A Kutch kind of stitch

A Kutch kind of stitch

For most Kutchi women, the art of embroidery is a form of identity and self-expression, apart from being a way to sustain themselves.

The art of a people is a true mirror to their minds.” This quote from our late Prime Minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru holds very true for the women of villages and towns of Bhuj, Dordo, Sumrasar, Nirona, Lakhpat, Bhujodi and Chari Dhund in Gujarat’s Kutch district, the largest district in India. 

It is said that for the rural women of Gujarat, a needle is her pen with which she gives expression to her creativity and reiterates her relationship with religion and nature.
Kutch, in fact, means something that becomes intermittently dry and wet, therefore, the people of Kutch mostly kept themselves warm during winter in the desert using quilted blankets made with patches using old pieces of cloth and embellish them with mirrors. It is believed that the ornamental fabrics from Gujarat graced the court of the legendary King Solomon. The art is very ancient and supposed to have originated in Persia, in early 14th century. In fact, the art and culture of Gujarat has been associated with the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Babylon and Sumer.

A way of life

Ethnic styles of embroidery reveal a great deal about the social status of a clan and therefore, also express lifestyles. “These embroideries were practiced by pastoral nomadic tribes whose heritage is rooted more in community than in land. That’s why even after centuries, they consider it their cultural property,” says a spokesperson of Gujarat State Handloom Development & Handicraft Development Corporation Limited, Gandhinagar. He further says, “The department provides raw material to the artisans and also arranges the sale of embroidered products. Rabari, Ahir, Mutwa and Jat are tribal communities who have been cattle breeders. They have traversed
long distances from Afghanistan since the 16th and 17th centuries and settled in Saurashtra and Kutch regions of Gujarat.” It is mentioned in Mahabharata that these cattle breeders are called kathi who are relatives of warrior Karna in the epic.

There seems to be a wide range of styles of embroidery of Kutch depending upon the stitches with which it is done. Nevertheless, a common trait of the different varieties, is the highly intricate and extensive needlework on the fabric. For example, the splendour of mochi form of embroidery, also called ari bharat is simply inimitable due to the intricacy of its stitches. As the name suggests, this form of embroidery is an adaptation of the cobbler’s (mochi meaning cobbler) stitch. The cobblers would execute the stitch on the leather, making it refined and strong but later, the stitch was translated to the fabric by the womenfolk to create glorious textile products. It is said that mochis in Kutch and Saurashtra regions were taught the ari bharat stitch by a Sufi saint of Sindh around 3,000 years ago with which they would make leather products for the nobility, land owners and the courtesans.

Variety of designs

A combination of stitches such as darning, herringbone, chain, buttonhole, running and cross stitch are the techniques that are used to create a variety of designs to make colourful duvets, rugs, curtains, table linen, blankets, cushion covers, mat, bags and accessories. Explaining the technique of renowned mirror embroidery of Kutch, Amy Shroff of Shrujan Trust says, “Sewing mirror discs intricately onto the fabric is a highly dexterous task. The embroidery is done mainly on either cotton or silk fabrics. The techniques are regionalised; therefore each has a dominance of particular types of stitches”. Shrujan Trust is based in Bhujodi village of Kutch. Shrujan Trust is
working with craftswomen in Kutch to revitalise the ancient craft of hand embroidery. “Shrujan was among the first to recognise its potential as a practical means to enable craftswomen to earn a home-based, sustainable and dignified livelihood. Women can earn anywhere between Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 a month and may be more if they spend more time. They don’t embroider all day long. Since they are cattle herders primarily,it is an alternate income for them,” says Ami.

Earlier, when embroidery was a part of a daily routine and didn’t promise a good revenue-generation for the womenfolk of Kutch or rather, it wasn’t meant to be for any commercial purposes, it would determine the matrimonial prospects of a young girl. More the ability of a girl to embroider a cloth, the better her chances of finding a good bridegroom. The embroidered fabrics were offered as customary gifts in weddings, dowry, decorations in festivities, adorning cattle and home and also clothing for deities. Today, with the help and support of various government and non-governmental organisations, the impeccable designs of Kutch embroidery have reached an international level which definitely is a salute and a tribute to the women artisans of Kutch.

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