Kutchi Fabric Travel

by Yaska Sahara

Kutch is incredibly beautiful! For my newer readers who don’t know me, it is my ancestral homeland. It is a district of Gujarat (West India). It is considered to be different to the rest of the state due to historical desert isolation and thus has a very unique culture, language, and arts. Kutch is also home to lovely famous street food dish Dabeli!

If you’d like to read a bit about my regular trips to empty beaches there, check out this post!

Kutchi fabric is particularly famous in India and also increasingly worldwide! I encourage readers to do research on Indian fabrics and their amazing, diverse textile and needlework culture! I will definitely write more as I become more informed as I am by no means an expert. Nevertheless, I am passionate so in this post, I’ll be discussing some types of fabric in and from Kutch as well as numerous places I visited in a quest for beautiful fabric!

Back in February, I took a trip to Kutch with some family who had to run some errands. Our family friend came with us, he’s so close I consider him an uncle. He and I had a free day to ourselves while the errands were done. I asked my uncle what he wanted to do, seeing as he’d never been to Kutch. I expected some Bhuj (Kutch’s main city) tourist spots, but instead I was enthusiastically met with the names of villages that were renowned for their beautiful fabric. Upon discussing with other people, namely some fashion students, they told me they too had heard of or even been to these villages for research. 

So after some lovely street food breakfast in Bhuj, a friend of the family set us up with a driver. Our first stop was Bhujodi, a mere half an hour drive from Bhuj. Here is a description from Gujarat tourism:

‘A small town, located 8km southeast of Bhuj, Bhujodi is one of the major textile and craft hubs of the region, and a veritable draw for the traveller. A large part of the Vankar community resides here. These are specialists in weaving, tie and dye and other craft forms that make the backbone of Kutch’s handicraft scene. There are specific craft and arts centers around Bhujodi, but even if you go into any house, you can be assured that the family will be involved in some kind of handicraft. The Ashapura Crafts Park, Shrujan and Hiralaxmi Craft Park lie in this region.’

We went on a Monday, so unfortunately a fair amount was closed. However, we did encounter some very nice stalls and we found one in particular with beautiful quality saals, dupattas, sarees and more. This particular store was actually a supplier for Fabindia, a very famous Indian wear brand! I find it so interesting to understand the supply chain and how this man in a village that may seem so small and insignificant, actually had a very key role in a large fashion brand. 

My uncle and I spent a good while there browsing through items, feeling the fabric and examining designs while Vinay, the shopkeeper, helped us and his nephew played in the corner. If you’ve been fabric or saree shopping in India especially, you will know it becomes a beautiful sea of fabrics scattering the whole store. I applaud these men who manage to get one folded item out of a large pile so seamlessly and who then arrange and fold all the mess customers create like it’s nothing!

We spent so long looking that I ended up needing the loo. I asked Vinay if I could use his toilet. He led me to another building about 10 metres from his shop. On the short walk, we saw a long line of fabric weaving going on between two lamp posts. We passed the gate of the building and I realised it was his workshop. We saw other members of his family, of varying genders and ages, weaving and washing fabric. They were all very friendly. I was so stunned, I had just been expecting a small squat toilet in an outhouse when he led me out of the store. The toilet was a squat one but I didn’t expect it to be attached to an incredible workshop!

After leaving his shop, I also bought a kurti in a small shop with pretty embroidery on it! They call it a ‘top-frock’ due to its cut! 

We actually ended up visiting Vinay again on our way back because we loved it just that much, returning to show the family who hadn’t come with us the day before. 

The fabric we bought in Bhujodi was mostly cotton and silk-esque fabrics, dyed often with Indigo, a very famous and high quality dye in the region! Much of the patterns were embroidery and weaving, as well as what is called Bandhani (Wiki here), which is a tie-dye technique where small parts of the fabric are tied and arranged in different manners. 

I also have a lot of tie-dye dupattas from Mandvi, a Kutchi beach town and other parts of Kutch! Sometimes when you go and buy them you have the pleasure of opening up the fabric and releasing all the tied up bits, kind of like bubble wrap! These garments make great gifts and I often use them as scarfs or accessories even when dressing in a more western style!

We decided to move on to a different type of fabric, but not before quickly asking our driver where we could get a nice glass of fresh juice before continuing our shopping. He told us that fortunately there was a famous place on the way to the next spot, Bhudia juice! So I indulged in dragon fruit, mango and guava juice! 

Our next stop was Ajrakhpur, very close to Bhujodi! Ajrakh is a traditional block printing technique, which the village is named after! There is a textile museum there which I plan to go to again, but Monday had it closed. 

Our first stop was empty when we entered, but then we saw a young girl in a homemade dress. She scurried to get her mother and grandmother, who then showed us various fabric, talking to us about the different types of garments and where they often deliver them to as suppliers. The young girl was so curious about the big city visitors and was very sweet and sincere in helping for things to be sold. 

I saw a beautiful saree and fell in love with it (pictured above). But as a fashion obsessed student, I try not to spend too much money on garments, especially ones I’d rarely wear. One of my 2021 goals is to declutter my wardrobe and have a record of everything I own. Since my gap year, my clothes have never all been in one place so I often buy repeats, have things that go unworn even if I like them etc etc. I plan to write about decluttering and being fashionable while travelling with only a small rucksack or suitcase, keep an eye out for that!

Anyway, we bought some fabrics. I bought some with the intention of making suits with it in Ahmedabad. I said “If I have to go cooperate, at least I won’t be boring”. I elected not to buy the saree, at least for now. Tip: Wait a few hours or days and if you’re still thinking about it, go back. After one or two other shops, we went back to get the saree! 

Similar to Bhujodi, Ajrakhpur has such beautiful fabric, but on the surface you wouldn’t be able to tell its fame or prestige. 

It was extremely amazing to see the beauty in these villages; the fabric making, the families in the shops and the passion for textiles. I noticed that in the same way getting Indian textiles in Europe can be exorbitant, I noticed here that the prices would have been far higher in Ahmedabad or Mumbai, for example. Economically I knew this of course, but to feel the fabrics and see their prices was another matter. Getting things straight from the supplier showed incredible quality at very good prices. So wherever you go and whoever you may be, if you have a passion for creativity, art, fashion or textile, I implore you to go to the source and see the beauty. As well as get some great bargains!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my first post on fashion! I have another coming up discussing my experience of a fashion design graduate turning her final project into a small start-up (Read here when out).

Let me know your thoughts and others topics you’d enjoy! I have a great love for fashion. One may notice this scrolling through my Instagram or through knowing me personally. But beyond the surface aspects such as enjoying colours, mixing patterns and expressing myself, I love learning about all aspects; the cultural impacts of fashion, historical garments worldwide, costume design and symbolism in TV and film, the history and nuance of haute couture, fashion journalism and other aspects of the industry are things I regularly nerd out about. I even had an Instagram fashion account but I lost it when changing phones and couldn’t recover it. 

I plan to start writing about fashion in each place I visit, a sort of travel series somewhat like my ‘Kindness in…’ series. How my style changes, perhaps to adapt to the locals, how I then take on some new things into my personal style, how my perspectives change…

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