(back in) India: Textiles 202 – Gujarati Handicrafts

If beautiful handmade products are your thing,

Embroidery artisans doing initial sketches at a design school in Gujarat.

there is no place to be like Gujarat. Art and embellishment are everywhere — in the markets, on the women, and laid out on the front porches. There are numerous traditions in Gujarat: tie dye, embroidery, printing, weaving, copper bells, lacquer, woodcarving, and jewelry.

I am personally partial to the textiles, which are amazing in this part of the country. Delicate mirror work, labor-intensive tie dye, block printing, and painstakingly counted embroidery are staples. For full access to the amazing artisans producing this work, the only requirement is an 8-hour train ride to the end of the line and the desert town of Bhuj.

As you step off the train, it is almost as if you’ve been transported back in time to the Wild West. People here eek out a living in a mostly inhospitable climate and hold strong to their traditions. This is a region torn apart time and again by politics and religious conflict, and yet as soon as you enter the villages you would have no idea. Temples and mosques are as close and intertwined as the Muslim and Hindu neighborhoods they serve. Hindu embroiders work on cloth tie dyed by Muslim artisans, and copper bells and woodcarvings are sold to and used by both.

The best of the artisans here make their living by cleverly joining innovation and tradition. They use their art as a way to interact with, tell stories to, and enchant Indian and international consumers alike, while holding strong to techniques and forms that have been passed down through families for generations. The combination creates something that is authentic and unique.

This, to me, is art at its best.

The initial stage of tie dying – setting the pattern.

A sari covered in thousands of tiny blue knots, ready to be dyed – next to it, a completed piece in green and yellow.

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