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.
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.
EMBROIDERIES OF KUTCH
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
PRESENTLY, 4,000 WOMEN FROM 120 VILLAGES (INCLUDING SOME VERY REMOTE VILLAGES) AND 12 COMMUNITIES CREATE EMBROIDERIES FOR SHRUJAN.
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.shrujan.org, www.amazon.in 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 VERY NATURE OF EACH GARMENT BEING HANDEMBROIDERED MAKES IT UNIQUE.
A FOCUS ON QUALITY
“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.
DESIGN CENTRE ON WHEELS
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.
LIVING AND LEARNING DESIGN CENTRE
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!”