Wednesday, March 2, 2011

a movement...a thought....a cloth..

A little trivia to start with – what is the official Indian tri-colour made off? I asked around and got quite a few wrong answers!! (hmmm…maybe a tad little more than few!! ;)) Not many knew that the Indian flag must be made of Khadi – blame it on all the plastic flags which are so widely available on the streets come Jan 26th or Aug 15th……

Khadi is not just a cloth, it’s a whole movement – said a wise soul. Mahatma Ghandhi used khadi to kick start the swadeshi movement while trying to bring down the british empire and its mass produced mill cloth.

Khadi over the decades has moved from being a freedom fighter’s identity fabric to a fashion garment. If earlier it was looked upon as a fabric for the farmer and the rural weaver; now Khadi has become a fashion statement. Khadi being handspun and hand woven cannot be mass produced quickly, demand constantly exceeds supply and hence the high rates of Khadi garments. However, there is one piece of khadi cloth that remains affordable and within reach of all…. The Khadi Indian Flag!!

I happened to visit a khadi production centre recently..not just any production centre it’s the ONLY authorized production centre for the Indian National Flag. The Karnataka Khadi Gramodyog Samyukta Sangha in Hubli, Karnataka was established in 1957 to help and guide the khadi instituitions across the state and to provide employment to the locals. Today one unit in this centre is exclusively involved in producing flags all year around. Though major orders come in around Independence Day and Republic day, the unit needs to keep working all year around to be able to fulfill the orders received.

The khadi cloth woven at various centres in north Karnataka is bought and dyed at their dyeing facility. Every batch of dyed cloth needs to be approved by the BIS to ensure that the colours comply with the standards set by the Government. The printing of Chakra is done under specialized machines. The cloth is then stitched into various different sizes of flags at an exclusive stitching centre.

Khadi flag can be bought at all khadi gramodyog sales outlets across all major cities in India. I bought a small table flag (comes with a stand) to adorn my desk…. Go buy yours soon!! J

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Block Impressions...

For an uninformed consumer (which I myself was, till a couple of years back), block printed cloth is just another beautiful piece of cloth. You don’t really think twice about the labours that go into making this beautiful piece of cloth, do you? Block printing as the name suggests is the technique of using a block to print designs on cloth. Sound simple uh? If only everything that sounds simple was actually so, life would be so much more easier! A visit to a block printing unit opened my eyes to the strenuous technique!

It’s a nice sunny morning for a drive and we decided to visit a women's Self Help Group (SHG), supported by the “Belaku Trust”. We head out south, some 100kms from Bangalore and park in front of a quaint village house. But we know its not just an ordinary house - by the rows and rows of“block-printed” cloth hanging on the clothesline on the portico. We enter in to be greeted by more colourful strips of clothes hanging almost everywhere inside the house. We manage to find our way through the clothmaze to the women’s work desk. The house is the workplace for a woman SHG who are trained in the art of block printing and earn their livelihood from it.

The block printing method, though laborious, is actually quite straightforward but calls for extreme precision. The fabric to be printed is first washed to free it of starch. The dried fabric is then stretched over the printing table and secured with pins. Color is mixed separatelyand kept ready. So are the blocks. The blocks are made of teak wood and hand-carved. When printing begins, the color is first evened out in the tray. Then the block is dipped in the outline color. The block is pressed down hard on the fabric, to make a clear impression. Thereafter, other blocks are used to fill in color. Once the fabric is printed, it is dried in the sun. It is then rolled in newspaper to prevent the fabric layers from sticking to each other. The fabric is then steamed. Thereafter, it is washed in water and dried in the sun and ironed. The history of block printing in India dates back to the 12th century and a lot of royal patronage has been given to the art through the centuries. Today the prominent centres of block printing are in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

The women inside the house were meticulously banging the wooden blocks on to the cloth for the design to pass on from the wooden block to the cloth. They were working at a break neck speed to complete an urgent order. Hands were hurting but they had big smiles on their faces. As one of the women put it, the money from the big order will allow her to buy some much needed school supplies for her daughter. I have many block printed clothes – tops, stoles etc.. but had never given a thought to the amount of hard work that goes into making a block printed cloth. Now whenever I see any block printed material I truly appreciate the efforts that have gone into making it!!

At masmara, we use block printed handmade paper for gift wrapping our products.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The women of Khadoli

January 2009 was when we first visited the village of khadoli. Since then we have visited them several times and on each visit been constantly amazed by what the women of Khadoli have achieved.

Here’s their story --

In early 2007, a group of women from the kuruba community (sheep rearing community of north Karnataka) decided they wanted to improve the quality of their life. The women visited some established SHG’s (Self Help Groups) around their area and got inspired.

This group of 35 women approached Shramik Kala (a local organisation involved in promoting craft based sustainable livelihood) who helped them in setting up their SHG’s and also trained them in craft skills. After their training they started working at their village community centre 9am to 5pm. They started making lovely bags from sheep wool.

Regular work started to stream in, but they were unable to work regularly as the community centre was for the whole village and other groups wanted to use it to have prayer meetings, exercise sessions, party meetings etc. Without a proper place to work, they would not be able to earn a regular income from their craft skills. Undeterred, the women decided to tackle the problem head-on. They successfully approached the bank for a loan and also approached their local MLA for help. It was 2008 and state assembly elections were due shortly. The spunky women promised thier vote to him in return for his help. After he won the elections, the women made sure he kept his word!! They also got tremendous support from the men of their community. An old gentleman from the village donated a small piece of land and the women set about building their work centre. These women took turns to do the manual work at the building site and to work on the orders. Here’s a picture of their Work-In-Progress building.

The 2 SHG’s have now moved into their new building. During our recent visit, the confident women showed us new bag designs they had themselves come up with. The new designs were, needless to say, quite impressive! (who needs these specialised urban designers uh!!? ) They proudly tell others in their village that their bags were being used by women in foreign lands!! Having already paid off half of the loan, they are already dreaming of expansion. Amen to that.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

About masmara

Two friends ( who are incidentally married to each other :)) quit their jobs and then travel, chill out, laze around...and soon decide its time they did something more constructive with their time.. They travel some more, meet lots of people, research some ideas and zero in on starting "masmara". Through this blog we (the two friends) wish to capture the experiences we went through thanks to masmara.

masmara, based out of Bangalore, was started with the intention of bringing little known rural crafts to a global audience. Masmara strives to bring before you some beautiful handcrafted products which sustains and promotes good craftsmanship.

All our products are eco-friendly and are aimed to appeal to a wider global audience. Being original handmade selection of products, they are surely a treat for your eyes. Coming in an affordable range of prices, we have several products in our collection which are made of natural fibers like jute, cotton, banana fiber, sheep wool and hibiscus fiber. We also collaborate with NGO’s who promote craft-based sustainable livelihood projects for women.

Check out our website to have a look at our products :)

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