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Women artisans keep crewel embroidery craft alive

Post by on Sunday, December 5, 2021

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The narrow lanes of Khanyar in Srinagar ushers to a small room filled with wool, rolls of fabrics and the smell of kerosene. On the other side of the room, women of different age groups are seen working on the yellowish white fabric, locally known as Dusout.
These women do crewel embroidery, chain stitching with a special hooked needle locally called Ari, on the impressions made on the fabric and craft colorful crewel pieces of bags, cushion covers, curtains, bed sheets etc.  
The women of the old city in Srinagar are not only good homemakers but also proved to be good craftspeople and have played a vital role in looping the stitches stronger.
Many artisans have kept the rich ancient crafts of Kashmir alive; most of them are women who earn with the traditional embroidery styles which are intricate and demand highly intensive labor.
In her late 50s, Farida from Khanyar, is one of the senior artisans of the manufacturing unit. She has been associated with art since her childhood. Owing to her years of practice, she holds the needle between her fingers and in no time, she makes an intricate flower design. Having trained from many government skills development centers, she now runs her own business unit.
She said that many women and young girls come to her to learn about the crafts. “They complete a huge amount of work in a week and come to ask for more work. This is a good source of earning money,” she said.
Farida’s sister who lives in Rajbagh and many of her female relatives are also associated with the art through her.
She said, “Earlier such skills were important to learn for the girls of every household unlike today so that women can earn some amount while being at home. I am benefited by the crafts that I have learnt and today I can take the responsibilities of my family on my shoulders. I am not dependent on anyone.”
During lockdown and covid restrictions, her work was going smoothly. “Even during lockdowns, we didn’t face any losses in business. We were paid on time. We took all the work to our homes and did it easily,” she said.
Another artisan, Dilshada’s weakness drove her to take up the art. Earlier she used to spin yarn on the traditional spinning wheel. With time, her eye-sight got weak and she had to stop spinning.
“I had some financial problems at home. I wanted to work but couldn’t due to my ailing health. Then I took the crewel embroidery as the thick yarn didn’t strain my eyes and I started working again,” she said.
She further added that being at her home, she found a good source of employment. “You can take care of your family and simultaneously you don’t need to go out. Your mind remains occupied with good things. I never sit idle but I am always with this. I have years of experience and if I do it with my eyes closed, I will still be able to make good designs,” she said.
Ruksana from Nowhatta knows many types of embroidery like crewel, sozni and zardosi. Apart from learning in training centers, she has taken help from YouTube in learning about the embroideries that are not yet common in Kashmir. Despite not getting education herself, she works for the better future of her younger siblings.
“I couldn’t get an education because of poor financial conditions at home. I thought if I couldn’t be educated, at least I can be skillful. I started with crewel embroidery and gradually learnt many embroideries. Currently I am doing work for a number of people who pay me well,” she said.
The firm Hagroo Crewel Arts is one of the oldest manufacturers in the old city, functioning for more than 45 years. Set up by Ghulam Ahmad Hagroo, who is an artisan, he taught the skill to other artisans including his grandson, Umar Hagroo who is now managing the ancestral business.
In his manufacturing unit, mostly women artisans from Khanyar and other adjoining areas work. “Some of them are skilled while those who don’t know about the art are taught here by us. Some work directly with us while some artisans have their own little business units. They take work in bulk and hire their workers to work for them,” Umer said.   
He said that women of all age groups, educated or uneducated are associated with them. “Today women put a lot of effort into earning money. Our customers from my grandfather’s time are still associated with us. Some even get their daughters to work with us,” she said.
Saadat, daughter of one of the artisans, has been working in the Hagroo Manufacturing Unit for 5 years. While preparing for her 12th class examination, she manages to work as well. Years ago, little Saadat was bought in the manufacturing unit by her mother with the intention to get a meager job.
Because of her health issues and having no knowledge about the crafts, her mother thought she would be good for cleaning jobs in the unit. Instead, Umer introduced her to the stitching of the crewel products.
“Initially she would not talk to anyone but we taught her stitching crewel bags and other things and she gradually learnt. With time, she started gaining confidence and now she tells me what to do and what not,” said Umer.
While talking to Saadat, she said that she had lost her maternal grandmother years ago which caused her depression. “I was very close to my granny. She suddenly died of a heart attack and I couldn’t cope with her death. I went into depression and started losing interest in everything. I refused to talk to everyone.  Then my mother bought me here and I saw many women working,” she said. 
All the women of the unit were kind to her and some would remind her of her grandmother. “Gradually I came out of the depression and I started taking interest in my work. I learnt many things here and also I started my treatment with the money I earned here,” she said.
Saadat lives with her parents and a younger sister who is also studying. She aspires to pursue further studies and know about other crafts as well.
The process of making crewel art pieces starts with the fabric which is made with pure cotton. The different impressions are traced on the fabric with the help of kerosene. Then the fabric is taken back to the manufacturing units where artisans work. The plain yarn comes from Rajasthan. Different shades of colors are used to dye the yarn. The dying is done by traditional dyers of the old city. The colorful yarn is then suitable to make colorful patterns with a special needle called Ari.
After the embroidery is done by artisans, the fabric goes for washing and comes back to the manufacturing unit. Then it's cut and stitched into bags, bed sheets etc. For crewel handbags, willow rings are used which serves the purpose of handles in the handbags. Large number of people are associated with the making of fine art pieces of crewel which finds its relevance in Kashmir and outside as well.
It’s considered a must have in every bride’s trousseau. The crewel curtains, cushion covers offer a rich look to the interior of houses.  The hand-carved crewel embroidery bags are also popular in contemporary times.

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