Natural materials, local skills, and technologies
for contemporary Products
FIBRES AND YARNS
We began creating textiles in an effort to increase the income of very poor families while preserving their traditional craft of hand spinning and weaving. This helped create livelihood opportunities while conserving and improving a traditional craft.
The traditional textile skills of rural communities are truly unique, but due to industrial textiles and changed consumer preferences, the returns on this craft have plummeted over the years, discouraging younger generations from taking up textiles as a livelihood option. Avani has worked towards upgrading the skills, materials and tools to revive this dying traditional craft and make it a viable livelihood opportunity.
To scale up this programme, Avani organized the artisans into a cooperative named the Kumaon EarthCraft Self Reliant Cooperative in 2005, more commonly known as EarthCraft. EarthCraft’s work has involved creating contemporary products with traditional skills, natural dyes and materials like wool, silk and pashmina while introducing new color palettes and new materials like linen. EarthCraft’s range of products includes shawls, stoles, mufflers, home furnishings, in addition to garments for men, women and children. All EarthCraft’s products are hand woven and naturally dyed. Many of the yarns are hand spun.
Earthcraft markets its products under brand AVANI and the kids products under the brand GORAIYA. Earthcraft became a self sustaining business in 2009 and is now upscaling to increase its outreach.
For generations, the Shauka and the Bora Kuthalia communities have been involved in hand spinning and weaving of natural fibres like wool, pashmina and hemp. They traditionally use drop spindles and foot operated Bageshwari spinning wheels for spinning yarns. For weaving, pit looms and waist looms were used traditionally. Some of the traditionally made products are Tibetan sheep wool carpets and blankets, hemp fibre sacks and floor coverings.
The knowledge and use of natural dyes is also native to the Shauka community, although the colour palette of these dyes was limited to browns, yellows and pink.
Avani has been working extensively with the preservation and revival of the traditional craft of weaving, spinning and natural dyeing. The philosophy has been to introduce modern raw materials to make contemporary products while conserving the handicraft skills as livelihood options.
Spinning and weaving of wild silks such as tussar, eri and muga as well as pashmina has been reintroduced to the region. We have developed solar powered spinning for home use in the villages to increase productivity. We have also introduced frame looms to produce wider textiles. The existing knitting skill is used to produce simple products in silk and wool. Local tailors have been trained to produce very high quality garments and home accessories.
Avani has revived the skill of natural dyeing and developed a broad color palette with research on more than fifty local plants. These dye materials are not only used for textile dyeing but also for producing colorants for use in different applications. These eco friendly, plant based colorants can be used in textile industry, cosmetics, art supplies and pharmaceuticals.
Avani supports the expansion of the community’s capabilities through product development, quality control, provision of raw materials and marketing.
FIBRES AND YARNS
Hand Spun Tibetan Sheep Wool
As the name suggests, this long fiber and very warm wool comes from the Tibetan plateau, a high altitude region of the Himalayas. Tibetan sheep wool is easily handspun by local people, gets softer with use and is very durable. We often blend Tibetan sheep wool with other fibers, including merino wool and silk.
Harsil WoolAvani also uses Harsil wool, which is produced in Garhwal, another region in the state of Uttarakhand, which is spun locally.
Hand Spun and machine yarn
in Australian Merino Wool
This wool is produced in India as well as imported from Australia. It is softer than Tibetan wool and is used to create blends with different silks for a range of softer products.
Avani uses wild silk (as opposed to cultivated silk) in its products. This means that the silk cocoons are collected in the wild, from local plant species.
Silk yarns vary in their method of production. A yarn that is reeled with machines uses un-pierced silk cocoons, in which the cocoon is steam boiled to kill the pupa. This is done to stop the emergence of the moth, which would have pierced the cocoon if natural processes were allowed to occur. In our case, we allow the pupa to metamorphose into a moth then hand spin the silk to make Ahmisa Silk, or non-violent silk. The moth pierces the cocoon to escape, breaking the strands of the cocoon, and resulting in fiber that needs to be spun by hand. Ahimsa Silk is used in all our products, with the exception of some muga silk.
Hand-Spun Tussar Silk
Originally, tribal communities collected the cocoons of tussar silk in the forests of Central and Eastern India. Avani purchases tussar silk yarn from other parts of the country, supporting the livelihood of many Indian spinners. Tussar silk has a unique, pebbly texture and is naturally beige in color.
Hand-Spun Eri Silk
The cocoons of eri silk are collected in the wild from castor plants in local villages. Alternatively, eri silk worms are fed on leaves picked from these castor plants. Eri silk is always hand spun (thus non-violent), and is unique in its natural insulating properties.
Hand and Machine-Spun Muga Silk
Muga is the most expensive and the finest of India’s wild silks. It is collected from the forests in the Northeast, where its host trees, Litchia polyantha and Michelis bombacina, are found. It is naturally gold in color, with an extremely rich texture. The yield of muga silk is very low, making it extremely expensive. Aside from our hand-spun muga silk, we also purchase reeled muga silk from producers in Assam to meet our production demands.
Avani now works with a specialized range of products in pure linen as well as linen blended with silk and wool. The raw material comes from Belgium and is processed and spun in India.
Avani produces a small range of goods using pashmina purchased as a raw material from Tibet and Ladakh, India.
The use of natural dyes is traditional to all artisan communities. In Kumaon, this skill has existed in the Shauka community for hundreds of years. However, mass produced, cheap, chemically dyed products are causing this skill to slowly disappear, leading to higher costs and depleting markets. Traditionally, the color palette in natural dyes was limited to browns, yellows and pink.
Avani’s work has revived this traditional skill of natural dyeing through intensive training and experimentation to increase the natural dye color palette. We are now producing a range of colors, including brown, yellow, orange, red, blue, violet and green. We are coloring natural fibers like wool, silk, pashmina and linen with locally available dye plants. The only plants we use that are not locally available are blue and red, which we make using natural indigo and shellac sourced from other parts of India.
Over the past seven years, our work has involved research and experimentation with a variety of local plants. We have experimented with more than fifty plants of our area and have identified the dye yielding properties in them. We use plants that provide stable color and are either abundantly available in the wild or easily cultivable. We are now working with the cultivation and harvesting of dye yielding plants as a livelihood options for local farmers.
Process of production
Our work with textiles has evolved through continuous dialogue with local communities about their needs. We are dedicated to providing fair wages for all contributing artisans and farmers, empowering women to negotiate for their livelihoods and creating an opportunity for the rural poor to make a living from what they earn in their villages.
Over the years, many people have been trained as artisans, and existing artisans have refined their craft through additional training. The artisans have been so successful that they are now organized as a self-reliant cooperative organization called EarthCraft.
We also believe that the process of production is as important as the product itself. As both water and energy are scarce resources in our area, we have implemented systems to conserve both. Runoff rainwater from rooftops is harvested for natural dyeing and wastewater is treated naturally and used for irrigation to grow vegetables.
Clean energy is being used for many energy needs throughout production. We have trained a group of local boys to manufacture solar water heaters and solar driers that are used for preheating water for dyeing and drying of dye materials respectively. The use of these devices helps us to conserve energy.
Solar powered spinning wheels have been installed in unelectrified villages to improve the productivity of household spinnings. Finally, the machine we use to iron our textiles is powered by electricity produced from pine needles.
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