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When it comes to Kutch, embroidery, mirror-work, geometric patterns and vibrant colours come to mind. But the non-profit craft organization, Shrujan—Threads of Life, has turned the obvious on its head with interventions by fashion designers and artists. The mirror-work on a Kutchi woman’s ghagra is given a contemporary take by incorporating it on cushions, trays, office-appropriate handbags and innovative textile art created by hand-sewing scraps of embroidery. Indigenous art finds modern meaning in exquisite saris and button-down kurtas that can also be worn as jackets. These are being showcased at their annual exhibition and sale celebrating 50 years of Shrujan, in Mumbai.

Shrujan was founded in 1969 by Chanda Shroff, who initiated a craft revival to ensure sustainable livelihoods for women artisans. A quarter-century later, with indigenous material under threat of extinction, the team began documenting crafts.

Shroff launched a mobile museum, Design Centre on Wheels (DCOW), which is now helmed by her daughter Ami Shroff. In 2016, it found a permanent address as the Living and Learning Design Centre (LLDC) in Kutch. 

In the current exhibition, about 70% of the pieces are crafted by the Sodha community of Kutch. Fifty years ago, when she first started out, Shroff encouraged the women to start earning a livelihood with embroidery. A half-century later, this has helped transform gender dynamics. Now, for instance, the community celebrates the birth of girls and hand embroidery is a primary source of household income.

A hand-embroidered sari
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A hand-embroidered sari (Photo: Anirruddha Chowdhury/Mint)

FOR THE WARDROBE

Ami Shroff says, “Our women artisans doubled their time and effort to create textile panels for displaying embroidery in the museum. Their earnings increased significantly. When the museum collection was complete, they were left disgruntled, with less money and work. So we gave them saris to embroider."

These saris have modern as well as rare vintage embroidery patterns that render them timeless. The artisans work passionately because they know the saris are akin to heritage jewellery.

A button-down ‘kurta’.
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A button-down ‘kurta’. (Photo: Anirruddha Chowdhury/Mint)

The heavier occasion wear silk pieces with ahir or neran embroidery take more than a year to complete. They are priced at 1-3 lakh. There are lighter options with soof embroidery in quirky floral, animal or insect motifs on Kerala cotton saris. These are categorized as regular contemporary pieces and priced at 15,000.

Additionally, there are kanchlis, bandis and sadris—versatile handmade separates that double up as blouses or jackets for both Indian and Western wear. Stoles and shawls in pastels and vibrant colours like red and pink make for great gifts. Blouse pieces start at 2,700, stoles at 3,500 and shawls at 10,000.

Hand-painted pottery
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Hand-painted pottery (Photo: Anirruddha Chowdhury/Mint)

FOR THE HOME

A Kutch community, which believes it comes from the same “clan" as Lord Krishna, creates pieces such as a striking hand-embroidered wall art depicting the deity. “We have created such pieces with Ganesha for 22 years and this time we decided to introduce Kanudo, or baby Krishna," says Ami Shroff, the managing trustee of Shrujan. The pieces are priced at 4,500.

A hand-embroidered figure of baby Krishna
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A hand-embroidered figure of baby Krishna (Photo: Anirruddha Chowdhury/Mint)

A segment of textile art includes the signature Tree of Life and a few works crafted with embroidery scraps. Inspiration for the Tree of Life (pictured), symbolic of the circle of life, came from a large piece of cloth used by Kutch communities as a dust cover for blankets. “It’s called ochar. Even their dust covers are intricately embroidered," Ami says. These pieces start from 7,000.

Tree of Life textile art
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Tree of Life textile art (Photo: Anirruddha Chowdhury/Mint)

There’s wall art with square panels representing the 16 distinct types of Kutch embroideries. Ami explains: “It was cumbersome for us to pull out 16 large embroidered panels every time a client enquired, or we travelled for the mobile museum. So, my mother made this one piece combining all 16 to simplify this process. About 18 years ago, a visitor walked into the store and this piece caught his eye. We told him it was not for sale. He insisted and we said 12,000 to deter him, but he bought it." Today, it continues to be one of their most popular creations—and the price hasn’t changed.

Every work in the pottery segment is made by one man, Usman Ganni Kumbhar. He is a professional clay potter who hand-paints each item. Prices start from 900.

The exhibition-cum-sale is on at the Coomaraswamy Hall, Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai, till 25 December.

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