Fashion

Dramatic motifs with a story

It was time to look for a worthy suitor for her saris, says Vijayalakshmi Nachiar, half jokingly. “It has been seven years since Ethicus was born and we have built up a loyal customer base for our organic cotton saris. It was time to do something new,” she says. Nachiar and Mani Chinnaswamy have painstakingly built up the business of ‘ethical fashion’ where the raw material is chemical free and the farmers growing the cotton and the weavers weaving the saris are acknowledged as stakeholders of the final product.

Acting on the seven-year itch, Nachiar struck out. The seed of a dream was always there, but now she allowed it to grow — of working with the Ajrakh artisans of Kutch. It was not just a random idea picked out of a hat, she shares. “I hail from there. My interest in my work today is because of who I am and my culture. As a typical Kutchi girl, I was introduced to embroidery when I was very young by my mother. My fascination for colour and textiles were sown into my consciousness then. And it was a deep need in me to reconnect with my roots that led me to work with artisans from Kutch,” she adds.

Colour correct

She began by contacting the much-feted Ajrakh artist, Dr. Ismail Khatri, and his family, who have been doing the work for nine generations. “We met his brother, Jabbar Khatri, and there was an instant connect. Negotiations started, parlays began and a relationship was forged,” she says. One of the challenges was that the Ajrakh workers had so far only worked in yardage; the fabric they worked with was very different. And they had never done saris before. “But Jabbar was very excited about our fine fabric and was just as impatient as us to see how his printing techniques and colours would work on our pristine, fine, delicate cottons,” she says.

Dramatic motifs with a story

They also had to get used to the work culture of the artisans — they were whimsical, laid back and not organised. Meeting deadlines was a constant tussle. But Nachiar confesses that, though they tried to be meticulous about everything, “we learnt that they are custodians of an ancient tradition and are not to be hounded or hurried”.

Nachiar recalls how she and her team would reach the village of Dhamadka at the crack of dawn every day. “We got our hands dirty, created our own layouts, experimented with colour combinations and held intense discussions. A sari was cut up into 20 pieces and different dyes and blocks were tried out on them. We then pieced them together to see what combinations worked and what patterns evolved.”

Motifs and more

Some of the results caught them by surprise. The hues changed depending on the use of water and how it was run. The reds, for example, had never looked so bright according to the Ajrakh artisans. They attributed it to the fine cotton. The age-old Ajrakh motifs — morpeech, badam buto, mohar, mifudi, champakali, kharekh, keri mohar, koyyaro (spider), tavith chokadi, pencho and riyal — were positioned together and separately, in leheriya patterns and so on, and the saris emerged. The Ajrakh motifs married beautifully with the five yard garment, but Nachiar points out that they have not overwhelmed its South Indian identity. “We have retained the traditional korvai techniques of the South in the pallu and enhanced it by using rich silver and gold threads.”

The Ajrakh artisans are but a part of a bigger picture. Nachiar reveals that she has already begun working with Kalamkari artists as well. “We have an ocean of weaving, dyeing and printing traditions. And I strongly feel that unless we reinvent those and contemporise them, they will disappear,” she says, adding, “This is the only way we can forge a deep bond with our artisans and understand and appreciate their work and ethics.”

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 4:59:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fashion/dramatic-motifs-with-a-story/article17320437.ece

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