As a long time advocate of tie dye being a superb fashion choice, the reputation of Kutch as a centre of excellence in this skill had me giddy long before I made my trip.
Following wide-eyed, kid-in-a-candy-store research and many dreamy hours spent drooling over the #shibori tag on Instagram, I had been in touch with Abdullah Khatri of SIDR Craft (and their glorious clamp-dyeing subsidiary Bhido) a couple of months before I reached Gujarat. He fielded my eager newbie questions with grace, warmth and an open invitation to visit their workshop, and when I finally stepped through the gate to their compound I was anything but disappointed. The outdoor workspace was alive with steaming vats of colour, washing lines draped with meticulously puckered bandhani sarees drying in the sun, shelves bursting with a rainbow of powdered dye and a bustling crew of artisans dipping, rinsing, knotting, folding and chatting.
And, there was tea. As we sat down with Abdullah bhai to chat in the showroom, we learned how his ancestors had been involved in the craft of tie dye for centuries before the age of textile industrialisation flooded the local market with cheap, mass-produced synthetic fabrics. With traditional customers turning to these fabrics for their every-day wear, demand for handmade crafts declined while the cost of living and of tie dye materials increased; many had to seek alternative work including Abdullah bhai's great grandfather who got into making fireworks for royalty!
Fortunately, the tide began to turn again as Kutch became increasingly open to outsiders and the government started promoting regional crafts at both national and international levels, leading to renewed interest and a much wider market. Elders re-established themselves in the field and these days there is an insatiable appetite for all things shibori in the fashion and home textile industries worldwide.
This demand has really driven creative freedom, with fresh techniques like clamp dyeing being developed both in-house and in collaboration with international clients; SIDR Craft have most recently been working on combining bandhani with clamp dyeing, to great success. For every technique Abdullah bhai described to us there was a sample to be shown, and soon entire shelves of silk and cotton in every pattern and colour imaginable had been unfurled onto the coffee table; a dizzying testament to an enterprise that not only deeply respects tradition but is also unafraid to experiment, to innovate.
Lengths of silk were folded, wrapped and swirled in a pot of resist to illustrate how one wavy pattern was made. Bandhani stencils were pored over and nimble fingers wrapped thread around pinched dots in a labour of love that may take weeks or months to finish. There were boxes of wooden shapes to be dug through and clamps that would hold a delicious fabric sandwich together while the dyeing magic took place.
Gold is a Neutral absolutely needed a piece of this action.
Over the next few months it was my pleasure to work with Abdullah bhai to decide on the scale of pattern that would best suit my bags, sample different colours on different fabrics, and ultimately go into production with the chosen designs. Handwoven khadi cotton was cut to the size of each bag panel, then individually folded, wrapped and dyed.
The nature of this craft means each piece is unique: there are differences between every single hand-dyed panel of the Sherbanu and Mumtaz clutches. Some bolder, some bluer, some lighter, some whiter. Each and every piece is a celebration of that technicolour outdoor workshop in Khatri Chowk and the seemingly endless creative possibilities being dreamt up within its boundaries.
Want to learn more?
Abdul Jabbar Khatri (Abdullah's brother) demonstrates clamp-dyeing at the SIDR Craft workshop
Bandhani by Khamir