Art

Shamji Vishram: A leaf from the rough book

A breed apart from his contemporaries: Shamji Vishram at his workshop

A breed apart from his contemporaries: Shamji Vishram at his workshop  

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Shamji Vishram, a National award winning weaver, tells us his story of making desi wool fashionable and of his workshop in Delhi

On Republic Day 2001, when Shamji Vishram and his community of weavers were preparing to celebrate with song and dance, an earthquake struck, destroying Bhujodi village in Bhuj, Gujarat.

To see his house and nearby surroundings turn topsy-turvy in over two minutes left this weaver, one of the most articulate ones in his village, in tears. What was even more disheartening and difficult to reconcile was the grim fact that his favourite loom where spinning yarn on a charkha and conducting meaningful workshops for village’s teenagers and women were his primary activities simply disappeared.

“Two hundred and fifty looms existed before the quake. After the devastation, only 70 survived,” says Shamji. Weaving, once a flourishing way of life, almost came to a standstill.

It pushed those who remained in the trade to begin using synthetic wool to bring down the cost of their products. Shamji worked hard at changing this, after travelling across Kutch to identify traditional products and their uses. New products were recreated for urban centres. In 2005 he received the National Award from then President Pratibha Patil.

This week, the 45-year-old weaver will be in Delhi, conducting a spinning and embroidery workshop at a four day long exhibition Desi Oon, organised by Khamir, an organisation that came up after the earthquake rocked Gujarat with a mission to preserve the crafts, heritage, and culture of the Kutch region. Excerpts from a conversation.

What is the tradition of using indigenous wool?

The Rabari, a pastoral community that also lives in the jungles, wore clothes made from indigenous wool. They wore all white - shawls, dhoti, turban, blankets. Women wore black outfits – ghagras with mirrorwork and blouses that were heavily embroidered. Now only a few members of this community wear traditional clothes. These outfits kept them warm in chilly weather. Similarly the Ahirs, farmers who walk long distances with their cows and buffaloes, wore multi coloured blankets.

How have you used this wool for an urban audience?

I have worked with desiwool from the Kutchi sheep that has coarse hair not found anywhere else. With this, I made carpets, bedcovers, jackets and stoles. Since Dilliwalas prefer softer shawls, I blended cotton and silk with desiwool. For the jackets, 40% is cotton, while 60% is wool. The Kutchi sheep wool is bought from the Maldhari community. Products have been designed on the basis of my understanding of the Delhi market. I also experimented with hand-stitched garments by engaging women into the process. So, kurtas and kaftans were made by mixing cotton and wool.

Tell us how yarn gets converted into fabric?

We treat the yarn first to make it soft, then dye it with natural dyes. Then we do warping and sizing process. After that we carry out joining of warp with loom before weaving. We also treat the woven fabric to make it softer. Embroidery or tie dye work is done after that to finish piece. Overall it is a lengthy and time consuming process involving various skills.

Can you attribute the reason for desi wool’s decline?

By and large, desi wool was unacceptable to city goers as it was coarse, bulkier. People’s lifestyle started changing. They yearned for feather light material. To fulfil that requirement, weavers resorted to using acrylic material. Only for the past two years, weavers have gone back to the traditional routine by making clothes with 100 per cent handwoven indigenous wool.

At Bikaner House, January 10th – 13th, 11. a.m.- 1 p.m.; 2 p.m. - 5 p.m. are timing of the workshop conducted by the master weaver

MADHUR TANKHA

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 11:58:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/shamji-vishram-a-leaf-from-the-rough-book/article30534694.ece

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