Crafting a livelihood


Crafting a livelihood

Kasuti, the traditional art form of Karnataka, has come of age by donning a modern avatar, observes Aparna P Sirsalmath

Soon after packing off her children to school, Latha Kabirpanth shifts her role from that of a mother to a teacher. She pulls a piece of fabric from a bundle and starts discussing new designs with a group of women from her neighbourhood. She has an eye for colour and stitches, which has made her popular as a kasuti trainer.

Latha’s interest in kasuti was renewed after attending a refresher training programme in 2005. Since then, her world has expanded beyond routine household activities. Latha narrates the transition, “I never dreamt of earning from a hobby like kasuti. Now it has become a major source of income for me. As a resource person, I earn both money and respect.”

The origin

Latha is one of the many women in Dharwad who are earning a livelihood from kasuti. This delicate and intricate form of embroidery is prevalent in North Karnataka.
Earliest references of kasuti, which means ‘the handwork of cotton thread’ in
Kannada, date back to 10th century. Kasuti originated in the humble houses of rural artisans, later making its way to the royal arena.

Traditionally, kasuti was done on Ilkal and Chandrakala sarees. Motifs used in kasuti are drawn from the images of rural life.

The woes of mechanisation

Intricate and complex designs are characteristic of kasuti. Geometric motifs used in this art form require a lot of
concentration in addition to neat needlework. With mechanisation, the art lost its originality, while artists lost the inspiration to continue with the art form owing to the low returns they earned. Eventually, kasuti was on the verge of extinction.

Various organisations are working with rural artisans to encourage them to continue the legacy of this art, which has rich cultural and geographical significance. One of them is the Initiatives for Development Foundation, which has floated Kai Krafts, an effort to facilitate kasuti artisans to cater to the contemporary market. Their concerted marketing efforts have helped the artisans to improve their earning.

The revival

Kai Krafts documented traditional designs after interacting with experienced artisans. Old sarees that had been preserved for generations were photographed and compiled. With these inputs, Kai Krafts has developed a directory of kasuti borders and motifs along with their vernacular names. Till this day, about 90 designs have been identified with their traditional names.

After research and documentation, Kai Krafts is now developing products with the contemporary market in mind. Household products and accessories like cushion covers, curtains, mirrors and hand bags are now made available in kasuti. However, Kai Krafts ensures that the symmetry and intricacy of traditional designs are retained in their products.

The practicality

Nanda Uppar, an artisan, says, “With Kai Krafts, we are getting more work. This
ensures more practice and more money. We are more disciplined as the work is time-bound. I have also learnt to think of new designs and colour combinations as customers demand variety. I have gained immense knowledge and I’m earning more now.”

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