The lacemakers of Narasapur

The lacemakers of Narasapur

Handicraft

Indian heritage has been a conglomeration of numerous skills and crafts that have been followed for generations across the length and breadth of the country. Though most of these find their humble origins in the remote villages of India, these artistic skills are slowly finding their way into the economic mainstream and commercial marketing. But, by and large, these crafts have remained as home-based vocations and as such have not gained the attention and popularity they deserve. One such little known handicraft is the crochet lace making. 

Lace products. Photo by authorNarasapur is a tiny township in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, sitting pretty on the right bank of Godavari, the lifeline for the large tracts of fertile lands. The womenfolk of the farming community began to use their leisure time to create wonderful artefacts from colourful lace. The tradition which began roughly 150 years ago spread amongst the households. The artistically woven lace work products were either gifted or exchanged at social gatherings. In course of time, women who felt a need to augment their income devoted  more time and effort to produce lace products and sell them for value. But, like in every field, the lack of proper organisation and the entry of middlemen meant an exploitation of these womenfolk and their lace products. While the beautiful creations made by the villagers after hours and days of painstaking handwork were bought out for a smidgen, traders sold them off in cities for a whopping price.

It was at this juncture that the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) of West Godavari district took the initiative to organise the sector and bring justice to the poorly paid masses of innocent women. In 2004, the Central Government’s initiative to preserve and promote this rare handicraft under the Ambedkar Hasta Vikas Yojana (AHVY) was fruitfully utilised by the DRDA to develop a lace park, the first of its kind in India. It took upon itself the role of a not-for-profit organisation with the aim of providing a platform for thousands of lace makers where they could directly sell their products at competitive prices, bypassing the extortionist middlemen. On top of the agenda of the organisation was to train and develop the skill of lace making.

To start with, DRDA encouraged the women to form local self-help groups called MACs or mutually aided co-operative societies which in turn affiliated to the district level nodal agency. Through this system, the artisans would get a much better price for their products as the lace park itself would be an outlet for sale. The scheme met with success over time and presently there are nearly 30,000 women involved through a hundred societies. While many of them work from home and send finished products, a few also work at the lace park itself on a daily basis. An artisan working for about five hours a day earns close to Rs 60.

The lace making skill of the artisans is also developed with free training offered by the DRDA which has its own design development wing with a computer-aided design software. With a retail outlet named Alankriti and suitable storage facility, the lace park serves as a one-stop-shop for all kinds of lace products.

As one strolls along  the exhibits, one would be amazed at the beauty of the products in vibrant colours of blue, orange, green, red, white and beige. The artefacts are also varied — from hand purses to mobile phone covers to caps, tops and stoles. There are attractive wall hangings, lampshades and the like. Even larger creations like door curtains and sofa covers are uniquely  appealing. As regards kidswear and women’s garments, the range is exhaustive with variegated and intricately designed skirts, frocks, upper garments and designer wear. The finesse with which these artefacts have been created is so enticing that the onlooker is induced to buy on impulse. These crochet lace products are not only finding a good market in India, but are doing well on the export front too, with bulk orders from UK, USA, France, etc.

A visit to the lace park exposes one to the world of this rare handicraft and the saga of the lacemakers of Narasapur.

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