2000 - 2017

Artisanship in the SEWA Community

SEWA Hansiba Museum

This is the story of how a group of women in rural Gujarat in western India, in need of work and water, found each other, formed craft Association, and a built a museum. This exhibit shows some of the techniques and processes that the SEWA artisan community follow.

The Women Artisans of SEWA
Far from being unskilled, SEWA found rural women of Gujarat to be highly skilled in traditional crafts. They constantly sew, embroidered, and created works of textile art as dowries for their daughters. During tough times, they were forced to sell their precious embroideries to traders for a pittance, just to survive. If the women could come together, they could generate employment for themselves. By forming a producers’ collective, they could pool their resources, use their traditional skills to make products, and SEWA would help the collectives find markets for their products.This is how the birh and journey of "Hansiba"in 1987
Harvesting the Cotton Pod
The dark soil of Gujarat produces some of the world’s oldest cotton. Cotton textiles from Gujarat were famous for their beauty and have been traded across the world for centuries.

After harvesting cotton in their field, the weaver and their family get involved in cotton pod shelling.

Here Vejl-ben from the Chaudhary Patel community demonstrates the cotton spinning.

Women artisan give the yarn to the weavers in their village to weave cloth. This cotton yarn spun by the women artisan is given to the weaver in the village to weave cloth from it. The women are therefore in this way were responsible for their entire family's clothing needs. The amount of Cotton cultivated in the fields was first used to spin enough yarn for the family to be clothed. Depending on different neet the cloth is woven. For men’s attire-faliyu for middle part of bady and chornu is lower garment.

Tying white material and then dyeing called Bandhani technique is popular for the women who wear such cloth as Odhni (traditional Dupatta/stole). Women from all communities generally use odhnis in the region.

The fabric is tied at different places tightly by thread. Where the knots are, the dye doesn't spread, leaving beautiful circular patterns in the coloured cloth.

The herbs and natural minerals used in dyeing are clockwise – jaggery, tamarind seed powder, ground alum, rusted iron filings, green vitriol, myrobalan, ground dhavadi flowers, tamarind, pomegranate bark, and in the center acacia catechu bark. Natural dyes are soothing to the body, are locally available, and the colors stay fast.

The ingredients are boiled together in water in specific proportions based on the amount of cloth that is to be dyed.

After tying the cloth dyeing is a very important part of the cycle that includes making cloth for embroidery, the fabrics woven by the Vankars. Colouring included using the resist dyeing technique to make fabrics which would be used on different occasions.

Here, the artisans are in a group performing the dyeing process in their backyard.

After the tie-and-dye process, the coloured material is left to dry for at least a day in the sun.

Before embroidery, the women use clay to outline their motifs. This process is called Arekhani. Each woman picks the motifs that best express her hopes and aspirations, and would also modulate it to her skill-level.

The women also cut and shape the mirrors that are then embroidered onto the fabric. The women use a roof tile to shape the pieces of mica or glass.

Various shapes are made that they plan to use to decorate the fabrics..

Different mirror shape and its use in fabric. Ahir women dressed in the beautiful kamkho and ghagharo for the Hindu festival Janmaashtami (commemorating the birth of Krishna).

The traditional mirror work on the wall would be found very commonly at Rabari community houses in Gujarat. The patterns of the mirrors on the wall are very similar to the motifs on the clothes of the ladies in the village. The only main difference is that the wall is only white while the garments are full of colours.

Such mirror decorations on the wall have found value for storage of articles which are very common in Rabari women household. The middle one is used for storage of food grain on daily basis - like milk, curd and bread etc., while side ones used as dry grain storage article (Kothi). Also seen in this image is a little part of the inside bedroom of the house. We see tiny spot lights falling on the floor. These are caused due to the gaps in the roof of the house, which was simply a criss-cross mesh of some material like bamboo.

Traditions and Expanding Styles
A young SEWA member cuts a fabric pattern for appliqué

This applique quilt is used to spread on the bed whenever the families have guests.

Processes and techniques have kept expanding and the women at SEWA have been able to integrate new learnings to their traditional ways.

The legacy continues, and the urban technical demands are also being met steadily.

Hansiba Museum, SEWA
Credits: Story

Reema Nanavaty
Neeta Trivedi
Tejas Raval
Parul Sagarwala
Savitaben Patel

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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