Where Tradition meets Modernity:
The Revival of Local Crafts

Avani / Where Tradition meets Modernity: The Revival of Local Crafts

The traditional handspun yarn and handwoven textiles of the Shauka and Bora communities in Uttarakhand were uniquely crafted. The expanding market of industrially manufactured textiles and changing consumer preferences caused the returns on this craft to plummet over the years. This inturn discouraged younger generations from the communities from pursuing textiles as a livelihood option. Through systematic revival efforts including the use of indigenous varieties of wool for development of textiles, promoting the value of local plants through their use as raw material for natural dye production, enabling intergenerational transfer of the knowledge of indigenous fibres such as wool in the grassroot communities, training of unskilled women and girls from different communities in the craft of weaving and spinning, Avani’s natural dye and textile program has made design interventions in traditional products to meet contemporary market requirements.

To scale up this programme, Avani organised the artisans into a cooperative named the Kumaon EarthCraft Self Reliant Cooperative in 2005, more commonly known as EarthCraft. EarthCraft’s work involved creating high quality contemporary products with traditional skills, natural dyes and materials like wool, silk and linen. EarthCraft’s range of handwoven products include shawls, stoles, mufflers, sarees, home furnishings as well as garments for men, women and children. All of EarthCraft’s products are hand woven and naturally dyed. Many of the yarns are hand spun. Earthcraft also produces natural dye powders, extracts and pigments that are used in non toxic art supplies, wood stains and printing pastes.

Earthcraft markets its products under brand AVANI and the kids products under the brand GORAIYA. Earthcraft became a self-sustaining business in 2009 and continues to upscale to increase its outreach.

Traditional Skills

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 used drop spindles and foot operated Bageshwari spinning wheels for spinning the yarns and weaving was done with pit looms and waist looms. The knowledge and use of natural dyes is also native to the Shauka community, although the colour palette was limited to browns and yellows.

The Shaukas traditionally worked with Tibetan sheep wool and are well known for making Thulma (traditional throw) and Chutkas (traditional knotted carpet) that grace the living rooms of most village homes. The Boras primarily used hemp fibre to create farming accessories such as kuthla (gunny bags for storing grains) and budhla (multipurpose fabrics used as rugs or to tie bundles of grass and hay).

Contemporary Adjustments

Product innovation has been an important milestone in Avani’s journey. In addition to promoting weaving with indigenous varieties of fibres such as Harsil and Tibetan wool,  the textile program introduced weaving with raw materials such as the wild silks of eri, muga and oak tussar. To increase productivity, Avani developed solar powered spinning wheels for home use in the villages and introduced frame looms to produce wider textiles. Avani has made design interventions in traditional products to develop a fine range of home furnishing products such as throws, cushions, carpets and rugs and a stylish range of accessories such as sarees, shawls, scarves and stoles. Local tailors have been trained to produce high quality garments. Using the local skill of hand knitting, a range of caps, socks and knitted toys for children are also part of the product offering.

The natural dye initiative experimented with over 50 indigenous species of plants to create a palette of 30 colours and shades. Natural dye pigments have been used to create non-toxic watercolours and crayons, wood stains, printing paste and textile dye. Plant-based colourants have been used to create non-toxic finished products, giving a green alternative to consumers.

Avani supports the expansion of the community’s capabilities through product development, quality control, provision of raw materials and marketing. Over the years, Avani has been responsible for building an ecosystem and a dialogue around sustainability and natural dyes and their impact on the soil and water health alongwith the social and ecological impact.