Updated: 18, July, 2018
The Selvedge, or the edge of a textile, is our permanent capsule collection (collection no 100) of especially commissioned, multi-purpose handmade Kachchh Shawls, designed and handwoven in Kachchh, Gujarat.
What are extra-weft Kachchh Shawls?
Extra-weft Kachchh shawls are made with weaving horizontal and vertical yarns of cotton or wool together. Extra-weft gives the appearance of an embroidered textile but is in fact different in both process and appearance.
Process-wise, extra-weft textiles are made with weaving an extra loop above or below the warp (vertical thread), essentially embedding the design within the textile while weaving it on a handloom. Authentic Kachchh Shawls are woven on a handloom, a process that requires no electricity and has no punch cards to guide the design. Whereas, embroidered textiles are a result of creating patterns on the surface of a ready made textile using a piece of thread, a needle, a frame or an embroidery loop, and frequently a pattern stenciled on the textile to be embroidered. The stenciling is done with removable ink and a translucent paper, such as wax paper, with perforated design made on it. However, extra-weft textiles are made with weaver's vision of a design and the knowledge and skill to realize that design while weaving the textile, without any external reference. The extra-weft handloom weavers of Kachchh is a small community and goes back in time. As such, each weaver is aware of another's design vocabulary and prefers to build products based design language that is their own. Further, extra-weft Kachchh shawls also display distinguishing Kachchhi motifs; the weavers imagine a design based on this vocabulary, hence rendering the need for printed design reference useless.
Appearance-wise, an extra-weft textile can be distinguished from an embroidered textile with the meticulous back-side of the textile. Extra-weft textiles display a nearly identical pattern on both the front and the back of the textile, with differences that can only be spotted by a trained eye. Whereas, if you turn over an embroidered textile, it is often significantly different, with thread and loose ends looping across the area where the textile displays embroidery.
What is the historical use of Kachchh Shawls?
Traditionally worn by the pastoralists of Gujarat, Kachchh Shawls feature heritage motifs inspired from their nomadic lives. These were historically handwoven for the shepherds who provided the wool to weavers in Bhuj, Gujarat, making the supplier also the biggest customer. The shepherds used the woolen textiles as shoulder cloth, keeping them warm in cold desert nights, or to carry the young kids, food and necessities that they needed to cover their route.
Are Kachchh Shawls specifically found only in Kachchh?
Kachchh Shawls are unique and protected under GI174 - a form intellectual property rights called geographical indication (GI).
GI is a protection given under TRIPS to products that are unique because of their geographic origin and the corresponding climate, local materials, culture, traditions, knowledge and other qualities and reputations enjoyed by that place.
The particular craft of achieving such intricate patterns as those originally limited to carpet weaving, in fine furnishings textiles handwoven using pure (sheep or goat) wool or cotton on a handloom is found only in Kachchh. It is with this craft that our permanent Kachchh Shawl collection is brought to life.
This traditional knowledge of weaving intricate motifs with pure wool has been passed on for years from one generation to the next among the cloth weavers community of Kachch. This craft is, therefore, practiced only in this region by the artisans community of Kachchh's cloth weavers.
In other words, the only place where these shawls are envisioned, designed and brought to life is Kachchh, Gujarat, India.
For us, it was a privilege to break bread with the incredibly knowledgeable master craftspeople of Kachchh and collaborate with them to create something that is in keeping with the ethos of creating by hand - work with what the environment gives you.
After all, what is good for the Earth, is good for you.
Are Kachchh Shawls handmade?
Yes, Kachchh Shawls are completely handmade.
The process begins with sheering wool from local herds of sheep at the end of winters or, in case of Black (Kaalaa) Cotton, harvesting organically grown indigenous cotton. The fiber is cleaned and spun into yarn by hand. Spinning can also be done by machine. However, hand-spun yarn yields a unique texture, slightly rough to the touch when the textile is new, but like leather, wears in places that are most used, improving and developing character over time.
The stamp of any handwoven textile is the imperfect selvedge. This results from weaving the yarn into a textile on a handloom. A handloom typically uses no electricity and comprises several pieces of logs set up on the floor of the artisan's home. Powered entirely by the energy of the artisan and guided by the artisan's vision of the finished design, a handloom textile reflects this change in energy every time the artisan takes a break, even if it is a cup of chai. The change manifests itself in the selvedge - the edge of the textile. Depending on the artisan's gestures, the selvedge is tight at some places and loose in still others, retaining this imperfection as a visually distinguishing birthmark.
The handmade extra-weft throws that we bring out every winter are woven and finished by the latest generation of a long lineage of cloth weavers in Kachchh.
The handwoven 90" x 40" pieces of textile take up to 17 hours to weave each piece and another 2 to 4 hours to finish, depending on the intricacy of design. The time for warping and spinning is not taken into consideration, both of which can take up to days, if not weeks.
Are Kachchh Shawls sustainable?
Yes - socially and environmentally!
Kachchh Shawls are woven on a loom by hand, with pure wool obtained from local sheep and goats (not lambs and kids). They are finished usually by women of the artisan household with a pair of scissors, at the most. Pretty simple.
Kachchh Shawls last a long time as they were originally intended for local pastoralists. Their durability, warmth and ruggedness make them perfectly suitable for everyday use, only improving over time, just like all other fine natural materials in the world. No chemicals/synthetics or electricity is used in the entire process, preserving the local ecosystem.
Kachchh Shawls are socially sustainable as well. Not only do sales of Kachchh Shawls provide steady employment to textile artisans and craftspeople who are highly specialized in the ancient art of hand weaving, but they also boost regional economics. If weavers flourish, so do farmers, hand spinners, dyers, shepherds, nomads and a slew of complementary skilled artisans who traditionally produce a handloom textile-based product with a concerted effort.Furthermore, Kachchh Shawls help sustain the knowledge, traditions and culture of the local community avoiding the need for otherwise highly skilled craftspeople to migrate to cities for unskilled labour in exchange for minimum wages.
Isn't that something? Think about it. Before a handwoven piece of textile - such as one of our wool throws or extra-weft stoles - reaches you, it has been carefully and lovingly touched by an entire community of highly skilled artisans! And they have been compensated with a rate that they set for their skill.
Are Kachchh Shawls mass produced?
The entire process is carried out by hand and depends on local availability of resources, which means each production is in small batches and takes of 2-3 months. Spinning yarn, which is a slow process but yields in great texture and warmer textiles, is a dying craft. Not only does it take long to spin the yarn, it takes longer still to find artisans who still practice this craft.
Further, when these products are dyed with naturally produced indigo, the saturation depends on the intensity of sunlight. With climate change, there are spells of cloudy days, and sometimes flood, even in the desert, causing us and our artisan partners to wait for the full sun with all its glorious intensity. While this elongates the time to dye and finish a naturally dyed piece of textile, it simultaneously bolsters our commitment to remain environmentally sustainable.
PS: This is why your natural indigo dyed textiles are something you should cherish forever!
Can Kachchh Shawls be dyed?
Yes, they can.
Most artisans use azo-free dyes to colour the yarn before weaving with it.
However, we bring out two series in the winter collection. Both are made with wool, but one features hand-spun yarn in all its ruggedness and textured beauty, while the other features natural indigo dyed wool.
Are Kachchh Shawls traceable?
The one you purchase directly from artisans - you have already traced them. Kudos to you! And the ones you buy from us can be traced back to who made it, who, when, with what and much more.
Our Kachchh Shawls', throws' and stoles' origin, makers, care instructions and other details can be traced by searching their series no. this website.
Article based on primary research done with the weavers of Kachchh, Gujarat, with technicalities learned first-hand from prolific designer and creative director @selli_bodapati