Saviours Of Style

Apparel - - Contents July 2018 -

A spot­light on the Rafoog­ars, the in­vis­i­ble In­dian artists of darn­ing

Chi­tra Bala­sub­ra­ma­niam shines a spot­light on the in­vis­i­ble In­dian artists of darn­ing – the Rafoog­ars. Skilled in the art of mend­ing fab­rics, these artists are uniquely skil­ful when it comes to re­viv­ing dam­aged cloth­ing.

It is said that a stitch in time saves nine; and a group of darn­ers in In­dia truly sew through the fab­ric of time. The Rafoog­ars, ex­pert In­dian gar­ment re­stor­ers, recre­ate en­tire gar­ments with fi­nesse. Whether it is a reg­u­lar dress or a luxury item of cloth­ing, if any ap­parel is bro­ken, they fix it! Torn fab­rics are sewn to­gether so beau­ti­fully that the wearer would for­get it was even torn.

Once a part of ev­ery mar­ket, their num­bers are dwin­dling. They would sit and ply their trade, darn­ing and mend­ing gar­ments with small tears or even those which were lit­er­ally in tat­ters. They would do it slowly and steadily but when one would re­turn, one could barely see the tear. Rafoog­ari was usu­ally sought to re­pair win­ter gar­ments, es­pe­cially ex­pen­sive shawls, sweaters, jack­ets. So re­fined are the skills of the Rafoog­ars, they sim­ply pick up nu­ances of a new fab­ric and re­pair it. From silk, chif­fon, geor­gettes, Dhaka Muslin, fine cot­ton to even newer fab­rics like Ly­cra, Ten­cel and more, there’s no ma­te­rial they can’t re­new.


Priya Rav­ish Mehra, a tex­tile his­to­rian, has worked with the Rafoog­ars of Na­jibabad to give them recog­ni­tion and a plat­form where their works are vis­i­ble to the world at large. The ex­per­tise of Rafoog­ars is sel­dom cel­e­brated. An an­tique dealer may get a shawl re­stored from them and sell it through an­tique gal­leries at as­ton­ish­ing sums but the un­sung hands

which pieced and re­stored the piece re­main anony­mous. Priya Rav­ish Mehra has held baithaks where the work of the Rafoog­ars has been ex­hib­ited. Such ini­tia­tives help them to come in con­tact with peo­ple and in­crease the de­mand for their work. She has, through her ex­hi­bi­tions in In­dia and abroad, cre­ated aware­ness of the Rafoog­ars from Na­jibabad. This recog­ni­tion has given them a sense of pride in their work and a con­fi­dence to con­tinue with it and even en­cour­age the next gen­er­a­tion to take it up. The aware­ness also brings in or­ders and jobs and thus in­creases the earn­ings of the Rafoog­ars. It is af­ter vis­it­ing one such event re­cently that I un­der­stood that the work done by the Rafoogar in a span of min­utes is be­cause of the skill he has

Rafoog­ars have picked up their skill from many places. Each locality has its own spe­cial rafoog­ars. The by­lanes of Chandni Chowk have some very well known and fa­mous ones. Rafoog­ars can be called a jack of all trades when it comes to tex­tiles. They can sew, em­broi­der, re­work the fab­ric and at­tach it to some­thing else. It is their in­nate un­der­stand­ing of the tex­tiles which helps them to func­tion with such ease. A Rafoogar work­ing on a car­pet will work like a weaver and filler. He will weave the base fab­ric and fill it with piles of the same colour so that the dam­aged area is just not vis­i­ble. Work­ing with ba­sic tools, the Rafoog­ars can cre­ate magic with

They don’t have a spe­cial stitch, but the Rafoog­ars un­der­stand the fab­ric and its con­struc­tion. Priya Rav­ish Mehra has man­aged to put to­gether a sam­pler of all stitches that are Rafoog­ari spe­cial­ties. The pan­els which were on dis­play tell a story about the stitches and how it was done by the work­ers. It is her pas­sion and in-depth work­ing with the crafts­men which has re­sulted in such an ex­er­cise. She has also worked to cre­ate con­tem­po­rary pieces pay­ing homage to the stitches which are usu­ally hid­den or in­vis­i­ble, giv­ing it a pride of place as a means of or­na­men­ta­tion or dec­o­ra­tion.


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