Picking up the threads of kasuti

Picking up the threads of kasuti

On a cloudy day, 41-year-old Sridevi Katti sits in her modest home near Kelgeri in Dharwad embroidering an intricate geometric pattern of peacock on an Ilkal saree. As her deft hands work on the design, she says, “Kasuti needs a lot of concentration as even a minor error will ruin the entire piece. I began enjoying embroidery as a teenager but then developed an interest for kasuti around 15 years back.”

Today, kasuti is not just her passion but a means of livelihood as well. Sridevi, a polio victim, works as a kasuti artisan and fetches a decent income to look after her ailing mother and younger brother.

For Rukhayya Bandunavar of Aminbhavi, who has expertise in the art and has trained several artisans in the last decade, kasuti has given her confidence and social and financial independence.

She travels to Gadag, Ramdurg and other nearby towns and cities where she assigns kasuti work to other women and collects the cloth on completion. Kasuti is generally piecemeal work, done at home. 

A big part of this success story of women empowerment is Arati Hiremath, a kasuti artist and entrepreneur from Dharwad.

Stich by stich

Starting her kasuti journey from her home in 1990, Arati currently has around 250 artisans working with her. A majority of them are women from places like Dharwad, Gadag-Betgeri, Laxmeshwar, Shigli, Savadatti, Ramdurg, Uppinbetageri and other weaver pockets of North Karnataka.

“Hailing from Bengaluru, I moved in to Dharwad as a young bride. Then, kasuti was a languishing art that was mainly being carried forward by the women of the weaver community. My mother had got a couple of sarees embroidered with kasuti from artisans in Dharwad and when I came to Dharwad, they came to me seeking some work. This is how I initially got into it,” recalls Arati.

A BCom graduate, Arati was passionate about designing, textiles and embroidery. Initially, she got the sarees of her friends and relatives embroidered. This way of connecting artisans and customers continued for a few years.

In the mid-90s, Arati attended a few exhibitions in Mumbai, and this was when she realised the demand for kasuti, especially from Gujarati women. She then began working seriously towards promoting the art as well as helping traditional embroiders.

In 2000, she took the next step by registering and networking with government agencies. Meanwhile, she was invited to National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi where she saw how they had used embroidery in diverse ways.

Innovation

Back home, she reinvented the art and began designing kurtas for men, kurtis, chudidars, dupattas, langa-blouse, stoles and others with Kasuti on them. She even began stocking a readymade collection at her store where people could just walk in and buy.

However, by then, Arati faced another challenge. She had a lot of kasuti orders but there was a dearth of artisans. Many of them had moved on to other jobs, and so, she decided to train some people.

With the help of her friend, she set up an NGO where they trained some 750 to 800 women under a government scheme. However, most of them did not continue the art. This left Arati disheartened and she gave up on such large-scale training programmes. Instead, she began training hand-picked women who she was confident were interested in the craft and would keep it going. 

“Apart from personal clothing, we also have home décor items like cushions, curtains, torans, wall pieces, tambula bags, iPad covers and other items embellished with kasuti. A lawyer from Bengaluru also got a huge frame of Kasuti art done from us for her ceiling. Apart from the traditional Ilkal and Khan fabrics, we are using kasuti embroidery on Maheshwari, Kanjeevaram and other varieties of cotton and silk sarees/fabrics,” says Arati adding that social media and saree groups have been connecting art lovers and art keepers in recent years.

Traditionally, these artisans never used an embroidery frame or net or traced designs for kasuti work, and it was purely done based on the warp and weft of the textile. But with a shift in the use of the medium and orders for identical designs by bigger companies, they use stencilled design now.

Yet, they take utmost care to maintain the originality. Arati also ensures that kasuti reaches common people by pricing it quite reasonably. She believes that any craft can thrive only if it is appreciated by all.

Every year, she hosts a group of fashion designing students and enthusiastic women who come to her place as part of their pan-India temples and textile trails.

During the Covid lockdown also, she has conducted online training programmes. Thankfully, her team had enough orders and except for the shortage of thread for a few days, their work went on as usual.

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