Ahmedabad part 1: Calico, Bhandej, NID

From Jaipur I took a train to Ahmedabad. Still not quite used to the train booking system, I had left it too late and got probably the most inconvenient train which arrived at 2am. Two of our host students very kindly agreed to meet me, and it was a good job they had as I was in a deep sleep when they came on the train to wake me up, otherwise I’d have ended up in Mumbai! (I actually later realised the train had arrived earlier than its scheduled time, and stayed in Ahmedabad station longer).

My first trip was to the renowned Calico Museum of Textiles founded by mill owners the Sarabhai family and set in their impressive heritage residences and gardens in north Ahmedabad, on the eastern side of the Sabarmati river. The museum runs on a tour-only basis, and has the strict timings of 10.30 – 12.30. Numbers are limited and many visitors have been disappointed when being turned away for not having booked and the numbers have exceeded the limit. I joined the tour, but was lucky to spend the afternoon in the Museum, studying some block prints, wooden blocks and books in the museum library. Indian embroidery expert, Anne Morrell who I’ve been lucky to get advice and support from during my research, is a consultant at the Calico and facilitated this study visit for me.

Another day with the group we visited Bhandej – a high end brand producing clothes and luxury goods incorporating high quality craft skills from around India. We visited the shop and then the factory to see and learn the production process. They mainly produce for their Indian shops and only a small percentage of their sales is for export. The factory was similar to the Anokhi factory but on a smaller scale – despite being in a cramped part of town, their workspaces were spacious, light and airy.

Another day I took a visit to the prestigious institute NID (National Institute of Design). During my last visit I was shown around NID by a student who I’d met while at Kala Raksha. She was doing her internship which all textiles students do as part of the four year course. Nidhi was working with some suf embroiderers in Sumrasar, and producing some embroidery designs for a high end fashion designer in Delhi. In the book NID publish of all the graduate’s work each year, I found Nidhi’s profile and images of her final collection.
I also had the privilege of meeting Aditi Ranjan, a long standing member of the textiles faculty and co-editor of a beautiful newly published book ‘ The Crafts of India’, a huge encyclopedia illustrating and describing the vast variety of crafts in every state of India. I was struck by Aditi’s warm and friendly nature, and willingness to take time to chat to me. Her husband and co-editor runs a blog –http://design-for-india.blogspot.com/. He also works on the faculty at NID and is a specialist in bamboo.
I also got the chance to meet the famous Errol Pires who I had heard so much about from Anne Morrell. I know why now too. He invited me into his office where I was overwhelmed with the array of amazing and exciting display of colourful objects. I sat down and he told me his story of learning and experimenting with the art of ply split braiding – a technique similar to plaiting but instead of simply plaiting, the fibres of each chord are split to make the structure stronger. He learnt the technique from a camel herder in the desert near Jaiselmer who uses the technique to make camel belts. On the left is a picture of a traditional camel belt which are now rarely made because of the length of time it takes to make them and so replaced by cheap alternatives.
Errol experiments with all sorts of variation using this technique and has created quirky objects, structural art pieces, object holders, bags and even garments.
What is even more inspiring is that he doesn’t wish to sell his work and would prefer to hold it all in a collection to be used for exhibitions and for people to see and learn from and know where they all came from.





In the evenings we spent a lot of time at the Law gardens market, shopping for ‘Kutchi’ textiles. Some seemed genuine, most just cheap rip offs but we all found a good selection of useless things and had a lot of fun haggling!

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