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Magical stitches of Banjara needles

Trisha Bhattacharya, June 2, 2013, DHNS: 20:11 IST

Creative Nomads

All about Hues: Dense and colourful Banjara needle work.
Banjara, the gypsy community of India, has in its own way, made a sizable contribution to art and craft in the country. These nomads, as we know, move about in groups, from one location to another, and live according to certain bohemian lifestyles, and are exposed to a peculiar upbringing.

From such odd ways of living, a unique sense of aesthetics has emerged in them, which along with the influences of their forefathers, has caused these tribesmen to develop their own simple methods of craft. One such form is the needle craft, where simple needles, embroidery threads, base fabrics, and the craft-prowess of these nomads, engender beautiful pieces of art.

The Banjara needle craft of Andhra Pradesh is different from that of Gujarat or the Kutch region. What is markedly telling of the generic needle craft is its simplicity and elegance of design, usage of colours and how the Banjaras’ meagre earnings do not hinder their creativity to bring about colour and brightness.

The base fabric used in this style of craft was originally raw, and was of poor quality, but now, it is mostly mill-made. Blues, oranges, pinks, whites, yellows and other coloured fabrics, with contrast multicoloured thread-work, in geometric patterns, and some other motifs, in addition to embellishments like tiny mirrors, cowries, beads and shells, give rise to the final ornate assemblage of Banjara needle craft.

Further, the ensuing assemble includes a background of ornamentation (displayed trinkets), an organised mesh of embroidery threads, which are sown in specific and varied formations that protrude slightly off the base of the fabric. Sometimes, pieces of these fabrics are appliqued together to create a whole piece, and on these, a variety of stitches, like the simple chain stitch, double herringbone stitch, or the long and short stitch, or a type of a back stitch, forms patterns.

Painstaking work is combined with the desire to create effective patterns, to decorate clothes like skirts, blouse pieces, kurtas, and other furnishings like cushion covers, bedspreads, handbags, throws, wall hangings, purses, wallets, cellphone covers, and so on. Banjara needle craft is not only a means to highlight the culture of these tribes, but it also provides them with a modest source of income.

Therefore, in the spirit of freedom, Indian gypsies fuse their own ideas, creative designs and skills to enhance this stunning craft. Original Banjara crafts are all done with hand, and involve much intricate work and dexterity, depending on the final item being crafted.

One of the reasons these craft pieces find themselves decorating homes is because of the eclectic and exotic flavour they bring to the decor, and the earthiness they effectuate.
These multi-hued pieces of needle craft are an effective representation of some of India’s tribal folk arts which add a dash of core Indian artistry to our homes and lives, and enhance the realm of Indian crafts with an unconventional essence.

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