Jaspal Kalra is a name toreckon with in the textile industry, especially for the work he’s done with theartisans of chikan and zardozi. Not only has he completed a PhDin chikankari, he runs a school forartisans, named Kalhath Insitute, Sangraha Sacha Sauda. The institution is aninitiative towards artisan development through co-creation and sale of appareland accessories, and the Sangraha Foundation focuses on the artisans’ overallwellbeing.
I was delighted to be involved in the initial setting up of the course structure when Kalhath was raring to welcome its first batch. For the second batch, I had the honour of engaging with the women of chikan and men of zardozi, and help fuel their minds to create concepts and ideas for their embroidery artworks using the elements and principles of design.
At the end of thecourse, the artisans were supposed to create small swatches of it. Whileswatch-making, they experienced for the first time the theories of EOD and PODin order to decide on the different technical factors of the embroidery. Forinstance, the thickness of the embroidery (and accordingly the stitches toemote a particular nuance of their concept) along with the right colour andplacement, made them understand the importance of semiotics, and implement them immediately.
It was enlightening to meet the artisans of different types of embroidery, and understand their thoughts, ideas and approach to work, which were distinctive given the location of their city as compared to the remote villages where phulkari women came from. But they were all bound by their simpleton attitude, enthusiasm for their work and the unmatched loyalty towards their traditions. Also interesting to witness was the natural dyeing workshop held for them. It was heartening to know that Jaspal had taught them the age-old method of mordanting the fabrics which involves cow dung to be smeared on the fabric which is then placed inside an earthen pot and buried two-three feet under the ground for 48-72 hours. It was after thorough cleansing that the fabric was brought into the workshop where different colours were achieved using flowers, iron rust and herbs. What I enjoy the most is that any educational engagement with artisans is always a two-way street – one learns about their mind and temperament which makes it easier to work with them in the long run. Their original ideas also add immensely to the notions we designers approach them with.