Dr. Ismail Khatri, a 9th generation Ajrakh printer who has an honorary PhD from De Montfort University, UK, is retired to research and development these days.  His two sons are busy printing vast quantities of fabric for clients all over the world.  So Ismailbhai is going slow. He recently carved a whole set of blocks for a traditional Malir, a fabric originally from the town of Malir in Sindh, which Maldhari pastoralists wore as a sarong.  He had always thought that one of the border motifs, a spade, was odd.  Who played cards back then?  While slowly carving, he had a vision: the motif was originally a mud pot similarly shaped.  So he carved the block from his vision.  And he printed and dyed the Malir himself.  The textile is luminous with life- a world away from the wonderful array of printed textiles in his shop.

What do we have to do to get THIS quality? I asked him.

He laughed.  “You have to make it with love,” he said.

Weeks later, Dr. Ismail and the other master artisan advisors for our design education for artisans program came to discuss tradition with the current students.  Ismailbhai related how, while he was carving the blocks for the Malir, he realized that the fabric told the story of the Maldharis who wore it. One motif shows the wind, another shows a stepwell.  The herders must always keep wind and water for their herds in mind.  Then there is the water pot- not just for storing water, but it was also used as a flotation device when crossing a river.  The herder put his Malir or Ajrakh in it to keep dry, and floated easily to the other side.  One motif is called “ladu,” the name of a sweet.  But when Ismailbhai was deciphering the theme of pastoralism he realized it has another meaning- the rolled up reed mats.  The mats are stretched around a simple frame to make a home, and when it is time to move on, they are rolled up.  The motif is a cross section of the roll! Reading the motifs, Ismailbhai related the rich nuanced life of his original clients, never seen by the students of 2019.

One weaver, fascinated, said that this amazed him- and that he felt dispossessed: he had never had his traditional weavings “read” to him this way. He automatically treasured the Malir, and realized the importance of stories in bringing work alive.

Today, hand block printed fabric is produced in thousands of meters, racing to keep pace with the industrial production that forced it to seek markets beyond the traditional consumers.

Many traditional textiles, such as the Malir, are all but forgotten.  We hold our “Masters” program every year so that the next generation of artisans can draw from their rich traditions.

In a world now concerned with sustainability, what is equally important to learn from the Masters is a model for genuine sustainability.  Sustainable Fashion is an oxymoron: it cannot exist. Fashion by nature changes, and the fashion industry by nature wants us to keep consuming so that it is sustained.

Striking in the traditional system of hand printed, natural dyed textiles of Kutch, is that highly sophisticated, technically complex, and exquisitely beautiful textiles were created for simple, poor pastoralists and agriculturists.  They had only one or two of each textile- one to wear while the other was being washed.  But they were of what today would be understood as museum quality– and should be considered as luxury items.  The quality was always as good as possible because the maker and consumer knew each other intimately, and both equally understood and appreciated the quality of fabric, printing and dyeing.  There was satisfaction in making and consuming and no thought to cut corners in quality.

Village people knew precisely how to buy less and buy better.  Their textiles were made to last a long time and were never thought of as expensive.  They were worth the price, and that was exchanged in barter.  When I asked Irfanbhai Khatri how they insured that the exchange of textiles and milk, goats or grains was equal, he answered simply, “We didn’t.”  Everyone got what he needed.

We probably can’t go back to a barter system now.  But can we learn from the system in which maker and consumer share an understanding of quality?  Can we think of buying less and buying better?  Can we consider personal expression of style rather than commercially dictated fashion? And can we imagine cherishing, purchasing from an artisan so that, in the words of weaver Vishramji Valji, “As it slowly wears away you remember the person who made it.”

All this requires a focus on the human connection that was the basis of the traditional system- making and using textiles with love.


Some time ago I wrote a blog post about my concern over where craft was going. My concern arises from the low status given to those who work with their hands.  Craft seems to be perceived as an antiquated, inferior form of manufacturing that could only survive if “helped,” and artisans are perceived as skilled laborers.

Traditional craft in India was not made in in large scale factories or production lines. In Kutch, an individual or family conceived the object to be made, produced or procured the raw materials needed, and created it; it was holistic creation. The artisan knew the user, and delivered his work to him directly. Each artisan family had its own clientele, and there were often hereditary, personal relationships between makers and users. As I have understood it, traditionally craft was made in a community-based horizontal social structure, in which artisans all held more or less equal economic and social status.

Craft was traditionally exchanged in a barter system. Weavers, printers and dyers gave fabrics to herders and farmers, and in turn received milk, goats and grain. When asked how they insured that goods exchanged were equal in value, Irfanbhai said simply, “We didn’t.” People received what they needed when they needed it. The shift in conception between this traditional valuation system and the commercial market is enormous.

My concern is that when craft is pushed into the world of not only cash economy but also industrialized scaled-up production, the structure of artisan societies changes from horizontal to vertical. Economically stronger individuals become “Master Artisans,” employ previously equal status artisans as workers, and gain higher social as well as economic status.

Not only that; they stop making.

Many of the artisan students at Somaiya Kala Vidya have been job workers for bigger players in the craft world, and want to learn design as a way to begin to become independent.  As they grow, they will no longer be able to fulfill their own orders.  So who will work for them?

I sincerely hope- I wrote- that our design and business education programs are not simply producing more “Master Artisans.”  As businesses grow, artisan designers seem to get farther from being artisans.

I offered a suggestion for an alternative.

But I am not an artisan.  My friend Albert, who has worked many years in the craft world, says, “The artisans have all the answers.”  And after all, it is their life.

So we gathered together a group of design graduates, and a facilitator, a dramatist Sanjaybhai to explore….

After I introduce the issue, there is the usual silence.

Finally, Juned I says, “Actually there is not such a big problem as you imagine.”

Khalidbhai gives his view.  “Actually, there is an easy solution,” he says.  “We have to teach people.  We teach them, and they grow.  When they want to have their own business, we teach new people.  There are so many people in nearby villages who want work.”

Sanjaybhai asks, do you do this out of necessity?  Or do it as a policy?

Slowly, more comes out. There are two situations:  one where a worker wants to set up his own workshop, and one where he moves to another workshop.  Juned H. says that it’s only the Khatris- traditional dyers- who want to start their own businesses.  For one thing, they don’t teach the other workers everything.

For other workers, the group agrees, it’s good to keep them with you.  But there are employers with less than ethical practice.  Suppose Junedbhai has a well-trained worker, Khalidbhai says.  I can offer him more money and he will come to me. That IS a problem.

What happens then?

Nothing, they say.  It happens.  Workers have to fill their stomachs, after all.  And some come back.  It’s a floating population.

But what does that do to relationships?  I ask.

Juned H says, “Look, this is the law of nature.  It’s like a food chain.”

Sanjaybhai says this is the situation with domestic workers too.  So many people have offered his maid more money.  But she has stayed with him for many years.  Why?  He supports her in other ways, educating her children, offering medical assistance, loans when she needs them, etc.

They all respond to this.  Yes, of course, it is important to treat workers well.  Family-like relations with your workers brings loyalty. They all have some good examples.

After more discussion they conclude that there are people who will always be lured by money.  And there are people who will always try to lure them.  That is the way of the world.

I say familial relations was more like the traditional model, wasn’t it?

Traditionally we taught by the stick, they say– for family members as well as workers.  If you did not work well, you got hit.

Mukhtarbhai, a bandhani artisan, agrees.  With bandhani, if you were using the wrong posture, you used to get smacked. It was for their own good, so that in the future they would not suffer.  All of the group chimes in with their examples- even Sanjaybhai!  Most of them were taught this way only.  And they feel it is good.  Tough love. That’s family.

I ask what about satisfaction- other than money?  While working, don’t people think, what if I make my own design, start my own work?  Mustakbhai, for example, used to be a job worker.  What made him want to study design?

Mustakbhai agrees.  People want something more.

But then they all agree that once you are set you don’t have to do your own work.

I ask how many of the group are doing their own work now?

Prakashbhai, Mukhtarbhai, Mustakhai, Juned H.  Not Khalidvhai, not Juned I., not Mubeenbhai. Just over 50%.

I’m surprised.  Don’t you want to do your own work, sometimes? I ask. This was my objective of the design program for artisans.

The master artisan must know his craft, Khalidbhai insists.  Otherwise he won’t get good work.  But you can’t stay in one place; you have to move around, keep your eye on everything.  Juned H. relates that in a workshop in his village he saw bad work being done.  He asked the workers why they were doing bad work?  The owner doesn’t know the difference, was their answer.

You have to learn your craft well, and you have to do sampling at least, they say. We do our own dyeing, they affirm. Mukhtarbhai describes the situation in bandhani.  The women are independent contractors. They give work to the women tiers, but they always do their own dyeing. They consider dyeing the real art.

Maintaining respect for their traditions is very important, they all agree.

Prakashbhai has a different view; weaving is different, he asserts.  We do it ourselves.  We don’t train other workers because it is our tradition.  It is technically more difficult, as well.  So we work within our limits.  We don’t have bigger production.  “I had a client who said she would bring workers from UP for me so that I could do bigger volume,” he recalls.  “I refused.  We don’t want that kind of factory set up.  Ours is a family craft.  All members of the family are involved.  If we outsource it won’t be craft.  At least we keep the work in the community.”

All of these people have known only commercial craft.  I too came on the scene after commercialization. I’m starting to wonder…  Did craft always, even from traditional times, have workers?  And will it always?  But was there always hierarchy?

Mubeenbhai, Mr. Practical, wants to know when they are going to get started on the play?  What is next?

Sanjaybhai says he works backwards.  “At the end of the performance,” he asks,  “what would you like the audience (mostly artisans) to think about?”

They should see teaching as part of their work, they say; they should see craft as a cycle.  They should behave ethically and maintain respect for their craft traditions.

This is a play within a play, because it is about the artisans themselves.

At the end of our workshop, I hope the artisans who attended are all thinking about the future of their craft. Because they ultimately will create the solutions, and their future.



Last year, Somaiya Kala Vidya began Open Studio Tours. The idea is borrowed from the western world, where artist/craftspeople live in a niche and invite people to visit their studios on designated days. It is a mutually beneficial idea: people have the chance to interact with artists, see their work and take home more than a product- an experience. For the artists it means not being annoyed by interruptions to their work, but being ready for visitors and in a mood to welcome them. Win-win.

We had an additional goal. We wanted some of the talented artisan design graduates to be known, and to have the opportunity to learn from interacting with clients. In Kutch, as in most tourist places, a few people become well known, and all of the tourists go to them. The artisans benefit in many ways. But after a while tourists also feel that they are going to well-traveled destinations, and seek fresh experiences. So we hoped on this front to be win-win too.

After the first season, Kuldip Gadhvi, a local tour professional working with us on this project, and I met with thirteen Artisan Designers to see what their experiences were. Sitting in an orchard, shaded by huge mango trees, we asked how they thought the pilot year had gone.

No one volunteered.

Uh oh, I thought. After some silence, I asked if they could begin with the goals we originally had?

Finally, they began to talk.

The goal was grand, Ifranbhai recalled. We wanted to begin working toward what would eventually lead to a major event- an exhibition that would draw people to Kutch like the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. It should become a go-to event.

So, how did we do this first year?

Khalidbhai Usman offered that if we want to attract good visitors, artisan designers need to bring only their exclusive work to the exhibition at the end of the tour. They should bring their own new designs, work visitors don’t otherwise get to see- not the work available everywhere. If the work is new and interesting, people will come, he said.

I asked if they were they concerned that if they show their new work, it will be copied? They all agreed that copying was a universal issue. Designs will be copied, by artisans who are not graduates- and anyone using the internet. But copying within the group was not an issue, they assured.

Soyabbhai said that bringing ordinary work also makes a difference in pricing. Ordinary work is cheap- making new work seem expensive.

Khalidbhai shared that in Ajrakhpur, the group has decided to meet the day before the Open Studio Tour, jury the work, and then only display new work. They will also keep a record of who participated, and what the results were. And they will have all of the sales go through a central billing person so that it’s easy to tally.

Soyabbhai suggested that if there is a small group, they should select just a few artisans. I reminded them that they had decided that for each tour there would be only a few demonstrators, but the exhibition and sale at the end would be open to all who are interested. Junedbhai and Prakashbhai have thought of selecting the hosts for each tour based on proximity, so the visitors don’t have to walk a lot. Khalidbhai added that in Ajrakhpur they also make sure to clean up the area that will be highlighted in a tour.

But how much work should we bring for the exhibition? Niteshbhai wanted to know. When someone brings a huge pile, it eclipses those with less work. They discussed this at length, and agreed to keep a limited number of pieces per person, but no one could bring himself to determine that number.

Product segued into display. The Ajrakh artisans thought it was a good idea to display by product rather than person. But Aslambhai disagreed. Display by person is better, he said, because each artisan’s collection would be clearly understood. His experience at his BMA exhibition was that when there was a crowd it sometimes became hard to get through it in time to reach an interested customer and explain his work. Other artisans felt that they all know each others’ work and anyone nearby can explain someone else’s collection. When we were in class, they said, we heard each other’s presentations so often we could repeat them by heart. Niteshbhai summed up: they should display as a group, and agree to help each other. Junedbhai concluded with the thought that the method of display could relate to the size of the group.

Juned also pointed out that the tours aren’t only about sales; there is explanation and interaction with guests, which generates increased visibility.

“–Especially for those artisans who don’t have a shop,” Pavanbhai added. Plus the tours offer artisans a chance to share information within the group. “We don’t go to each other’s homes without any reason,” he explained. The Open Studios provide an opportunity to meet and see what’s going on.

Prakashbhai agreed, this is an opportunity for our work to get into visitors’ sights and hearts.

Pachanbhai said he thought the tours were an opportunity for planning. “Even if it’s short notice, it gives us a chance to plan,” he said. “Plus, people begin to understand that each of us has a unique style. Sometimes the visitors keep in touch with us afterwards.”

Kuldipbhai agreed, “The Open Studios can be an opportunity to explain your design work, your USP. Live discussion is important for visitors. And let’s understand them as visitors rather than clients. If they want to just buy a product, they can do it online.”

True, echoed Pavanbhai. When buyers come to my shop, they bargain. In these tours, no one has bargained.

Khalilbhai had been quietly listening for the whole meeting. Finally he gathered the courage to speak. “What if you know what to say, but don’t have the ability to communicate?” he asked

This struck a chord. A major concern is how to market oneself?

Aslam related, “In an exhibition I can speak to anyone. But somehow among my friends I feel shy.”

“Your work is excellent and exceptional,” Kuldipbhai told them. “Now if you can bring it to life, it adds value.”

“Speak in Gujarati or Kutchi!” I said. “But speak. People want to communicate with you. And there is a difference between having Kuldipbhai speak for you, and you speaking and with his translation: the difference is contact.”

“Craft is the language of the heart,” Jentibhai said.

Finally, Prakashbhai requested that they find a way to determine who will participate in each tour. “Those who are genuinely interested should volunteer,” he said, “and also help organize, so that there is no scrambling at the last minute.”

It’s a matter of prioritizing, I noted.

“We need to be into it,” Junedbhai said.

Khalidbhai concurred. “We need to make a commitment, make this event as important as the Santa Fe Folk Art Market, so that our goal will come true.”

Listening to the discussion, I realized that it was about more than our Open Studio Tours; it was about Artisan Designers and their market.

The tours provide learning for visitors. (“It is totally jaw dropping to be educated on the complexity of Ajrakh printing and weaving techniques of Bhujodi- and all of the innovations!”) As we had hoped, the tours also provide learning for artisans. In one season, Artisan Designers have learned about being responsible, working together, and managing this project. They are taking ownership. They are thinking of the visitor’s experience. They are learning to overcome barriers of inhibitions and communicate.

Building local respect builds self-respect. Exposure has provided an opportunity to move toward the ability to reach appropriate markets effectively- in a low-stress situation that allows open exploration, exchange.

Open Studio Tours are not just about purchase, as Kuldipbhai and Pavanbhai said. They are a human exchange, rather than a commercial one. So when someone purchases, it is an experience rather than a product. This is why the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market works. So perhaps we are beginning a microscopic version of that phenomenal event.

What the Artisan Designers learned will surely make our Open Studio Tours even better this year… and it will develop their enterprises.


In April, Somaiya Kala Vidya began an Outreach project with Avani Kumaon. Avani, a nearly self-sufficient voluntary organization, is situated deep in the Kumaon Hills. The nearest village is Tripura Devi. A 7-hour arduously winding road journey is inevitable, whether you take the train to Kathgodham or the flight to Pantnagar.

The region, 150 km from the Nepal border, is cool and scenic, with forests and views of the Himalayas. But its isolation makes it difficult to earn a livelihood. Typical villages are small. Hamlets have 30-50 families. Revenue villages have up to 200 families. Traditionally, small plots of subsistence farming were enough for families. But as families grew, the land was further divided. Availability of facilities such as phones, cars and computers has increased people’s demand for a cash economy. So nearly all of the young men of Kumaon migrate to cities to earn for their families. Those who remain in the hills work in tourism or small businesses. The villages are managed by women, who do the farm work, housework and child rearing. Despite heavy demands on their time, they would also like to earn money.

Rashmi and Rajnish, the founders of Avani, are from Delhi. They decided to work in Kumaon, to make a contribution to help stabilize the communities. They work on environmental/ ecological issues, community management, and income generation. They promote solar energy, and Rajnish has invented a pine needle gassifier, to generate energy and lessen the danger of forest fires caused by combustion of the pine needles. Rashmi began a craft project that is now largely EarthCraft, a producer company.

EarthCraft’s weaving is primarily an income generation project. The local weaving traditions are very basic and not valued. Avani did initially try to work with two traditions, a semi felted blanket, Thulma, and a looped and cut pile rug, Chutka– with little success. Procuring good quality local materials is also a challenge.

So Avani bypassed the craft market, and turned to the design market. EarthCraft weaves stoles, shawls and fabrics in local and Merino wool, wild silks and now some linen and cotton, with a focus on natural dyes. They try to procure locally. They have encouraged 250 local farmers to grow indigo, and are trying to grow a linen that will survive in the hills. They have invested in professional equipment for processing natural dyes, which they sell. Rashmi feels that the potential for natural dyes is good. So Avani has focused on producing good quality, easy to use dyestuffs.

Avani and EarthCraft’s work is professional, despite contending with great distances that must be covered by foot. The organization has collected an impressive number of awards. Despite its daunting isolation, Avani regularly attracts interns from Indian design and management schools and from institutes all over the world.

However, even with their focus on self-sufficiency, Avani routinely engages design students, rather than artisans, to develop new fabrics and products.

One major challenge that EarthCraft faces is the constant attrition of weavers. Rashmi attributes this to the winds of change. With exposure, she says, aspirations change. When artisans get access to information, they leave craft. She sees this as part of the skill upgradation process. Construction workers become weavers, and weavers become supervisors or office employees. “Where skill has been upgraded it has value,” she says. There is also attrition when young women marry and move away or become busy with new households.

We felt that Avani and EarthCraft have not recognized the potential of artisans doing more than skilled work, or that recognition and satisfaction in weaving might make it more valuable, curbing attrition of weavers.

Because of the shared philosophy of self-sufficiency and sustainability, and strong existing infrastructure, and because our program addresses the issue of attrition of artisans, we thought Avani would be a good partner in a program of design education for artisans, despite a weak cultural heritage connection.

Avani agreed.

From 7 to 19 April, 2018 our team of Pachanbhai and Rajeshbhai, weaver designers who have graduated from the Somiaya Kala Vidya program, and Lokeshbhai, senior Visiting Faculty, conducted the first workshop for our project, on the Avani campus.

“They have a different style of weaving than we do,” Pachanbhai observed. The patterning they weave comes from drafting. He and Rajeshbhai were also intrigued that the weavers seemed to have forgotten how to join new warps.

The first thing they did was find out about tradition. The team went with their Avani weaver partners to villages and asked questions. Pachanbhai liked this part a lot. He enjoyed talking to the women elders- especially since the weaver partners did not speak. Once the ice was broken, they learned that the women had previously had bad experiences with teachers from outside. The teachers yelled at us, they said. So when they heard the SKV team was coming, they were afraid.

“We had to find out their history,” Rajeshbhai related. They learned that the Bora community had 4 subgroups, and they actually did use to weave. They made 3 or 4 utilitarian products- carriers, rugs- things not valued. They used hemp for the warp and shreds of waste fabric for the weft. At that time, they wove on a back strap loom.

Armed with some background on the region and weaving traditions, the weaver designers began. “We had to teach,” Pachanbhai said. This was their first experience. “At first it was hard teaching principles of design,” he said. “We had to really get a grasp on what we knew.   But they women understood, because we taught in their language- not just Hindi, but the language of craft.”

It was an experience of teaching Kumaon women to be creative. And that was about building confidence. One woman said she had been affected by black magic and could not work, Pachanbhai recalled. He had to convince her that the best remedy was to just work anyway – and she overcame her block.

“They thought their natural dye colours were limited and people don’t like them,” Rajeshbhai said. So he wove them a sample with his ideas about how colours could be combined. This inspired the women to try some ideas of their own. And then the workshop gained momentum.

The women had expected to be told what to do. But they had to test their own ideas. Pachanbhai and Rajeshbhai had them make layouts, then try to weave them. They realized problems, revised layouts, and wove again.

The weaver designers recognized the biggest challenge right away.

The women weave as a job. Where is the incentive?

We don’t think, the women said. And why should we make so much effort? They indicated that they would only be interested if they got more money.

“When they come to Delhi, they will know,” Pachanbhai said. “I used to want only easy work. Now that I am independent, I like challenging designs.”

Rajeshbhai and Pachanbhai felt that if the women can be promoted as designers, if they are given a platform, they will be motivated. And Avani will benefit because their weavers will be able to work better with designers, and the quality will improve so that there will be fewer seconds.

Pachanbhai related how one of his team members cried because she felt she didn’t know anything. She felt she couldn’t do anything because she only did plain weave.

Pachanbhai walked her to the Avani shop. “What do you see here?” he asked.

Plain weave, for the high end market.

“So is it not a design?”

She said she wasn’t educated, she couldn’t read or write.

Pachanbhai said that came up again and again. The women had been convinced of their insurmountable limitations. With a huge grin, he laughed. “I cant read either!” he said. “So it’s no excuse.”

What a beautiful model.

At the end of the workshop, the SKV and Avani weaver teams presented to the Avani staff. The resoundingly positive response of not only the weavers involved but also the entire staff was very encouraging. Everyone was very happy to see that the women could use their own ideas. They voted on the samples- the first real feedback. On viewing the work, Rashmi immediately realized that each artisan has a unique take on the same traditional references.

Now the weavers will carry their samples to Delhi for a jury with professionals in weaving and design, and then with refinement they will put them into production for an Outreach exhibition planned for Chennai in September.

In the term coined by Bunker Roy, this is “barefoot” education. Artisans are teaching artisans, without either necessarily being able to read or write.   Nonetheless, it is real education. The Artisan Design graduates have imbibed a philosophy of education as well as facts and tricks. And they can share it. They question, they research. They understand the process of design. In teaching, they realize new capacities, and the deep satisfaction of releasing creative potential.

This education is owned, and it grows. On return, within just three weeks, Pachanbhai designed and wove two exquisite saris inspired by his experience.

Look for more from all of these creative weavers in Chennai in September!


We have a steady stream of visitors who make the pilgrimage to Adipur because they are concerned with craft. Concern is vital. Yet I can’t help asking a nagging question: Why Craft? What is the concern?

I recently participated in two very different but equally compelling conferences, The Values of Craft, at Erasmus University in Rotterdam; and Beyond Change: Questioning the Role of Design in Times of Global Transformations, at FHNW Academy of Art and Design, Basel.

I came away stimulated with more questions than Why Craft?

What is craft today? What is design today? What is knowledge, and what is skill?

The initial keynote at Beyond Change was “Are We Human?” The final keynote was ”Landscape-Scale AI and the Question of Agency.” At the conclusion of the latter presentation, the professor, discussing intelligence beyond life as we know it, said that the green tree toad does not know- or care- that he is the totem of a tribe. Instantly, came a protest: “How do you know that?”

And I felt like I had surfaced to gasp a breath of air.

The questions of the values of craft and the role of design converged: In a world of increasing de-personalization, craft is all about soul, and meaning. Design can guide craft to realize an identity as an emerging luxury by virtue of its personal, human character. Craft can re-personalize.

Soul has to be the reason to care about craft.

And this is why artisans need to be able to create, and not simply produce.

I have long thought that the two keys to the success of our program of design education for artisans are sustained input and local orientation. I now add a third: a clear goal for the program– developed with the participants’ perspective.

Therein is a catch 22, the dilemma of education: students must find the education they receive relevant. But they can only imagine from their experience- pre-education. So how to create mutually concurred goals?

We have worked out the program so far with the guidance of master artisan Advisors, and graduates. But last month we met with design graduates to check back and learn from them how artisans, as creators and not just producers- Artisan Designers define success.

“Success is achieving goals,” Dayabhai said. “You need a goal. You need to know your capacity, what is good for you.

“Success is decision making power.” Purshottambhai agreed. “You have to be clear, capable, and target your market.”

“Success is using your creativity,” Prakashbhai said.

“We confidently know good design,” Rajeshbhai added.

Dayabhai elaborated on this. “We now have own concepts and identity,” he explained. “We know how to take feedback.”

To this Pachanbhai added, “Everyone’s work is unique. Besides knowing your USP, you have to be able to articulate it. We can talk to our customers now. Success is having a voice.”

“If you don’t value your work, your customer won’t,” Puroshottambhai echoed. “And success is being able to take responsibility.”

Strikingly, not one artisan spoke of success in terms of money.

“My early goal was money,” Dayabhai explained. “My goal was to educate my children. Now, it is to be my own person. My son told me not to weave. Now people from all over the world come to my house, so I have value. It’s not just money.”

Namoribhai shared his experience. “You need design and business to get full value. New design at home has no value. You need to know when and where to sell. And business without design is no use. If you have both design and business you can answer the question: ‘Why is it expensive?’”

I asked if their goals had changed because of design and business education?

Prakashbhai laughed. “Before the course, we had no goals!” he said.

“At least I was interested in weaving. If a weaver is not interested in weaving, how could you interest him?”

“Previously there were no choices,” Dayabhai concluded. “Now, weavers who continue their tradition do it by choice. What we can do is share our experience with the next generation. Now we can think of the benefit to our community.”

Our clear goal is to make a discussion like this possible. We re-imagine traditional systems, where master artisan advisors teach students about traditions, weavers and dyers work together, and artisan designers connect directly to markets.

We provide a space to make goals, to create and develop a unique expression- so that artisans infuse craft with its invaluable soul.


What does the Cyber World have to do with hand crafted textiles?

Good question.

These days many people can’t live without technology. I admit I have become immersed in the technological world to the extent that I spend far too much time at a computer. And when it isn’t working I feel as if I have come down with a terrible illness. In November I had my Mac updated, because the Microsoft Office program I used threatened to close down if I did not update. This initiated a domino like series of mishaps and malfunctions. Incompatibilities. I use Microsoft Office for Mac- the manifestation of two titans jockeying for biggest and best.

This combo did not use to be a problem. But now I am shocked to see the polarization. When I decided I had to bite the bullet and purchase a new Mac, I asked the shop person, who until then had been very cheerful and attentive, if she would bundle Microsoft Office into the machine, as was done in my 2011 Mac. I received a chilly rebuff. “That is not our product,” she said. “You could go to a Microsoft store (miles away) or download the product.“

Ok, I thought. Sounds easy enough.

But trying to migrate my 2011 data to the 2017 Mac has been a nightmare. Two months after purchasing the Mac, and purchasing more than one version of Office, I am still struggling to make it work. I lost count of how many Microsoft techs I have talked to and chatted with, for hours and hours. And I’ve done the rounds with a few Apple techs as well. Neither will utter the name of the opponent- today one Apple person referred to “third party” products. By now more than weary, I had to make an effort to figure out that he meant “Microsoft Office.” But if a tech cannot solve the problem, he or she conveniently sends me to that “third party.”

I tried to check online to see if my problem is unique. I typed in “How many people use Microsoft Office for Mac?” I found ads for purchasing hardware and software. Finally, scrolling down, I found the article “Why I may never install Office for Mac again.” The world is too interconnected for polarization. We have to get over this phase fast. At some point, I wondered, if I have to choose between Apple and Microsoft, what would I decide?

At this point, I think neither.

The techs of both teams are remarkably similar. Well trained to say, “I understand…. I will solve your problem… I’m confident.” But I have talked to at least 30 people, none of whom solved the problem –nor followed through. Each one dropped the problem- hanging up in one way or another. What a terrible life! Never finishing anything, never connecting, never finding any satisfaction. Purgatory.

In the middle of all of this, I had the great privilege to have a conversation with William Bissell of Fabindia. He told me that he met with a group of women artisans and asked what they would like. They wanted four things, one of which was to finish whole products rather than do piece work. Closure, I feel, contributes a lot to satisfaction.

So these days I am way far from satisfied. But I am not giving up. A friend found an article online about an update (!) to enable updating from 2011 to 2016. Why did neither the Apple nor the Microsoft team know about this?? So that inched me toward resolution. Tomorrow I am going to take the situation in my own hands and simply wipe the new Mac clean and manually upload the files again.

Suddenly I remembered watching a National Geographic film on polar bears in Churchill, Canada with my Dad. One winter the bears were repeatedly coming too close to human civilization. The town called in expert scientists, who tried fantastically complicated solutions, trying to scare the bears with noises, recordings of other bears, and mechanical contraptions. Nothing worked. Finally a Native American resident of Churchill said quietly, “The bears are hungry.” He solved the problem by simply feeding them, far outside of town.

That story, and writing this down, have helped me feel a little better. The DE-humanization of increasingly, unnecessarily complex technology may explain why we care about human touch and cultural heritage.

“Simplify, simplify, simplify,” wrote Thoreau.

Once I get my damned computer up and running, I’m going back to the world of artisans and craft- human connection, the satisfaction of completion, slow and simple solutions. I can’t wait.

Today we interviewed women for the 2018 Design Course at Somaiya Kala Vidya. We have not had a women’s class since 2014, and I remembered Hariyben. It’s been three months since she is gone.

Hariyaben was one of the original trustees of Kala Raksha. I remember having a trustee meeting soon after we founded the organization. An elder man, a brother of her father-in-law, sat himself right in front of us to listen in. I was annoyed and told him that if he sat here, the women would not be free to speak as they have to cover their faces before elder men from their husbands’ families. He left. I felt triumphant. But Hariyaben refused to drink tea. It was some time later that I learned why. “You insulted my relative,” she said. From then I learned many things from her about art, artisans and culture.

The first time we went to an exhibition, Hariyaben was one of two artisans who represented Kala Raksha. The exhibition was in Chandigadh. Hariyben’s husband worked with a Sikh living in Kutch. Chandigadh is very dangerous, she informed me. She went nonetheless. We made it through the exhibition safely, and then went to visit the Rock Garden made by Nek Chand. It was a marvelous fantasy of figures made of mosaics of recycled ceramics. Hariyaben was quiet. At the end of the tour, she exhaled and said, “See, I told you it was dangerous!”

What do you mean? I asked.

“Didn’t you see all of those paliyas?!” she exclaimed. (Paliyas are figures commemorating the death of a person.)

Hariyaben was willful. We tussled over tailoring. She was a great, perfecting teacher. She taught many young women to make uncompromisingly beautiful suf embroidery and patchwork. I asked her to assist me in making an interpretation center for traditional embroidery. There, she taught me to understand tradition. We were dressing a mannequin with an embroidered kanchali-kurti. But there was no skirt from the collection to complement the outfit. “What shall we use for the lower garment?” she asked.

Traditional, I answered.

“But which tradition?” she wanted to know. Tradition, she understood, was not static but ongoing.

After working on the exhibition for some time, she told me, “This idea of yours, this exhibition, is not new. We already have it. Every time a women is married she displays her dowry collection for her village– and then her husband’s- to see.

We added a library for inspiration. Hariyaben got that before we even installed all of the books. One morning I spied her with a very unusual suf embroidered shawl that she had just finished. It had a huge, complex medallion in the center.

Where did you get that Idea? I asked her.

“From those books you had piled in the office,” she informed me.

When we began the narrative applique project, Hariyaben found a wonderful medium for her imagination. She did an elaborate piece on the first Sharad Utsav festival held in Kutch. She depicted Prakashbhai, me, the Collector and herself in sharply observed detail. And there near the center was the unmistakable then Chief Minister, Narendra Modi. She depicted the Mandvi palace Vijay Vilas, a political meeting, scenes of nature. She illustrated Kutchi proverbs with tongue in cheek humor.

Hariyaben invented wonderfully made toys and dolls, born of her concern over fabric remnants being wasted. She gathered them from the workshop and took them home to fashion camels, elephants and culturally correct figures.

She wanted to start her own individual business, and when we began the Business and Management for Artisans course, she quickly signed up. She knew she was not well. She detected a lump behind her breast bone. I went with her to hospitals in Bhuj and then Ahmedabad, trying unsuccessfully to get a clear diagnosis. It was hard to get a biopsy, and painful. She got fed up and decided to trust in God and take herbal medicine. But she was determined to take the course.

In spite of not being literate, she did well in the course. She made a masterpiece quilt collection. And when she wanted to produce it for an exhibition, she did not give samples for women to copy, but gave them the concept to work out on their own. I wrote about this in an earlier blog, When Women Design.

Hariyaben worked within restrictions. I used to think, if she had been born in another place, another time, what could she have achieved?

I met her a few days before she passed away. She knew she did not have much time left. She was always beautiful, always dignified. Her nails were painted and she was dressed in pink. She asked her daughter Varsha to bring her the dolls they had made. Carefully, she selected the right one, and gave it to me.

I imagine an after life, reincarnation. Maybe, just maybe we will meet again in another time, another place.

For now, I want to remember her by establishing a scholarship for women artisans.  She would like that.