In January I went on a tour of Gujarat area in India with a group of ladies from Australia, New Zealand and the USA with Jinny Beyer. Our tour was led by Clinton from "Meet me in India" and it was one of the best textile tours I have been on. Clinton, who is American, but lives in India is just so knowledgeable and coped excellently with our group of many ladies and only 1 husband, he never lost his cool with us and showed remarkable restraint and patience when we slightly overrun our schedule in fabric shops.
Our tour started in Ahmedabad, where one of the highlights of our trip was the visit to the Calico museum. There are very few tours to the Calico museum and they are very particular about timings of tours and will only start when there are enough people in the group, so it is not possible to come here as an individual unless you join in with a larger group, so it is necessary to book in advance. Rucksacks and purses and cameras had to be left with the guards at the entrance, so we could not take any photos inside the museum, they do sell some books but unfortunately no postcards. Having said that, a postcard would never be able to accurately portray the delicate nature of some of the embroideries.
The buildings that house the collection has the most amazing wooden blocks on the outside and the fabrics inside are arranged in groupings of time period as well as style. There were carpets, tents,, covers for chariots,a huge chariot, dresses, yokes, jackets and quilts. Wonderful examples of every type of embroidery, displays of wooden blocks used for printing, a room full of weaving and another dealt with thread, how it is made and used. Some of the embroidered pieces were so fine that they appeared to have been painted on the fabric rather than stitched. Truly worth a visit!
|Entrance to Calico Museum, Ahmedabad|
We stopped at Gamthiwala, Ahmedabad's most famous fabric man, a very small fabric shop, which stocks silks and cottons. The shop is about the size of a single garage and it was a miracle that all of us fitted in there, but needs must, we all wanted fabric, so we managed.
An added bonus for us was that Uttarayan, the annual kite flying festival was on while we were in India, and after a traditional Indian lunch at Umang's home (a friend of Clinton), we had a lesson in kite flying, which is a lot harder than it looks. The string has glass in it, so we had to have our fingers plastered up before trying it out. If you manage to get your kite in the air you have to watch out for other kite flyers who try to cut your kite loose, but this was such a lot of fun.
Jinny and Clinton had worked lots of project time into our schedule and Jinny showed us some of her quilts that had been hand pieced together, all with diamond blocks. We all had brought diamond shaped pieces with us (the theme of the trip was diamonds and we saw them everywhere) and with Jinny's help, learned how to stitch them together and how to design our quilts by breaking it down into small units, so whenever we had time, we stitched. Jinny even managed to get Clinton to stitch together a star unit, not sure that he would take it up as a lifetime hobby though.
We visited loads of small villages that most tourists never go to and at one of these, in the Surendragar district, we visited a local craftsman, who showed us how they do Tangalia weaving. His family is the only family left in India that still produces this kind of weaving. Tiny dots of extra weft are twisted giving an effect of bead embroidery, creating beautiful linear patterns and forms.
We also visited Kala Ratcha, run by Judy Frater, where we had workshops with local block printers, batik artists and embroiderers before buying some of their artwork. We had so much fun creating and many felt that this was a highlight of our trip.
|Block printing demonstration and workshop|
And this is the piece of batik I made:
At a second Kalaraksha location, we had a tour of the museum and saw some of the artists display some of their work, before nearly clearing out the giftshop, but they managed to restock whilst we were still there and some of us had a second opportunity to buy quilts from here. At this point it became evident that extra luggage will be required on the way home. A young girl remembered that she also had a quilt that she has made and she fetched it and then offered it for sale with help from the older ladies. Her face was an absolute picture when someone actually wanted her quilt. Here are some of what we saw:
We also visited the workshop of Dr Ismail Khatri and son, Sufiyan, where the process of block printing and fabric dying was explained to us. Fabric was lying everywhere in the sun, drying out in various stages of dying and printing. There were so many wonderful wooden blocks here, unfortunately not for sale, but worth coming to just to see the printing process and then having the opportunity to buy fabric from a master.
|Fabric drying in various stages of printing and dying|
|Beautiful wooden printing blocks|
|The masterpiece I bought here|
We visited the home of another Khatri family, where they produce Rogan Art. Caster oil is heated over fire for more than twelve hours and then cast into cold water. This produce a thick residue called rogan which is then mixed with pigments and applied with a little stick to fabric. Again, this is the only remaining family in India producing this art form and it is not sold anywhere else. We were shown how the caster oil mix is applied to the fabric, and it is like nothing else I have ever seen.
Another Khatri family specialises in bandhani. Bandhani is created by intricately tying and colouring fabric, in the same style as shibori is in Japan, again, we were given a demonstration of the process involved in producing bandhani and then had the opportunity to buy some silk scarves. Jabbar has been awarded the Unesco Seal of Excellence for his work.
|Examples of Bandhani silk scarves|
Our tour ended back in Ahmedabad, where we experienced the Law Garden Night market and visited Gandhi's Ashram. Although this was a textile tour, we by now means only did textile related, we had lots of fun going on a camel ride on the beach just before sunset, and went on a tour of villages on top of a camel cart, we learned how to stride forth and out into the manic traffic and had rides in rickshaws or tuk-tuks. We saw pelicans and flamingoes and wild asses on jeep safari's and visited salt pans where we saw how salt is produced. Some of us slept in tents!!!! We saw local dancers perform and listened to local musicians, sometimes till late in the night, we learned how to cope with Indian showers and toilets, we saw a gypsy caravan on the main road and cattle and goats in town centres and once even a painted elephant in the streets of Ahmedabad. We saw a young man in his wedding gear performing a dance on horseback and a funeral walk by past our coach. We saw kids begging and were invited to have lunch at a local family's home (thank you Umang, a highlight for me) and shown how to fly kites. We made many friends, some of us are already connected on Facebook and sharing photos, some of us are planning our next holidays together! We only visited a very small area in India and although the cuisine did not always agree with all of us, this trip has only wetted my appetite to explore India more and I will certainly be on the lookout on Jinny's website to see if any more trips come up. Thank you Jinny and Clinton that made this trip possible.
|Final fabric shopping opportunity|
During November, December and January I only did 21 blocks, but now that I am at home for a nice long stint, I am going to concentrate on getting right back on target with these. Only 102 left to do!
And now of course, I have a new hand stitching project on the go, thank you Jinny, not sure how I am going to fit this in, but finish my diamond memory quilt of India, I WILL do!