DESERT COMMUNITIES

Savitiri and her extended family from the village of Zinkdi, who are Ahir people. Above images show some of the families embroidery collection, certain pieces are over 50 years old. There is a unique style to the Ahir embroidery which can be identified through the Nakaro crochet and the large round flowers around the mirrors.

Something that really moved me during our journeys through the desert was the generosity of the village people when it came to food. We had some of the most amazing traditional home cooked meals here, chapati, vegetable curries, sweets, mango chutney, the list goes on. And of course the Chai is such a wonderful warm experience when you first arrive at any home. 

It was an honor to wander these areas and learn about the many different Rabari and Ahir communities. The traditional dress is amazing, in Rabari communities the married women wear mostly black. The blouses are backless with a simple tie around the center back for coolness in the hot desert. There is a gathered seam at the center front of the blouse,  the skirts are often adorned with hand embroidery featuring the famous mirror work. There are many different types of Rabari communities with many variations of this dress, some have more colour than others, some are more adorned with embroidery and jewelery. The men who are traditionally farmers wear mostly white, featuring low crutch baggy pants, a turban and my absolute favorite item of all the clothing which is the jacket.  This is fitted to just above the waste with a range of ties and interesting quilted panels, which then connects to a gathered panel creating a full flared hemline.

Originally I wanted to incorporate the tradition of Rabari embroidery in my first collection. I had the idea of integrating this ancient embroidery technique into modern clothing to celebrate and connect communities. However, after spending time in many Ahir and Rabari communities from all over the Kutch region I have learnt the tradition of giving embroidery, somehow I feel putting a monetary value on it takes away from the act of making and giving.

Only in the last 40 years has embroidery being sold, before that a piece for the home or clothing could have taken up to a year to make for a specific family member and then given as a wedding gift or to a new born or even for a religious ceremony.  If you look at weaving, block printing and dying it has been traded between nomadic farming communities for over 500 years and is still being traditionally made and traded today.

I am still very much inspired by the intricate hand craft of Rabari embroidery, I am working on ways to make reference to this in my designs through other techniques such as bead work, paneling and piping. I am now looking further into weaving and other natural hand crafts for the base of the coming collection. There are many other Rabari communities in Kutch and greater Gujarat who work in natural dye, weaving and block printing.

 

 

Hannah Mitchell