Artisan Interviews: (Not) Making Under Lockdown

After the city of Ahmedabad entered lockdown to stem the spread of covid-19, many artisans lost their regular work and found themselves without an income and in some cases, struggling to buy food. Project manager LOkesh Ghai caught up with the artisans involved in the project to find out how the lockdown restrictions had affected them and their immediate family.

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VAISHALI BEN, APPLIQUE CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

Everything has closed and there are no opportunities to work so I am not earning any income and don’t feel it’s likely that we will get any work soon. We are also having a lot of problems getting regular food and I feel like we are living in constant fear – I’m always aware that if we go out something could happen.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

I am currently idle, any work would be very helpful right now.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

It has been a valuable lesson in how important it is to not over spend as you never know what could happen. It has highlighted how important it is to save and that it is essential we all learn how to properly manage a home if we are to be prepared for something like this.

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I would like to find work and I hope things will return to normal.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

To work hard, be honest and earn a living. When there was lot of work I would hope for a holiday, but now I really want to get back to work.

I would like to make a quilt on the subject of social distancing during the lockdown based on my own experiences of how people stand at a distance from each other. When I went to the market, the shop keeper was extremely rude to me and made me stand at a far distance from where I had to shout what I wanted to purchase. I felt he was making fun of me – I felt demeaned as if I was untouchable or an outcaste. I’d like to explore this experience through my craft.

PREMJI BHAI, APPLIQUE CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

Our area has a concentration of applique artisans and we are all out of work. My family and many others are surviving on dinner offered from the Gurudwara, and lunch from what little savings we have available.

Politics are not good at the moment. The first covid-19 case was confirmed months ago, but government didn’t care and did nothing and we live in a semi slum with a lot of other families in close proximity – it’s scary but thankfully so far we have no cases.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

I am sitting at home with nothing to do. I was making cushion covers but soon I will not have materials to work with and the police don’t let us out to get any more to work with so I’ll be idle.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

I’m not sure – I feel humanity is dying. I feel that the poor are still ‘slaves’, and are the most vulnerable, especially in a situation like this.

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I will look for work – there is nothing without money in this world but I am afraid I won’t find any work and it may take time for things to return to normal.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

No matter what happens we have to live. When we are unwell, we see the doctor as God, the only person who can save us, but now I feel we are God for our selves and our families with no one to support us. Individually we all need to sand up and care for ourselves and our families.

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RASHMI BEN, APPLIQUE CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

Massively, we have no savings and have had to take a loan to to sustain ourselves.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

I am sitting idle and don’t have any work. Initially I thought the lockdown would open after 21 days but it has been extended and I’ve now completed what I was making. With the second lockdown having been imposed, things are now much harder as I have some work ready for delivery but can’t get to my client as I’m not allowed out.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

We must all be responsible for our actions.

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I fear the virus and don’t want to go out unless it is completely clear but I will of course need to look for work.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

I have learnt that it is important to make so you don’t have to beg.

Rashmi ben called LOkesh today (11 May) to share that their situation had got worse. “We are unable to get any sugar or tea supply. Things are being sold on the blackmarket – tomatoes were Rs 20kg but are now Rs 100kg.” She is concerned about how long this could go on for and if she will be able to find any work. To help immediately, she is now having to approach help groups in Ahmedabad who are getting food supplies to the needy.

JAMNA BEN, APPLIQUE CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

Yes, there is no work, we are unable to go anywhere as the police are very strict. We are only able to go to buy vegetables in restricted hours and I have diabetes so I need to be extra careful.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

I’ve been trying to keep myself busy and am using old poplin and cotton Khadi swatches to make a new quilt.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

I don’t know what to say, I am stuck at home.

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I’ve not had any work for a long time so I am hoping I’ll be able to find work quickly.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

Having savings is very important, but I do wonder how we can save when we earn so little.

DAHI BEN, APPLIQUE CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

I’ve not been able to get any work and I’m struggling a lot.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

Nothing – I don’t have any work and I’m not allowed to go out.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

I’m not sure, I feel it has been a lesson to all of us to be careful of the virus and how important it is to follow advisory instructions in a situation like this to keep everyone safe. It’s been very hard.

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I need to get work and I’d like to make a new new quilt. I have no orders for new quilts or any raw materials to work with but I would like to make a quilt about our experience under lockdown.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

To be careful and to listen to the administration so my family and I can keep safe.

DEVI BEN, APPLIQUE CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

Money has been a huge issue, we can’t go out to look for work and there is no work coming to us either.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

I am having to stay home so I have been watching the two serials on Doordarshan TV.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

It is important to stay home in lock down so we don’t get virus.

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I will look for work. None of my family currently has any work and there is nothing being offered to us and all our savings have been used.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

I need to think. Perhaps if I am thinking about my practice it might be that I need to make what the market wants so it sells quickly but I am not sure what that will be when we come out of lockdown.

MIRA BEN, APPLIQUE CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

Yes, my lifestyle has altered a lot. I cannot go out and I am confined at home most of the time.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

I had started to make a Katab quilt but I didn’t have the rich colours I needed to finish it so I had to stop as I am unable to go out and buy what I need so I have had to stop for now.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

I am not really sure, these have been really difficult times for so many of us…

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I would like to get back to regular life and I would like to get the right colours of fabric so I can finish stitching my quilt.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

It is hard to say – as I said before, these have been very difficult times…

SITABEN, CRAFT, BEAD-CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

For the first 21 day lockdown I was able to manage, but since it was extended, I have found it very difficult to cope. I am both emotionally and financially devastated and it is extremely difficult for me as a senior citizen. Initially some of my neighbours had helped me out, but if the second lockdown extends any longer I don’t know if I will be able to manage to buy enough food for two meals a day.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

I have learnt that savings are very important, but I don’t earn enough to save up. I’ve found this time very difficult as a single woman who is also a senior citizen.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

I have in stock some very fine beads which I was not planning to use as its quite a strain on my eyes to work with them but as I don’t have enough of other materials, I am making something with them now, but I don’t have orders. To help keep my mental health well, I work for two hours everyday and am making a long garland. I am using (what is locally known as) Italian beads and when it is finished it could be worn in classical dance performances – or a festival such as Navratri – or any other special occasion. It is inspired by the tribal beaded jewellery of the kalbelia dancers of Rajasthan. I made something like this 30 years ago – what was old, will be new fashion.

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I don’t think this situation will improve soon in India. I live in an area where in a day thirty new cases are being reported and now even the workers who used to come inside the Pol area to collect garbage have stopped doing so. We have no choice but to collect and take the garbage to main road. People don’t clean the areas any more and no officials have bothered to come and look at how things are functioning.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

I would just like things to get back on track, opening lockdown would be blessing for the poor who rely on regular work as they are unable to save. Right now I am worried about being able to manage to find food for two meals a day.

 

British Textile Biennial 2019: Community Quilting Workshops at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

Throughout the British Textile Biennial, project manager, Emma Sumner ran a series of  katab quilting workshops inviting participants to make their own katab patch which would form part of a new Blackburn Community Quilt, which, once completed, would be accessioned into Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery’s collection.

All participants had to make their katab patches using the same hand sewing techniques that all of the project’s artisans use to make their quilts . Below are a few images from the workshops and the final finished quilt.

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Katab: Quilting Stories at The British Textile Biennial 2019

Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Museum Street, Blackburn BB1 7AJ

Thursday 3rd October to Saturday 30th November 2019

Opening Hours: Wednesday to Sunday 12—4.45pm

Katab: Not Only Money has developed an ongoing collaborative dialogue with a group of women artisans in the migrant communities scattered across the city of Ahmedabad, Western India. Traditionally, women from these communities practised the craft of katab (appliqué), making domestic household decorations with recycled waste fabrics. To make a regular income for their families, these women have been drawn into commercial work for clients including local clothing boutiques, design students and independent designers, and are allowed little, if any, creative voice within the production process. For many of the women, the commissions they make for Katab: Not Only Money are the first opportunity they have had to put their own name on their work.

Included in the inaugural British Textile Biennial are a series of quilts created by a selection of the project’s participants which are inspired by iconic films (both Hollywood and Bollywood) and Hindi TV series. The quilts are exhibited alongside a selection of items from Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery’s South Asian collection, including a quilt by Hariyaben Bhanani and Lokesh Ghai, made as part of the 2012 Cotton Exchange Project which explored the connections between Ahmedabad and the North West of England through the cotton industry.

Download the full British Textile Biennial 2019 brochure HERE.

Katab: Quilting Stories – Community Quilting Workshops

Dates: 5/6/12/13/19/26th October and 2nd November

Times: 12.00 – 4.45pm

Every weekend throughout the Biennial you are invited to join Katab’s project leader Emma Sumner at the museum for a series of community quilting workshops during which you can make your own Katab patch and contribute to the Blackburn Katab Community Quilt which, once completed, will join the Museum’s collection. No experience necessary and all materials provided.

 

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

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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

Cathy Greenhalgh Visits the Project

Cinematographer Cathy Greenhalgh visited the city of Ahmedabad in February 2017 when she was undertaking research for a film exploring India’s cotton mills. A contact of project manager LOkesh Ghai, she was keen to explore how the artisans used discard fabrics from the city’s cotton mills in their work.

Below is a photo diary of Cathy’s visit and engagement with the project’s artisans in which you can clearly see how many of the fabrics being used are recycled mill seconds, with the word cotton visibly printed across some sections.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.”