This blog is a platform of expression for the evolving project Katab: Not Only Money which attempts to enhance the understanding of the traditional craft of katab (appliqué) by engaging with a group of artisans in Ahmedabad. Through a series of collaborative workshops and continued dialogue the project will develop a model of sustainable partnership between the artisan and their consumer.
In the semi-slum area of Vadaj, near Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram is the home of a community once considered to be untouchables within the Hindu caste system. In a bid to bridge the gap between various communities, Gandhiji addressed them as Harijan, God’s people.
According to Premjibhai, “it was Gandhiji who helped to settle numerous displaced families near the Ashram”.
Some of the families migrated to Vadaj from Pakistan during and after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, while some migrated from Rajasthan, Saurashtra and Kutch.
As a tradition the women of the Meghwal communities have practised the craft of appliqué, often making elaborate quilts for domestic purposes by sewing together small geometric units of cloth. Over the last two decades, a large majority of the women who are involved in the craft of appliqué have started to work for numerous different clients including Fab-India, local design students, clothing boutiques and independent designers. For bigger orders, this particular community has identified a great strength in working together through their homes and distributing work throughout the community. However, makers have no direct access to their clients as orders are directed to them by an agent, who takes a large part of the profit, and are allowed very little, if any, creative voice within the production process.
The project also involves research on katab’s traditional motifs and will develop a dictionary of designs to help understand the crafts traditional motifs, the stories and history of the those involved.
The project intends to build on the evolving tradition of the katab craft which for decades has been made for domestic household decorations such as quilts, torans (door hangings) and bed covers by recycling old garments and using discarded or waste fabrics. The traditional quilts, known as ‘ralli’, use clever simplified motifs such as stars, kites, peacocks or the tube-light which are repeated in the textile and imitated by other makers.
This project will develop a sustainable programme to elevate the value of the artisans hand crafts and honour their creativity by providing an alternative opportunity to the majority of their mundane work where they are approached solely as skilled labours. Initially working with a group of seven to ten women, the project will establish a sustainable model on which those involved can make their own designs for market, disposing of the need for any agents and helping them to earn an income which reflects the skill and dedication they have toward their craft.
Many of those involved in the project have also worked on previous projects with independent designer LOkesh Ghai, who has been actively working with the community since 2007. In 2012 LOkesh led a course entitled Design Sustainability at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, pairing twelve design students with twelve artisans to produce a unique and individual quilt in a contemporary design using traditional techniques. Following the workshop, those involved shared how valued and respected they had come to feel during the workshop; a statement which helped LOkesh to realise it is far more than money that the artisans involved expected.