment of gar­ments by the wearer, so they are com­fort­able em­broi­der­ing mo­tifs for non-tra­di­tional gar­ments. Fur­ther, they say, their craft has al­ways been dy­namic, con­tin­u­ally evolv­ing, and of­fered scope for the creativ­ity of the in­di­vid­ual em­broi­derer.”


The prod­uct range of Shru­jan fea­tures gar­ments and other prod­ucts such as ac­ces­sories and home linen. The gar­ment range com­prises stitched and un­stitched gar­ments. The em­broi­dered stitched gar­ments are kur­tas, tu­nics, tops, dresses, cho­lis, kanch­lis, blouses as well as un­stitched blouse pieces. The em­broi­dered un­stitched gar­ments are saris, du­pat­tas, stoles, shawls and muf­flers.

The very na­ture of each gar­ment be­ing handembroidered makes it unique. “Even if a fam­ily has four sis­ters and we give them the same fab­ric, threads and mo­tifs to em­broi­der, there will be dif­fer­ences. This is the beauty of the em­broi­dery of Kutch as each woman brings her skill and style to em­broi­der a tex­tile or gar­ment.” In years past, with the flow of em­broi­dered kur­tas, there was a vast range of up to 1,800 dif­fer­ent pieces of em­broi­dered kur­tas. Re­al­is­ing that there was a need to con­trol the num­ber of these de­signs, Shru­jan now cre­ates lim­ited edi­tion gar­ments based on the cus­tomer re­sponse to the de­signs.

The styles of stitched gar­ments are sim­ple and clas­sic. This is be­cause the women em­broi­der the fab­rics in their free time. If a woman has had a child, she may only be able to com­plete the work after a year. In this con­text, cre­at­ing em­broi­dery for trendy gar­ments is not vi­able as by the time the work is com­pleted and the gar­ment stitched, the style may be out of fash­ion. Shru­jan gar­ments/prod­ucts are avail­able at their stores in Mum­bai, Ahmed­abad and in Kutch where there are three stores. They re­tail their prod­ucts at other stores as well–Peo­ple Tree at Goa, Shob­han at Su­rat, GVK Mu­seum Shop at Mum­bai–and hold ex­hi­bi­tions in dif­fer­ent cities. The gar­ments/prod­ucts are also avail­able on­line on www.shru­, www.ama­ and on the Face­book page of Shru­jan. It also un­der­takes job or­ders and works on cus­tomised em­broi­dered gar­ments for tex­tile and fash­ion de­sign­ers who are in sync with the ethos of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.



“The pas­sion of the em­broi­der­ers for ex­cel­lence, the sheer breadth of tra­di­tional em­broi­dery styles, the fine­ness of work, and the fact that these em­broi­dered gar­ments con­tinue to be worn is what makes Shru­jan em­broi­dery like no other, any­where in the world,” says Ami. To cre­ate qual­ity em­broi­deries, the women are given good qual­ity hand-wo­ven fab­rics of nat­u­ral fi­bres like cot­ton, silk, wool and linen; no syn­thetic ma­te­ri­als are worked upon. They are given good qual­ity art silk yarns ob­tained from a sup­plier, whose fam­ily busi­ness it has been to sup­ply yarn to em­broi­der­ers in Kutch.

Mill wo­ven fab­rics of nat­u­ral fi­bres are sourced only for counted thread em­broi­dery, such as soof em­broi­dery due to the even­ness of the weave that helps the women to count the weft/warp yarns to em­broi­der mo­tifs. How­ever, in some cases, mill wo­ven cot­ton fab­rics are sourced when the cloth is to be block-printed or tie-dyed and then em­broi­dered. This is be­cause opt­ing for hand­loom fab­ric and then block-print­ing or tie-dye­ing it, and sub­se­quently em­broi­der­ing it, would make the fin­ished gar­ment ex­pen­sive.

In the case of silk fab­rics that are to be block­printed/tie-dyed and then em­broi­dered, hand­wo­ven silks are sourced, as these make for pre­mium gar­ments.


Shru­jan has un­der­taken sev­eral ini­tia­tives to pre­serve the tra­di­tional em­broi­deries and in­form the em­broi­der­ers of old mo­tifs and pat­terns. These ini­tia­tives have in­cluded bring­ing out pub­li­ca­tions, hold­ing work­shops, es­tab­lish­ing a de­sign cen­tre in a bus and a multi-di­men­sional de­sign cen­tre. In 1997, a De­sign Cen­tre on Wheels was ini­ti­ated, to con­vey mas­ter­pieces of Kutchi em­broi­dery to the craftswomen, who can study them and thus shape their own work. This project in­volved the ef­forts of more than 400 women who pro­duced their finest works. Over a pe­riod of five and a half years, three gen­er­a­tions of women worked with lo­cal and ur­ban de­sign­ers to cre­ate over 1,000 large em­broi­dered pan­els de­pict­ing the dif­fer­ent em­broi­dery styles of Kutch to serve as a ref­er­ence for the em­broi­der­ers. The pan­els were taken in a spe­cially de­signed bus to dif­fer­ent vil­lages in Kutch.


In Jan­uary 2016, Shru­jan in­au­gu­rated a mu­seum as part of the Liv­ing and Learn­ing De­sign Cen­tre (LLDC) to pre­serve, re­vi­talise and pro­mote the glo­ri­ous craft her­itage of Kutch. LLDC, ded­i­cated to the crafts­peo­ple of Kutch, is en­vi­sioned as a multi-di­men­sional crafts ed­u­ca­tion and re­source cen­tre. It is si­t­u­ated on a three-build­ing, eigh­tacre cam­pus in Ajrakh­pur, Kutch. LLDC aims to train, ed­u­cate and sup­port the crafts­peo­ple to prac­tise their tra­di­tional crafts for con­tem­po­rary mar­kets so that they can earn a dig­ni­fied and pros­per­ous liveli­hood. A gallery, a li­brary and three crafts stu­dios are now func­tional within the mu­seum. “A Crafts School is also planned in the near fu­ture. It will have fully equipped work­ing stu­dios for all the crafts of Kutch. This will make the Liv­ing and Learn­ing De­sign Cen­tre the sin­gle largest liv­ing and work­ing crafts en­vi­ron­ment in Kutch and per­haps in In­dia as well!”


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