Katab: Quilting Stories from India at the Manchester Craft and Design Centre

DSC_0129

In the city of Ahmedabad, Western India, there are several migrant communities scattered across the city; many of these once considered to be untouchables under the Hindu ritual ranking. Traditionally, women from this community practised the craft of katab (appliqué), often making domestic household decorations such as quilts, torans (door hangings) and bed covers, from recycling waste fabrics from local tailors and garment manufacturers.

To make a regular income for their families, these women have been drawn into commercial work for clients including Fab-India, local design students, clothing boutiques and independent designers. However, the orders usually come via an agent who takes a large part of the profit and the women are allowed little, if any, creative voice within the production process. Led by textile artists/researchers LOkesh Ghai and Emma Sumner, to date, the project has worked with a small group of women to establish a sustainable model on which they can make their own designs for market, removing the need for agents and allowing them to earn an income which reflects the skill and dedication they have for their craft.

Created by women participating in the Katab: Not Only Money project, the quilts on display have been inspired by iconic films (both Hollywood and Bollywood) and Hindi TV series.  For many of the women, this exhibition is the first opportunity they have had to put their own name on the work they have made.

Exhibition open at the Manchester Craft and Design Centre:  14 September — 12 November 2017

Quilting Stories – Participant Interviews

Extracts from interviews conducted with each of the participants by LOkesh Ghai in Vadaj, Ahmedabad following the completion of the six quilts commissioned as the first phase of the ongoing project Quilting Stories.

dscn8517

Maker: Vishali

Film: Titanic (1997)

Description: “When the ship (Titanic) breaks and falls in the sea it is the small boats that saved people. In the film the person who made the ship thought it will never sink. Fortunately the boats were put on the ship as a safety measure. The quilt depicts these life saving boats.”

Vishali draws the attention to small things in life.  She chose the film as she likes the vastness of the sea. Most of the fabrics for the quilt were bought from the tailor scrap bag and some of the fabrics were bought from the local vegetable market where fabrics are sold by weight.

Vishali enjoyed working on the project. She had not thought that she could take inspiration from a film and make a quilt. She added, “I had never done this before!” It took Vishali almost a month to make the quilt along with my tailoring course. It has been six months that I have been enrolled in this course. Everyone in my class liked my quilt and complimented me. I would like to make a quilt on another movie, this time I would like it to be for children, perhaps based on Tom and Jerry.

Vishali adds that the back side of the quilt could be read as the texture, the flora and fauna inside the sea.

dscn8535

Maker: Dahiben

Film- Mugle Azam (1960), (2004- colour version)

Dahiben recreated the thousand-mirror reflection, one of the iconic dance sequence of Indian cinema with the legendry Madubala playing as Anarkali. On the border of the quilt, Dhaiben appliquéd forms in shape of the brick wall behind which Anarkali was buried.

Dahiben saw this love story just before her marriage and it has stayed with her. Dahiben acquired most of the fabric for the quilt from the tailor. She says, “I enjoyed making the quilt, as it was fun remembering one of my favourite films. It took me almost two months to make this quilt. I would like to make another quilt; I will think what it will be… My son says that I could make many such quilts and we could purchase a new house with the money we earn from it.”

  dscn8532

Maker: Shantiben

TV series Mahabharat (1988-1990)

The quilt depicts the game of Chopad. There were the characters of pach (five) Padavs, there were the Kauravs, there was Drapudhai. When they all started playing Chopad; Drapudhi was at stake in the game. Pandavs lost the game and Drapudhi was lost. Six kodis (sheels) are depicted in the centre.

Shantiben says, “I like fabrics with different kinds of patterns. Hence, I chose the flower print fabric.

I bought the fabrics from different tailors. The back side of the quilt has a printed pattern that looks like a mirage it is beautiful, hence I chose it. I enjoyed making this quilt and through the quilts I tell about different kinds of people in the world. My children complimented me; they said mum you made such a nice quilt with scraps. I would like to make another quilt, something fresh this time. ”

It took Shantiben one month to make this quilt.

dscn8518

Maker: Miraben

Film: Ideryo Gad

The film is about wedding. Miraben says, “At wedding the grooms relatives sing a song that we won the bride. There are peacocks in the film. I have depicted mandap that is the central space during the wedding. I chose the shiny fabric from tailor as in a wedding is all about celebration!!”

The flowers in the quilt are symbolic of chandelier. The back side of the quilt is machine stitched by Meraben using scraps of pervious quilt. The front and the quilting is hand stitched. Meraben is particular about quality and does not hurry while making anything. It took her almost two months to complete the quilt. Meraben has already started two new quilts after completing the two. She added that she would like another quilt with flowers, on traditional format of laddu (ball shaped sweet).

Responding to her sister Dahiben’s new quilt Meraben made a new quilt. Miraben says, “The quilt could be part of gift in our family. For my daughter’s wedding I made eleven quilts as a gift.” Miraben also liked the ship idea made by Vishali so much that she could not resist to make another quilt responding to the quilt based on Titanic.

dscn8549

Maker: Rashmiben

Film: Bajirao Mastani (2015)

Bajirao Mastani is one of Rashmiben’s favourite films. For those who know Rashmi can tell that the film has some parallels with her film. Rashmi went against her parents will and had a love marriage. Rashmi says, “I like the song nazar lagi… I like the fact that the film is inter religious love story, I love the script, and how Bajiro gave women respect is wonderful. In the quilt, I have made the Bundelkhand fort where Bajirao plays with the sword with Mastani. The pointed triangles are the edge of fort walls. The bow and arrow in the quilt are symbolic to Bajirao and Mastani. The backdrop is blue fabric like clouds seen from a distance. The top is like a decorative welcoming toran. In back side of the back I have taken mustard colour, this is a prominent colour in the film and it is a contrast to the front.”

It took Rashmiben one and a half month to complete the quilt. The quilt is a combination of hand and tailoring machine stitching.

Rashmiben would like to make more quilts, base it on a movie again. A comedy next time!

Rashmiben happily adds that while she was thinking of making the sword with stripe fabric, but one her husband’s suggestion she made this in plain fabric and give detailing to it.

dscn8386

Maker: Deviben

Film: Navrang (1959)

According to Deviben, “I took this film as it is so colourful. I can use as many colours I wish in my quilt too. It is the most imaginative film I have ever seen. I have made a pot, the heroine in the film dances with pots on her head in a moon (half moon) lit mid night (mid night as a half night).”

The back of the quilt is full of colour stripe. Deviben elaborated that colours stripes were collected by her from various quilt makers. The quilt makers had used scarp fabric to make quilt and it was the scrap of even those quilts! This is the reason why some of the strips are very narrow

The front of the quilt is all hand stitched together and back is machine stitched. It took Deviben over two months to make the quilt.

Deviben enjoyed making the quilt so much that she excitedly showed it to her entire neighbourhood! Deviben’s son wants his mother to make a quilt for him too.

Deviben shared, “I took the fabric form the dagla wale, a lady sits on the corner of the road and sells the fabric by weight. I bargained a good price for the fabrics. But I have to re-visit her several times to find the colours of my choice.”

Deviben showed the quilt it to her students where she teach. He students too want to learn how to make the quilt from her. Deviben would like to make another quilt on a classic Hindi film such as Pakeza or Anarkali.

Star, Peacock, Aeroplane and Kites at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, March 2015

Quilts2

During March 2015, LOkesh Ghai was commissioned by the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad to undertake an open elective project at the school.  Star Peacock Aeroplane and Kites invited selected students to experience the craft of ‘Katab’ both as a traditional skill and a design concept.

For the elective LOkesh paired each student with a traditional ‘Katab’ artisan, (most had worked on the Katab: Not Only Money project) who taught the student how to make sketches by hand-stitching units of cloth. The workshop was an opportunity to enhance the students understanding of expressing everyday objects as simplified, abstract motifs whilst appreciating how the traditional motifs of stars, peacocks, aeroplanes and kites used in the traditional craft of katab have evolved over time.  During the elective, students learnt the traditional skills of folding, cutting and stitching the cloth and were also challenged to source sustainable materials and carefully consider their application of colour to create a portfolio of textile explorations leading to their eventual focussed theme.

To read more about the workshop and the artisans and students involved you can visit the Star Peacock Aeroplane Kite blog site here

Project Review

group

Vishali

“I’ve really enjoyed the workshop, particularly as it was an opportunity to learn new designs, such as tube light, which I had no previous knowledge of. This workshop has been different to those I have done previously as I got to upcycle and re-use waste fabrics which isn’t something I get to do when I’m working for clients. Usually all the work I get is prescribed to me, but in this workshop I’ve been free to experiment and express myself; working creatively like this is much better than having to work to a prescribed format but I need to do this to sustain a lively hood for myself. Moving forward it would be good to use the work we make to turn into marketable goods such as bags; I’ve previously worked with a footwear designer so I could also use this experience to make products.”

Shantiben

“It was great to be part of the workshop, I really enjoyed working with the waste fabrics together as a group. When I work at home there are many distractions which can divert me from my work, but working like this makes my productivity better.  Working in the group also gave me a lot more confidence in my own abilities and reassurance that the work I am making is good and to the best of my abilities. I’ve loved being able to concentrate on practicing my craft and inventing fresh new designs. I’m very keen to be involved in the future workshops as I feel there is more strength in the project if there are further workshops and we keep the momentum of the project alive. I would be interested to engage in more workshops.”

Miraben

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first workshop experience, especially as working in a group has brought back many fond memories of working with my Mother and the work we did together. I made Emma and LOkesh both an appliquéd fan which was a motivation of this workshop as I’ve only ever made fans in embroidery before, but the workshop has really increased my confidence to experiment making new products using applique. Seeing me actively working again my granddaughter has shown an interest in learning my skills so I’ll be teaching her, and any of her friends who want to learn, during the school breaks.”

Kuverben

“I’ve enjoyed being part of the workshop, particularly because it has given me an opportunity to exercise my mind and expanded my thinking by working with different people. Having the group’s influence on my work has helped me to open my imagination and develop new designs which is something I’m never asked to do by clients. I’m very keen to be included in future workshops as it is an opportunity to develop my ideas further which will all influence my future work. Something I particularly enjoyed was the opportunity to draw again; when I was young I would always draw in my school book. I was very fond of drawing but life’s pressures got in the way and I stopped drawing. When I was asked to draw again I remembered recently throwing away my drawing book which was something I suddenly regretted as it would have been good to share my work with the others. It’s something I’d like to start doing again if I can find the time.”

Jamnaben

“My experience during the workshop has been great, I’ve enjoyed working with new people and I got to use old fabric to make new things. As well as this I’ve been well paid for my skills which is always a bonus. At the beginning of the workshop when we used paper and drew, this was the first time I had used either of these materials which helped to bring me out of my comfort zone.”

“If LOkesh or Emma can create further opportunities to do workshops and collaborations with new contacts I, and I’m sure the rest of the group, would very much welcome them. Having previously worked with students at the National Institute of Fashion Technology and the National Institute of Design, I always learn something new and am usually exposed to new materials; something I see as a great advantage. The work I do for other companies is about sustaining a livelihood for my family and it’s an important thing for the rest of the community too.”

Deviben

“The best thing about this workshop is that we are all equal parts within the project and the act of working together brings us closer as a community and helps us to learn new skills and techniques from one another; something I’ve really enjoyed. When I work at the NGO, I only get to teach others how to make blouses and dresses and never have the opportunity to develop my own practice, something this workshop has given me the opportunity to do. I’ve particularly enjoyed working in my own traditional heritage craft, something I take a great pride in. I’ve been paid well during the workshop which makes a huge difference to my self-esteem as a maker and helps me feel much more appreciated as a skilled craftsperson. I hope the workshops can continue as I’d like to do something new and challenge myself in the next workshop.”

“Maybe going forward we could think about the workshops having a theme and eventually teach and involve other participants. It would also be good to change the host venue of the workshop to reflect the people who are involved and where they come from.  These workshops feel important because we take so much pride in our traditional craft which is such a large part of our heritage. Its presence in the market also gives us a lot of confidence to keep working.”

Dahiben

“I’ve had a great time experimenting with my craft within the workshop.  It has been an opportunity to work in a way that I’ve been unable to do for a long time as before the workshop I was just working on saris for various clients. I’ve been motivated to make something new in this workshop, something really refreshing that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. This is only the second time that I have been able to work with LOkesh and try something new and I’m really very keen to do more, as if I can get more work, I can put together more money for my children’s education. If the workshops were held at my home or nearby this would help me to attend as it will save on travel time and transport costs as my home is 17kms away from Vadj.”

Day 5: Wednesday 15 October

The final day of the project was time to for the women to complete all of the samplers they had been working on and to label each one ready for accession into the dictionary of traditional designs. It was also time to reflect on the project and find out what they felt they had gained from the project and what their views were on any forthcoming workshops.

To complete the overall story of how the group created their quilts, LOkesh encouraged Premjibhai to show Emma the small local garment factories where they bought their waste fabric which had been used, as well as recycled garments, to make their quilts. Small spaces with just a few workers making garments for the local market, tailorthe spaces were a hive of activity and energetic making. Being so close to Diwali the current production was mainly of Diwali dresses that would typically be sold in the local market and the off cuts from which would likely make beautiful brightly coloured quilts and other applique designs.

Before finally closing the workshop, Premjibhai was requested to demonstrate the technique of cut work which involved accurately marking the fabric with diagonal cuts in various patterns as a reference for appliqué. To ensure all of the designs would be accurate, the pattern was drawn onto tracing paper in which small pin pricks were made.  The paper was then placed onto the fabric and a solution of tailors chalk and water was dabbed over the paper transferring the pattern onto the fabric. From this transfer Premjibhai would measure the correct cutting tool to produce the cut needed and then layering several pieces of fabric underneath cut ten pieces of fabric at a time.

Day 4: Saturday 11 October

On the fourth day of making, LOkesh asked the women to start making samplers which did not use their traditional designs and colour combinations and instead used their own innovative fresh designs and patterns. It was interesting to see how the group approached this task given that usually any new or innovative pattern would be given to them by a client or design student who wanted their design to be turned into reality. To help develop ideas, Dahiben gave Jamnaben one of her son’s art books which had a series of drawings comprising of overlapping circles, squares and triangles which she started to carefully and methodically work out in fabric. Dahiben herself started to work on an alternative version of the tube-light motif, while Vishali had embraced the task by developing a completely new design.

Later than morning, LOkesh and Emma had the opportunity to learn more about those in the group who lived locally by visiting their homes. The first visit took them to Shantiben’s home just a short walk from where the project was based. Shantiben further demonstrated her skills by showing the numerous quilts and other household furnishings and decorations she had made using waste material and recycled garments in which she showed a real pride and dedication to her work.

TV

LOkesh and Emma were then taken to visit Deviben’s house, where she lived with her Father and with her two sons. Premjibhai and Deviben being brother and sister were keen to show us their family photographs which were proudly displayed on the wall. Deviben had gone ahead to prepare for the visit, pulling out of cupboards her past history of quilts which demonstrated her working methods and intricate methods of cut work.

Meghwal

Day 3: Friday 10 October

On the third day of the project the group continued making samplers for the dictionary of designs while conversation around the sewing circle was in full swing with the group acting as a team to ensure all of the traditional designs and motifs used within their craft would be represented by the samplers made.

It was interesting to listen to the groups stories and how they had all come to learn their craft. Most had been passed the skills from their mothers, who had taught them their craft at an early age apart from Shantiben who had only recently picked up the skills from a neighbour fifteen years earlier.

DSCN9894

One particularly intriguing story was from the group’s newest member Miraben, who on reminiscing about how she had learnt the craft from her mother at a very young age explained how she had also helped her mother to make a specially commissioned and very detailed white on white sari for the famous Bollywood actress, Nargis Dutt (pictured above) who she also got to meet once the commissioned was completed.

It was also interesting to learn how the Jamnaben and her husband Premjibhai acted as agents, helping to bring in large bulk orders from clients such as Fab-India and equally distributed the work throughout the village helping the community to find sustainable work.