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


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.

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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.


I called up a friend to chat up after a day’s work. She was getting back from work in a taxi and she had a lot of time. Traffic in Bombay can be a blessing at times :)  She was generally updating me about work and life and she concluded that nothing had changed. When she told me that I sounded tired, I gave her an update of my day. I had driven 80 odd kilometers on pretty tree-lined roads to reach Dholka, a quaint town near Ahmedabad. And I played with colors and shapes! :)

I met Anilbhai at the 15 day wood workshop that I attended at CEPT university. The same workshop that irked my friends and family as I was totally out of touch for 15 days. I would drag my tired self home around 9 pm everyday and reach the workshop before 9 am the next day. So writing a blog was out of question. In the 15 days, designers and craftsmen tirelessly worked on discussions, scaled down models and designs. At the end of the workshop, each team came up with some interesting output. One of the craftsmen, Anilbhai ,  always has this no-nonsense air around him. He was at work well before the designers reached and finishedmore work than one can imagine before the sun sets. With a million ideas in my head that cropped up during the workshop, I landed at his doorstep in Dholka a week later. Niyati (my new colleague who deserves a blog post!) accompanied me. She brings along the energy that only happy 20 year olds can have and makes sure that she rubs it on everyone around her.

So my brief to Anilbhai was that I wanted to make lamp bases and tea light holders. His workshop mainly produces cradles and it is a heartening sight to see that such old world things still have a market. A market enough to sustain a comfortable livelihood for his family. His home is full of his work. Turned and lacquered red railings and a swing make his home very personal.


I’ve already covered the turning process once (lacquer in Kutch), so I am putting up the process photographs.

Unlike the Channapatna and Kutch lacquers, the colors are limited. With 7 colors only, we had to decide on combinations. Luckily, most of the colors that I had in mind for the next season’s palette was available.

So here is the result at the end of a hard day’s work! My friend has every reason to be jealous :)

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. :)