Archana Shah’s new book, Crafting a Future: Stories of Indian Textiles and Sustainable Practices, is a rich tapestry of inspiring stories of artisans, designers and NGOs who have made a difference, improved systems, offered sustained work and created markets for handcrafted textiles.
The focus is on the makers — the hands and techniques — that create heritage textiles. “If there is patronage and regular orders, artisans have the skills to re-create textiles that we have admired in museums. Their diverse skills can also be re-purposed to produce textiles that are relevant for present times,” feels Archana.
When she first started working in this sector, it was out of a great appreciation for artisanal skills and techniques; and with time her interest expanded to a larger concern for the artisan community.
“In recent times, khadi and handloom textiles have lost their unique tactile quality and therefore, market share. Sophisticated computer-aided machines can reproduce the most intricately patterned handloom fabrics. What is lost in the process is the creativity of the artisan,” says Archana, founder of Ahmedabad’s Bandhej, which has been collaborating with artisans around the country for the last 40 years to create textiles for urban markets.
“In the past, weavers could manipulate the design, making changes as they wove the fabric so that no two pieces were identical, unlike the mass-produced, machine-made textiles of today,” says the author, who over the years, through many initiatives and interactions, has been able to revive and rejuvenate several craft skills.
She travelled around the country to talk with artisans to understand ground reality. Years of experience helped her to connect comfortably with craftspeople. She interacted with artisans in Assam, Meghalaya, Uttarakhand, Ladakh, Karnataka, Odisha, Bengal, the Rann of Kutch and other areas. Apart from learning more about textiles, she also enjoyed the exposure to a wide range of cultures, communities, lifestyles, architecture and food.
The book is an outcome of Archana’s conversations with the craftspersons. “It is broadly divided into three sections of natural fibres: cotton, a plant-based fibre; silk produced by insects; and wool, obtained from animals,” she says and adds, “it resonates with Gandhiji’s concept of developing khadi and village industries to rejuvenate the rural economy and stimulate development through a bottoms-up approach.”
The book also addresses two major challenges we face today — growing unemployment and climate change. Handcrafted textiles have the potential of creating millions of livelihoods. “By making productive use of their time and skills, women and marginalised communities involved in this sector will be empowered, and enjoy a sense of self-worth and dignity. Families will benefit from sustainable livelihoods in their own locations, protecting them from the misery of forced economic migration to urban centres where regular work is difficult to find,” says Archana.
“The challenge is how to bridge the gap, connect the producers with the markets, create products that are ‘Handmade in India’ for the local, national and global markets and in the process, make the world a better place for future generations,” she says.
Besides their aesthetic and cultural value, artisanal products are eco-friendly, have a negligible carbon footprint and fulfil most of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notes Archana, whose first book was Shifting Sands, Kutch: A Land in Transition....