Stitching together a tradition

By now, everyone knows of a Kutchi girl from Mumbai, who turned entrepreneur dealing with kasuti embroidery in Hubli. What is often not spoken about is the effort to uplift the craft and the struggle for fair wages for the women in Hubli involved in this labour-intensive technique.

“Look at this sari,” says Aasha A. Savla of Shobhann, pointing to a mustard-maroon ikat filled in with intricate kasuti work. “This sari took more than a year to embroider. The work is that intensive.”

Hence, Aasha came up with a system where she taught the craftswomen to determine the monetary worth of their work by the number of stitches they put in. A pattern that fills half the handspan, for instance, takes in 2,500 stitches. Another in the same size but featuring a chariot, took 5,000.

When Aasha married and moved to Hubli in the late 70s, she was amazed by everything she saw. And then, she got to wear her first sari with kasuti work in 1981. “It was an off-white Japanese silk sari with multi-colour work. I still have it,” she smiles.

The clean lines and geometric patterns impressed the student of home science, who had specialised in embroidery. Eventually, she began working with the women. “It took me more than two years to earn their trust. I learnt to speak their language, and had to convince them I had their best interests at heart,” she says.

Today, Aasha has a huge collection of handlooms and embroidery techniques from across the country, including her favourite kasuti work. These have been squirrelled away in her wardrobe, and she hopes to display them someday, to showcase the dexterity of the hands that worked on them.

What the artistes need, says Aasha, is respect. “They are usually kept waiting endlessly, with people little respecting their craft. Also, they need to be paid well. Their satisfaction is important. For example, you can pay someone one rupee to work on a sari, and sell it for Rs. 100, because of the processes and fabric involved. That is still fair, if the artisan is happy.”

The oldest among those working with Aasha is more than 60. “Most of them have grown with me. I initially bring them home, see how they work and improve their finesse. Then, I visit their homes to see how hygienic the place is. Only then are the fabrics entrusted to them.”

While Aasha personally loves tussar, her collection includes Mangalagiris, ikats, khadi and Kanjeevarams. What her artisans do best is blend colours so well, that you never know where the weave ends and where the stitches take over.

Among the eye-catching combinations on display are a pink-gold with a magenta border, a timeless black-and-gold fusion, and a mustard with gold. “I’m clear about one thing. The fabric is the star. The stitches must always complement it, and never take away from it.”

(Aasha’s show, featuring saris and dupattas in cotton and silk, concludes on Friday (December 9, 2016) at Kanakavalli at Kingsley, and is on from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.)

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 5:17:24 AM |

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