Friends and collaborators Bina Rao and Villoo Mirza are bound by their passion for handlooms

Bina Rao of Hyderabad-based Creative Bee foundation and Villoo Mirza of SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association), Ahmedabad, have for been friends for years, bound by their passion: handlooms.

A vegetable-dyed kalamkari jacket adorns a mannequin in SEWA’s modest workspace in Ahmedabad. “This is for Bina Rao’s collection to be showcased at the International Workshop on Natural Dyes in Hyderabad. Besides, I will be presenting my own line,” Villoo Mirza says. The line will feature mosaic-like appliqué patterns Gujarat is known for.

The SEWA studio deals with a multitude of textiles and techniques, from Kutchi to Kashmiri embroideries and the coarse Japanese Boro yarn.

The establishment’s ability to cater to diverse requirements is its hallmark, says Bina: “Once I design the garments, the fabrication work is done at Mirza’s studio.”

A good yarn

Bina Rao and Villoo Mirza are among 14 designers who will be presenting their creations next week in the city. “The fabric I’ve used is a combination of filature yarn, raw silk, oil yarn and mulberry silk. Natural dyes — indigo, combination of indigo and ‘harda’ herb to get sea green, shades of reds and browns — have been used. Some fabrics have prints while others have Kalamkari patchwork,” says Bina. Bolero jackets, bustiers and blouses will be teamed with flowy skirts.

Both Bina and Villoo Mirza have decades of experience. Bina is a go-to person for those in the handloom sector for symposiums and lectures, and Mirza is a storehouse of knowledge on Kutch crafts and Parsi embroideries.

“We both graduated from Baroda and did our masters at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad,” says Bina, who now provides employment to 39 weaver clusters. Bina and Mirza have trained a number of design students.

Take the case of fashion student Sidrah Contractor. With Mirza’s guidance, she is helping a designer based in Mimbres Valley, California, develop a line of casual clothing. “The coarse Japanese Boro fabric is indigo dyed in Kutch and has rustic stitches,” she explains.

An agent of change

Mirza, also a former director of National Institute of Fashion Technology, Gandhinagar, is the backbone of SEWA’s success story. “I worked at Gurjari for 12 years and was heading a team of 40. Back then, we had no competition. Fab India and others came later,” she says.

During her tenure with Gurjari, she witnessed a number of mills being closed down and women being left in the lurch with their husbands being thrown out of jobs. “I was asked to help these women,” she recalls. Mirza found these women to be skilled in embroidery and drew on that. SEWA was born in 1972 as a trade union for self-employed women. “These women made thousands of embroidered blouses that became a hit.” After years of working with artisans across 22 villages, Villoo Mirza beams, “I’ve seen them grow. Those who would cycle to our office to collect orders earlier gradually began owning two wheelers and Maruti cars.”

International Workshop on Natural Dyes 2014

The IWND (March 5 to 7) is being organised by Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University and National Agricultural Innovation Project. The participants include scientists, farmers, dye suppliers, weavers, artisans, certifying bodies, marketers and other stake holders. Textile is one part of the symposium. Designers will present their fashion lines and artisans will demonstrate techniques such as block printing and tie and dye. For more details, www.iwnd2014.com

(The writer was on a visit to Ahmedabad & Kutch on a textile trail, conducted by Breakaway-Jaypore journeys)