A stitch in time

Textile artist Medha Bhatt GangulyPhoto:S. Mahinsha   | Photo Credit: S. Mahinsha

Medha Bhatt Ganguly, an alumna of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, is not enthused by the bright lights of the fashion world or the “lucrative jobs” at export houses that most of her classmates made a beeline for. Instead, she derives her inspiration from village artisans who have been practising their trade for years.

She travelled across her native Rann of Kutch to research the traditional crafts of its Rajput communities for her diploma project and was so inspired by the sustainability of this handicraft technique that she chose to specialise in traditional patchwork appliqué art made out of textile scraps! Today, through her brand ‘the forest floor,' Medha gives a fresh lease of life to waste, which would have otherwise ended up in landfills, and more importantly, uses her “interest in connecting with people” to empower rural women.

“My travels in the region really opened up a new world. There, inside dark huts, amid drab landscapes, were the most beautiful appliquéd trees on all kinds of household linen. The artisans of the Kutch taught me the value of re-using old fabrics to create useable furnishings, and that too with the barest of resources. For instance, to make stencils they often cut out beedi wrappers or whatever is available at hand, into desired shapes. This is environmentally-friendly handicraft at its best,” says Medha, who mostly uses old dupattas, saris, bagfuls of leftover material from tailors, and so on sourced from her family and friends to stitch her designs.

Easy to do

“I emphasise on the term re-use rather than recycle, because the former is much more environmentally friendly. We are so used to buying new clothes and hoarding old clothes that we forget that the latter can be put to real good use. For example, in my apartment, all my curtains are made of old skirts. All I did was to line the material with voile. Out of mobile bill envelopes, I made some colourful collages. Even an old kitchen towel has been put to use as a duster! All you have to do is look beyond the fabric,” explains the soft-spoken Medha, a Gujarati from Bhavnagar who grew up in Pune but who now calls the city her home. The 32-year-old has been living in “tree-filled, cosy” Thiruvananthapuram for the past nine years with her Bengali husband, Prosenjit Ganguly, a freelance animator, and their four-year old son, Ishaan (a.k.a. “The Boss” ).

For a while Medha also worked with Hantex to give traditional handloom saris a new look. Then in 2009, after a break following the birth of her son, Medha launched ‘the forest floor' to market “functional but aesthetic accessories, stationery and furnishings made out of discards.”

Under the brand she makes by hand everything from book covers, to colourful jewellery, which is “inspired from organic colours, patterns, and textures found in plant life” (now we know why she loves to watch David Attenborough's documentary series The Private Life of Plants again and again!), to wall hangings to back-packs, to quilts, and what not – all using techniques of Kutch patchwork appliqué, and available at

Medha's exposure to the participatory approach of the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS) reinforced her interests in issues related to women's empowerment and developing innovative green solutions towards ‘zero waste.'

Women's empowerment

Once she settled in the city, she began training economically backward women at Thanal's Zero Waste Centre at Kovalam in the principles of patchwork appliqués, using litter picked up from Kovalam's beaches. “They came to me as blank plates. By the end of the year they were earning money and some even bought their own sewing machines. They quickly picked up tools of the trade such as costing, designing, colour concepts, quality control, and so on,” she proudly recalls. Today the Zero Waste centre functions as an independent, viable unit.

The designer's idea of empowering women, though, is not limited to teaching. “Just giving them money or the know-how, is not enough. They should not be stuck with a particular skill for the rest of their lives. I want them to move forward.” She plans to start an outlet in the city where people can approach her for ideas to utilise scrap.


Tree of Life

T rees appliquéd on blankets, pillows, curtains, wall-hangings… all of them made out of textile scraps are found in every house in the Rann of Kutch. These ‘trees of life,' which connect the earth, the sky and the heavens, man, flora, and fauna, are expertly appliquéd on by wizened old women artisans. They are trees that symbolise the indigenous patchwork appliqué tradition of the Kutch, and are recurring motifs in Medha's works.

Medha's exhibition of textile art titled ‘The Sacred Grove: Trees of Vrindavan' is on at the Alliance Francaise de Trivandrum, till September 3. It has been inspired by music, paintings, and literary works related to the legend of Krishna, a deity Medha holds close to her heart. It is an interest piqued by temple paintings of Lord Krishna at Nathdwara, Rajasthan.

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 2:26:02 PM |

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