Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bhujodi Harijan Weavers, Gujarat

In the Harijan village of Bhujodi, just a few kilometers from Bhuj, we met Mr. Valji. His family was engaged in the art of weaving. We commented about his beautifully carved wooden door that opened to the entrance of his courtyard. He explained that it was one of the things that he had salvaged from the earthquake that had destroyed his family house as well as most of the village. Although I’m sure was quite devastating, the way he spoke about it demonstrated the resilience that I saw in so much of the state.

Under a small shelter were below–ground containers. Lifting up the lids, he showed us their contents - a fresh and older batch of indigo dye mixture also containing lime and dates. To achieve the intense, dark indigo color, pieces would need to be dipped about five times. Beneath the containers (1.06 m or 3 ½ feet in height), goat dung was placed. All of this provided insulation from the heat and helped preserve the valuable dye. Inside one of the buildings, several people were engaged in different stages of the weaving process. Some were cranking a machine that spun the thread onto a spindle. A woman worked at high-speed to prepare the warp thread. In the corner, a man was weaving on a shuttle loom. Mr. Valji explained that such looms have replaced most of the pit looms that were almost exclusively used prior to the earthquake. While some wool from locally grown sheep is still used, his family has now also begun using synthetic wool and fine cotton. The fine cotton has enabled him to create more intricate, colorful designs. Such pieces had 90 threads per square inch instead of the usual 24. Although he has done some experimentation, traditional designs are still a major part of his work. About one plain shawl can be a woven in a day.

Inside his showroom, blankets, shawls, bed covers, bags, and placemats were neatly piled. Some had bright colors others dark, and still others retained the natural color of the fibers. Many of them contained small round mirrors that were so naturally into the woven design. As our conversation continued, Mr. Valji explained that he had been invited to attend the Folk arts and crafts festival in Santa Fe. Curious, I asked if he had met Nancy Walkup, an art teacher (an ArtsEdNet member I had known online for over 15 years) heavily involved in the festival, to which he replied, “Yes, I know Nancy.” Small world indeed.

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