Ratnadeep Banerji rolls out some nuggets of the exotic nature of silk chainstich and silk patolas that let up a world market for textile industry in Gujarat since the thirteenth century. Even now, 18 types of hand embroidery exist in the Kutch region.
The embroiderer cobblers
Incredulous enough, the mochi (cobbler) embroiderers of Kutch during the 17th and 18th centuries worked upon refined silk chainstich. And they churned out the largest single group of court embroideries during that period.
The cobblers being leather workers had once been embroidering leather floormats and saddle covers. Later, they applied the same art upon the local cotton and silk fabric. Their chainstich was superbly laid evenly that saw the use of coloured floss silk and sometimes metal thread too. Their stiching contraption was ‘ari’, a small version of a cobbler’s awl bearing semblance of a tambour or crochet hook. The mochi’s hooked awl had a fine point allowing a much finer work than that yielded in Europe and West Asia by using a tambour hook. A thimble with a cleft at the top allowed and guided the ‘ari’. By subtle variance in the vertical, horizontal and diagonal placement of the remarkably even laid stiches, allowed the embroiderers to tweak out multifarious hues from the interplay of colours. This is an exceedingly intricate task to achieve, and craftsmen of textile industry in Gujarat are quite expert in doing so.
The chainstich quilts, coverlets and bed hangings of Gujarat were among India’s top-notch exports to Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. They built a name for the textile industry in Gujarat. The embroiderers of Gujarat were much sought after for their ornate embellishment. Often, the dye-patterned and embroidered versions of the exported room furnishings to Europe were strikingly alike in design to mislead the English buyers mistaking them as ‘worked chintz’ and not embroidered pieces.
By quirk of fate, very little is known of the professional Guajarati workshops that produced chainstich embroideries for export to Europe. 17th century European travellers mention that Khambat and Patan produced the finest qualities of chainstich work. The East India Company founded in 1600 in England found it lucrative trade merchandise produced by textile industry in Gujarat.
Presently the incognito villages of Dhordo, Kran, Vayor, Guneri, Dholavira and Sumrasar remain effulgent with the dexterity of Kutchi women in embroidery of 18 types. Some of the noted embroidery types are Mutwa, Jat, Sodha-Rajput, Rabari and Neran.