Arka modular furniture, option 2
Arka, wood turning, lacquer, modular furniture, do-it-yourself, DIY, colour furniture, Jimena Biro, DICRC, CEPT university, CEPT, Jay Thakkar

Jimena with the artisan, Anilbhai

When I first met Jimena at the DICRC office, my first thoughts were not very positive. In my opinion, the very tall and very thin Jimena (from Mexico city, Mexico) would not last a week in India, especially if was going to work with artisans in their workshop. All it took was a week to disprove that fact. She blended in so well and at times, I was the outsider. The artisans took to her instantly and her very positive and optimistic outlook caused this camaraderie.

Arka, wood turning, lacquer, modular furniture, do-it-yourself, DIY, colour furniture, Jimena Biro, DICRC, CEPT university, CEPT, Jay Thakkar

Arka modular furniture, option 1

Arka, wood turning, lacquer, modular furniture, do-it-yourself, DIY, colour furniture, Jimena Biro, DICRC, CEPT university, CEPT, Jay Thakkar

Arka modular furniture, option 2

The ‘Arka’ project done in collaboration with Design Innovation Craft Resource Center (DICRC) was the first of its kind. Jimena interning for a month at DICRC worked on developing a modular shelving unit using wood turning and lacquer craft from Gujarat. Inspired by the widespread ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) concept, Arka was conceptualized as the new age application of a traditional craft.

Arka, wood turning, lacquer, modular furniture, do-it-yourself, DIY, colour furniture, Jimena Biro, DICRC, CEPT university, CEPT, Jay Thakkar

Arka-explorations

We started off with working on paper, trying to make sense of our idea. Jimena made a ton of these little things.

Arka, wood turning, lacquer, modular furniture, do-it-yourself, DIY, colour furniture, Jimena Biro, DICRC, CEPT university, CEPT, Jay Thakkar

Close up shot Arka

Then as we progressed, we tried various designs and chose the one above.

Arka, wood turning, lacquer, modular furniture, do-it-yourself, DIY, colour furniture, Jimena Biro, DICRC, CEPT university, CEPT, Jay Thakkar

Arka-Work in progress, at DICRC with Prof. Jay Thakkar

Towards the end of her internship, the workshop was busy with activity as pieces were being turned, coloured and lacquered. Prof.Jay Thakkar from DICRC mentored Jimena on the design application during the entire process. And we set up the the first prototypes.  For future use, we also developed an entire palette of colours that the buyer can choose from.

Arka, wood turning, lacquer, modular furniture, do-it-yourself, DIY, colour furniture, Jimena Biro, DICRC, CEPT university, CEPT, Jay Thakkar

Arka- single unit, hand-turned by artisans from Kutch

Post Jimena too, Arka has undergone some changes in terms of design. We tried a bit with the beautiful Kutch lacquer work mainly used in spoons and other cutlery.

Arka, wood turning, lacquer, modular furniture, do-it-yourself, DIY, colour furniture, Jimena Biro, DICRC, CEPT university, CEPT, Jay Thakkar

Arka, at the Garvi Gurjari exhibition

And here is how it looked at a recent exhibition at Garvi Gurjari, Ahmedabad. The product is a collaborative output, the artisania of Mexico joining hands with the karigar in India, bringing about the birth of Arka.

To purchase this product, please write to us at mail@craftcanvas.com.

As we woke up refreshed on day 2, we were all excited to hit the road. After all, we had crafts waiting for us at the other end. Our first stop was at Nirona, the village famous for its abundance of crafts. We stared off meeting Jabbarbhai, the youngest member of the last couple of families involved in Rogan art.

Rogan painting, Kutch tourism, Nirona, Bhuj

Jabbarbhai, Rogan artist

Rogan art (ironically) was a cheaper and faster alternative to embroidered fabrics. Embroidery is a time consuming process. Embroidered fabrics were given away as part of a girl’s dowry and hence the outcome had to be of superior quality. It is the mandatory skill that a mother passes on to her daughter as early as when she is 4 or 5 years old. The daughter-mother duo then embroider the clothes that the young bride would take with her to her marital home. So Rogan painters came up with a quick fix. Apply paint to one side of the fabric and then fold it to form a mirror impression on the other side. Lo and behold, you have a complete design and much quicker than it would taken to embroider it. Over years, this family has fine-tuned the process making this art too a highly precise one. Now some of their paintings sell for much more than their embroidered counterparts.

Copper bells, Nirona, Kutch, Bhuj, Rann of Kutch

Salimbhai, copper bells making

After a long chat over a cup of chai and haggling over a painting, we overshot our schedule by a good hour. We then proceeded to the copper bell makers. I am not dwelling on the process in this post, if interested you can read it here. The bell makers graciously show us the process of making a bell. A bell is known to be one of the most complex acoustical instruments to make. To see these artisans with minimal tools shaping out these wonders in multiple numbers is a wonder. You can buy bells in 13 sizes, bells made into interesting wind chimes and a lot more here.

Wood turning, lacquer, Kutch, Khamir, Rann of Kutch, Bhuj, Nirona

Wood turning and lacquer, Kutch

The bell makers accompanied us to the lacquer artisan Bhaiyyabhai’s home. Just while we were there, a bunch of foreign tourists walked in. As is the case always, we were asked to wait till the guests leave. We helped the artisan by explaining the process in english and at the end of it, we were family! We bought some little take-aways ourselves.

Wood carving, Gandhi nu Gaam, Khavda, Shaam-e-Sarhad, Kutch, Rann of Kutch

Wood carving, Gandhi nu gaam

With a whole lot left to do for the day, we quickly wrapped up our conversations and headed to Gandhi nu gam. Here we met Aacharbhai, the village head and wood carver. His beautiful geometric designs were converted into furniture. Personally I wish he’s not ‘varnished’ the wood. It was too glossy for my liking, but I did make a mental note on the designs for future use. At the end of this, we realized that we did not have any lunch options. We decided to check out Khavda, where we found the hidden gem-Qasab. The centre there is similar to Shrujan, though the focus in embroidery was much more local. They also had some interesting info on different musical instruments. On lunch, we saw some tourists (who had made prior arrangements for lunch) have their delectable Gujarati thali here. They wasn’t any left for us, so we had to scout for another place. Of course, not before hoarding beautifully hand-crafted bags and pouches. Word of advice- When in Kutch (and traveling without a local guide), carry your own food. Though the hospitable locals may offer food in their homes, it is better to have an option in your bag.

Shaam-e-Sarhad, Hunnarshala, Rann of Kutch, Hodka, Kutch, Bhuj

Shaam-e-Sarhad eco-resort, Hodka

Hodka is the best of all Kutch villages. Shaam-e-Sarhad is in season is the place to stay. If by any chance you happen to visit Kutch during winter and miss out on this experience, I would count it as life’s biggest regret. The food here is par excellence and the hospitality addictive. Designed by Hunnarshala, built and run by the locals, this place is a perfect example of the outcome of the marriage between design capabilities and local skills.

Dhordo, Rann of Kutch, Lippan Kaam, mud and mirror relief work

Lippan Kaam-mud and mirror work artisan

From here  we rushed to see the Rann before the sunset. Though the local folk strongly suggested that we’d be wasting our time as the Rann is still inundated, we decided to take a chance. And we are glad we did! We reached dhordo, the last village near the border. Here we met the local sarpanch (village head) Mia Hussain who introduced to a famous artisan and Sufi singer- Mutva Mehmood Iliyas. We found the artisan working in a tiny room with his television tuned into Sindhi channels aired from the neighbouring country! Though partition was a difficult time for people living in the border, they still have relatives on either side making the geographical demarcation almost meaningless. With me were friends whose families had crossed over to India during the partition in 1947. It was almost a re-union of sorts for them. Mehmoodbhai rendered a Sufi song for all of us.

With our hearts filled with love for our new found friends, we decided to culminate the day with a visit to the Rann. The border personnel were kind enough to let us in considering there were no other tourists. The Rann was filled with water on all sides, as far as the eye could see. The salt was crystallizing in the dried up areas creating a white sheet on the surface. We were spellbound. Nothing could have prepared us for this wonderful sight.  Like little children, we trampled all over the gooey sand, tasted salt fresh off the water and let our minds focus on our irrelevance in the larger scheme of things. We were but a tiny speck in this universe. Word of advice-Please remember that you need to take a permit at the military checkpost (at the turn to Hodka) to visit the Rann.

On the way back on this long day, one thing that stood out was the strong familial bonds. Be it the Rogan painters, the bell makers or the lacquer artisans and even Mehmoodbhai who looked forward to meeting his relatives on the other side, every person in the family was part of life and work. So family matters, the most.

For more pictures of my Kutch trip, please click here and here.

 

Rann of Kutch, White desert, Kutch handicrafts

Rann of Kutch

When you step into the Rann, the first thing that strikes you is the expanse. The white desert that extends in each direction as far as the eye can see. Mirages, white sand, crystal salt and a little water on the surface is all that’s visible. No human, no animal, no life at all. It is a sort of catharsis, purging all the crowded thoughts. Suddenly, the mind’s lens refocuses into the most important thing in your life. In a short span of time, your mind is all cleared out and formatted.

Kutch, Rann of Kutch

Clothes worn by Kutch people

This land of whiteness is a backdrop to a million colours. The brightly dressed women gleam with their little mirrors all over. Kutch is a melting pot of various cultures. The blend of the local Gujarati culture with the adjacent land of Sindh is vivid in every aspect- food, language, cultural practices. I had a whirlwind tour of Kutch a couple of months ago. In an effort to cover the whole of the region in 4 days, we relentlessly travelled across the largest district in the country. Bhuj has a local airport with flights from Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Or you could take a night train/bus to Bhuj from Ahmedabad (about 7 hours away)

 Day 1: We landed in Bhuj at 7 am. Bhuj is a quiet little town that shoulders it’s responsibility of being the gateway to one of the best tourist attractions very well. A motley of new budget friendly hotels have sprung up all over the place to accommodate tourists with all kinds of pockets.

Bhujodi, durrie, woolen kutch shawls

Bhujodi durrie weaving

After breakfast, we headed out to the local Bhujodi, a local market with a host of shawl weavers. Make sure you pick up a warm shawl for the cold winter nights here. On the way to this place, make sure you check out Shrujan. This beautifully done up craft centre is the place of work for women embroiders from various communities of Kutch. These women interact with designers here creating masterpieces. Prices are certainly on the higher side, but owning such an impeccably crafted piece is definitely worth it. The plan was to head to Ajrakhpur next. But we had spent too much oogling at the beauty of these fabrics.

Hunnarshala, Vernacular architecture, craft based architecture

Hunnarshala, vernacular architecture

We headed to Hunnarshala, the mecca of eco-friendly and vernacular architecture research. Hunnarshala is a heavily guarded secret. One look at the place and you will desist coming back to your steel and glass home. You will crave for the practicality and earthiness of the vernacular architecture in your home. They are now training the local craftspeople/youth in carpentry and masonry techniques. So next time, you are looking to redo/built your home, please look them up.

The evening was spent strolling along the local market. We tasted some roadside samosas (hot pockets filled with potato/lentils and deep-fried), khakra and various pedas (milk-sweets). The market is also home to a variety of silver jewellers. But we were too exhausted to explore any further.

Stay tuned for more and do check out my co-traveller’s blog for an indepth exploration on Gujarati food all over the state.

 

 

I made Phirni for Diwali (I did ‘brag’ about it, if you remember). It took me about 2 hours of continuous stirring on low flame (mom’s instructions) to get the right (almost right, cause mom thought that another half hour of stirring would have yielded better results) consistency. One thing that really helped was using a wooden spoon. It’s round handle fits better in the palm making the whole process very ergonomically. Why else do you think that cricket bats, tennis racquets, hockey sticks, all sports equipment is made with rounded handles?! Also a spoon with hard edges can damage delicate ingredients. Wooden spoons, with their smooth and gentle curves are much less likely to bruise, crush or tear your ingredients as you stir.

Some extra marks for the wooden spoon as I could leave it behind in the pan while I took breaks to stretch my shoulder. Wooden spoons are non-conductive. However long they stay in the pan, they are never hot! :) They almost never react with your food, leaving it just the way it is supposed to be. You can read this and some more info about using wooden spoons from here.

On my recent trip to Kutch, I met Vagha Meran Vaghela and his family. The entire family is involved in lacquer work and they make beautiful wooden spoons, candle stands, bangle holders, etc using a hand operated lathe. The process is so eco-friendly and sustainable that all the materials are organic and locally sourced. The water-resistant resin is collected from the bark of a local tree, mixed with colours sourced fom other natural sources and made into bars of coloured lacquer used in this process.

The shape of the wooden spoon is first crafted with wood from the locally available babool tree.The spoon is then carefully fitted inbetween the two ends of the lathe and the bar of colour is added to it while it rotates. The rotation of the lathe is orchestrated by the back and forth movement of the a bamboo stick tied with a piece of thread.

The surface of the spoon is roughed up to enable the resin to stick easily to the sides.

Next the resin is gradually applied on the surface with one hand, while keeping the rotation constant (the back and forth movement) of the other hand.

Then vertical lines are added on the coloured surface using rods covered with the resin.

Every line is added with precision by hand.

Next the surface is wiped with a small cloth dipped in oil. The movement is kept constant.

This highly precise process creates rippled on the surface and the colours are altered in a constant motion.

The result is a beautiful piece of art. The entire family is involved in this process and the process has passed down through the generations. There are few products in line that I will introduce in the coming weeks.

For now, I am happy with my wooden spoon set and I am sure that my Christmas cake will come out better!

Click here to buy your set. In case you are wondering how to maintain your wooden spoons, follow these simple instructions to make sure they last forever. :)

 

It’s time for Christmas and I am planning to get out the tree in a day or two. But this time around, I am going to decorate the tree with a few Indian decorations. As the festival is incomplete without the jingling bells, here is what I found in Kutch last weekend.

The villages of Zura and Nirona are well known for their bell making. The craftsmen belong to the community of Luhars, who brought the craft with them from Sindh. Primarily used to identify herds, these bells are now used widely in decorative accessories. Luhar Siddik Husen’s family has been practising this craft through generations. His very enterprising son has introduced some interesting designs using this craft.

While writing this post, I did some research on the acoustics of bells and here is what I found on www.msu.edu. “The bell is more complex acoustically than any other vibrating body intended for musical purposes, and its manufacture presents a formidable challenge. It’s cup shaped design produces an array of frequencies which, if not controlled, would prevent any harmonious blending of tone when two or more bells are heard simultaneously. Consequently, proportions must be determined that will result in frequencies and their amplitudes considered desirable in a musical bell.”

There are 13 sizes in all, starting from the small one that a goat wears to bigger ones for cattle. The precision is evident while they are played in succession, the first eight bells resonate the sa-re-ga-ma-pa-da-ne-sa.

Made using scarp sheet, this craft is as eco-friendly as it can get. The entire bell is hand cut and joined using very basic tools. There is no welding in the piece. Each bell has 3 distinct parts, the dome, the lower cylinder and the hook on the top.

Once the parts are joined, they are covered with earth, sprinkled with some copper dust and the pieces are fused together in the furnace.

Once outside the furnace, they get their copper tinge with a beautiful patina that can only be achieved with something handcrafted. They are bent a little at the edges, the bend giving them that resonating sound. A wooden piece is attached to the bell.

This beautiful piece of craft resonates with such clarity. The echo is music to the ears.

So this Christmas, let your tree and your spirit echo the sound of these bells from Nirona. To buy these bells, click here

All this while, I’ve refrained from writing about Gujarat. I’ve read (and of course I see them everyday) so much about Kutchi embroidery, mirror work and the beautiful ladies wearing traditional wear that it seemed nothing out of the ordinary for me. Till the point that my husband pointed out that I haven’t blogged about my first project. Its been a year now since its been completed, it is in perfect condition and writing about it seemed the right way to celebrate the anniversary. (Please note that all photos were taken using a mobile camera, regret the quality)

Mud mirror relief work from Kutch

Mud mirror relief work from Kutch

Yes, that was my first craft interiors project. It is a spa and I was offered a project to do something ‘Indian’ for one of the rooms. Since it was my first project, I decided to do something from Gujarat.

Of course, I did the usual stuff- I traveled with an approximate address to find the craftsman. I knew it was somewhere ‘near Bhuj’. I reached there to find a group of migrant workers who belonged to a border village near the Rann of Kutch. The extended family lived in a small house and visited their village once or twice a year to celebrate weddings and other festivals.

Women in traditional Kutchi attire

Women in traditional Kutchi attire

The brightly dressed women are the most creative bunch of people I’ve ever met. They have no formal education, in fact they cannot even draw a design on a piece of paper. They sketch (only for my reference, they don’t seem to need any at all. It’s all in their head.) the design with their fingers on the soft earth. These fingers that have created some exquisite embroidery have more in store.

Traditional Kutchi attire worn everyday

Traditional Kutchi attire worn everyday

The embroidered clothes that the women wear come as part of the dowry. To make this dowry, a girl starts when is just about 5 years old. The best embroidered clothes fetch the best husbands. So the girl learns and perfects the intricate embroidery techniques very early in life. The girl’s mother makes the bridal bag- an even more intricate piece of fabric that is used to pack her daughter’s clothes. The photo is of Kanta and Isha, Ramilaben’s daughter and sister respectively.

Ramila ben, mud mirror relief work artisan

Ramila ben, mud mirror relief work artisan

Ugabhai and Ramilaben are fabulous as a couple. While she works at the creative aspects of the wall, it is her husband who gets the raw material ready.First of all, wild ass dung has to be collected from the forest. Kutch is the only habitat for these creatures. Next the local earth (which is rock dry) is beaten up to a powder, mixed with the dung and made into a paste.

Women working on the base

Women working on the base

The walls are plastered with this. This is called ‘Lippan Kaam’. This is commonplace in most houses in that region and acts as an insulator bringing down temperatures drastically inside their homes. The women are the ones who are involved in making the creative designs.

Work in progress of the spa wall handcrafted using mud mirror work from Kutch

Work in progress

The design is made on the plastered walls. It starts at a midpoint and slowly grows around that reference point. The designs are usualy not made on paper and is the whole process is improvised as the women work together, singing Kutchi songs and teasing one another. The picture above shows how the finished design looks before completing the final painting process.

Final wall at the spa handcrafted using Kutchi mud mirror work

Final wall at the spa

The walls are then plastered with white cement. This process is done by hand and the final finish is done with fingers creating waves. Finally, each mirror is carefully cleaned by hand. The final wall looks like the one in the picture.

If you thought the whole process was interesting and adventurous, it is definitely far from it. On day one, Ramilaben wanted to go back home. Her lehenga was so huge that she couldn’t manage washing it in the tiny bathroom at the spa premises. The commode was another story altogether.  Another issue was that these people do this on their own walls at home, so it can be done at their convenience. With a launch deadline, it was difficult to get them to finish.

But when the wall was finally done, it surpassed all our expectations. The final texture that was done using Ramilaben’s fingers is a remarkable example of hand crafted beauty. I travel to this spa quite often. I run my fingers on that wall, and there is definitely a sense of pride.