For centuries the weavers of Kutch produced cotton and wool fabrics for nomadic Rabaris and settled Ahirs in a sustainable network of cultural exchange that went beyond commercial providers and clients. Each ethnic community required a unique range of fabrics, with different patterns and colors reflecting age, marital status, and occasion. Kutch weavers reliably understood and responded to their needs. But in the 1960s, industrialized weaving technologies that could quickly and inexpensively produce popular items, shawls in particular, endangered the livelihoods of traditional weavers. Many left the trade, but others chose to adapt.
Artist Pachan Premjibhai Siju has reimagined these modern shawls and works with his family to weave them according to tradition. He begins with natural fibers including cotton, wool (both Merino and local), bamboo, and Tassar and Eri silk. Premjibhai Siju then dyes the yarns, their colors being inspired by the colors and textures of clouds and earth. His mother prepares the warp while his wife and brothers’ wives wind the bobbins for weaving and create finishing elements like tassels. Along with his two brothers, Pachan does the weaving on a four-pedal pit loom with a flying shuttle, inserting extra weave patterns by hand. “These are the places I innovated on our traditional extra weave motifs to tell my stories, which I think about as I weave,” he explains.
Pachan’s stories are about the impact of climate change on the world as a whole, but also on his tradition of weaving. “I have been thinking about climate change… I wanted clients to also think about it. Our original products were sustainable, but today commercial work is often not. I wanted to create work that is contemporary and sustainable,” he says.