Gujarat has often been
called the Manchester of the East. With its modern textile works
this is hardly surprising. However, the State has been involved in
the textile trade for centuries and during the time of the Sultanate,
Ahmedabad had large factories where brocades were woven.
Almost all parts of the
State specialize in some from the exotic textile weaving: the Patola
silks are still made by a handful of master weavers from Patan and
Surat known for its zari work. However, there is a little
village in north west Gujarat which is perhaps not known so well
outside the State. This hamlet called Aashaval is home to the
Aashavali sari. Creating an Aashavali is a very tedious and
time-consuming job as the weaving is done using the age-old technique
The distinctive aspect of
this fabric is its heavily textured, almost brocade-like quality.
The elaborate pallavs and borders are dazzlingly adorned with
motifs woven in warm colours. The zari of the sari has a sheen which
is muted as it is woven in the twill weave. Diagonal borders in
bright colours simulate the effect of enameling on gold. Some
Aashavali saris which are for more informal occasions do not have
such a spectacular use of zari.
Bright shades relieve the
stark monotony of the desert landscape. The embroidered fabrics that
come from Banni in Kutch are embellished with mirrors and beads. The
Jats, a sub-caste of the Bannis, are known for their refined
embroidery skills. The speciality of the embroidery here is the
execution of architectural designs known as the heer bharat.
The stitch derives its name from the floss-silk (heer). Long
stitches, almost three inches running parallel to the warp in one
part of the motif and to the weft in the other give it a natural
texture. In the centre is a mirror secured with chain-stitch.
The Mochi community, who
it is believed, learnt their craft from Muslim craftsmen, have almost
perfected the fine art of embroidering chain-stitch on leather.
Motifs derived from Mughal and Persian art as well as designs using
animal forms are used extensively in their work.
The Ahir and Rabari
community, on the other hand decorate the dark background of the
fabrics they wear with strikingly vivid embroidery and mirror work.
The mirrors are brought into relief by the use of dark coloured
thread in herring-bone or button-hole stitch.
Saurashtra, the Kanbis, prefer the use of white, yellow or saffron
base cloth for their garments. While working with chain-stitch in
colourful motifs, their workmanship is not nearly as fine as that of
In Saurashtra, the most
ancient and noteworthy embroidery was done by the Kathi, the oldest
known piece being almost a century old. The women of this community
showed preference for black cloth embroidered in crimson, violet
golden yellow and white with greens and blues sparingly used to
balance the colours. The main stitch was an elongated darn and
Bead work was introduced
into this region at a much later stage. Imported from East Africa
around 1850, the Mochi craftsmen were the first to use them. By the
turn of the century women of other castes replaced their thread-work
by beads. Though the craft has attained a degree of
commercialization, even today the finest pieces are those which
formed a part of the brides dowry almost 30 or 40 years ago.
The best place to see the
more exquisite works of Gujarati embroidery, bead work and other
similar crafts is at their religious ceremonies, weddings and
festivals. It is on these occasions that each caste proudly
establishes its identity by wearing its own highly distinctive and
original garments. And as long as there will be the hot afternoon sun
shining down fiercely at them, the womenfolk from Gujarat will spend
those long, hot afternoons spinning yet more of their colourful and
aesthetically pleasing wonders.