Oregon State University
Skip navigation

GD India study abroad

design, tradition, survival, inspiration

Kala Raksha

October 5th, 2011


One of the unique aspects of India is the persistence of a broad spectrum of distinct cohesive rural cultures. These cultures can be quickly marked by material culture: dress and traditional arts and crafts. The unique aspect, more than the dress and crafts themselves, is the fact that such expressions emanate from a shared understanding of the world, a shared identity, and an environment in which art and design is integrated into daily life. Further, the arts are the product of traditional learning systems, which differ from those of formal learning with which we are familiar. With accelerated urbanization and globalization, such rural lifestyles are today endangered. Yet, we can gain from them while they are still intact.

Kutch is one of the richest regions for textiles in India. World renowned extra weft wool weaving, intricate natural dyed hand block printed ajrakh, the finest bandhani (shibori), distinctive batik, and a dazzling range of mirrored embroideries and appliqué are all practiced in this small, historic desert land, circumscribed by the great salt marsh Rann of Kutch and the Arabian Sea.

In addition to textiles, Kutch is also home to wood, leather, pottery, and metal crafts. The pristine sea coast is home to legendary hand building of wooden dhows that sail to Africa and the Middle East.  Migratory birds of many species winter in the region. And one of the most important Indus Valley sites, Dholavira, is located in Kutch, making this an ideal land for additional sightseeing.



Kala Raksha, a registered Society and Trust (NGO) based in Sumrasar Sheikh village in Kutch, has worked with many artisans of the region since 1993. With a mission to preserve and protect traditional arts, Kala Raksha’s strengths are a deep understanding of culture and arts, and its focus on the artisan. Kala Raksha’s work includes income generation, preventive health care, micro-credit, design education for artisans, and teaching about rural traditions.

Kala Raksha established Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya (KRV), the world’s first design school for traditional artisans, in 2005. KRV has developed a new approach to design education based on existing traditions. Its Advisory Board comprises master artisans of Kutch, and the faculty includes both local and international teachers. KRV’s effectiveness is in the relevance of the education provided. Approaching education through a vital subject, the institute enables direct access to higher education and ultimately raises the capacity of artisans and the value of traditional arts. KRV graduates have increased their market reach and incomes through good design. They have been honoured with awards for excellence and invitations to participate in international programs.

The impact of design education on artisans has been recognized internationally as well as locally. In 2009, the Sir Misha Black Medal for Distinguished Service to Design Education was awarded to Project Director Judy Frater for the establishment of Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya. The medal, likened to the Nobel Prize for Design Education, is awarded through an association of UK bodies, including the Royal College of Art. In 2011, Ms. Frater also received the Crafts Council of India Sanman Award.

The Vidhyalaya does not levy fees from women artisan participants, and takes a token fee from the male artisan students.  Because KRV does not have an endowment, funds must be raised on a continual basis.

The Vidhyalaya campus rests on eight acres of land near Tunda Vandh, in Mundra Taluka, Kutch. The campus includes a guest house with four double rooms, a large courtyard, classroom, office and computer lab.  Studios for weaving, block printing and dyeing are constructed in traditional style with stone and lime mortar, and antique wood and stone elements. These structures have revived languishing eco-friendly techniques while contributing to the beautiful, inviting atmosphere of the rural campus.



Kutch weaving is practiced on a 4 treadle, fly shuttle pit loom.  The specialty of the tradition is hand insertion of ornamental extra wefts, almost like embroidering.  Traditional dhabla/ blankets which used interlocking or tapestry wefts were made with a hand thrown shuttle.

Block Printing
Kutch block printing is largely done with resist, so that the pattern is light on dark.  Substances including gum Arabic and lime, or mud and millet flour are printed on the fabric with wooden blocks.  When the fabric is immersed in the dye bath, the colour cannot penetrate the printed areas.  Typical patterns are complex, using two or three blocks to create the motifs.  The most traditional fabric, Ajrakh, is printed separately on the back and front. Thus, registration is a critical skill.

Batik in Kutch is a particular form of resist printing.  The wax is applied with wooden blocks.  Again, the patterns are light on dark.  But the technique of printing is specifically swift because the wax must be applied while it is hot.

Bandhani, or shibori, is a tie dyed resist.  The fabric is folded for double thickness, printed with a basic pattern, and tied with fine cotton string in knots along the patterns. When the fabric is immersed in dye, the dye cannot penetrate the knots and a dotted pattern results.  The technique requires manual dexterity.

Natural Dyeing
Traditional Kutch textiles were dyed with natural substances, including indigo, iron acetate, madder and
pomegranate rinds.  Natural dyes on cotton fabrics
require mordants, so the process is multi stepped
and based on an understanding of chemistry.

Many styles of embroidery are practiced in Kutch.  All employ intricate stitching techniques, and setting
mirrors. Rabari work is renowned for its prolific use of mirrors of a variety of shapes, and its wide repertoire of stitches.  Suf is worked from the reverse of the fabric in surface satin stitch counted on the warp and weft. Garasia Jat embroidery is a cross stitch variation, also counted on the warp and weft using minute mirrors.  Pako uses nearly the same techniques as Rabari work, but is denser with predominantly floral motifs.

Patchwork and Appliqué
Patchwork creates a fabric by stitching together squares and triangles of cloth.  Appliqué creates patterns by stitching pieces of cloth upon the fabric.  Both techniques are relatively easy to learn and can be used to make larger, utilitarian products.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email