Meet the Neighbours

Not so much as a “good morning”……









Never approach an unattended tree…. you don’t know what’s behind it..IMG_0256


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Dastkar Market: Arifa Jan



I did some reading about Dastkar, and found this success story about one of the artisans who has exhibited with them.


Arifa Jan: A Kashmiri Namda Story

Every craftperson’s story is unique. Arifa Jan is a young Kashmiri woman whose craft journey took an unusual route as she is not from a craft family practicing the traditional Kashmiri craft she is now helping to revive. Arifa developed a passion for namda felt rug making through an educational program. Her story illustrates one of the approaches, entrepreneurship, that can ensure the survival of ancient craft techniques and skills through innovation, true empathy for the craftsperson and sound ethical business practices.

Unlike other girls her age, Arifa knew early on that she would not follow the conventional path of immediate marriage following the end of her studies. She says “I always wanted to do business. When I was in high school I had made up my mind and so I graduated in commerce.” She dreamed of being a successful entrepreneur. So when the Crafts Development Institute (CDI) opened in Srinagar she saw an opportunity and was one of the few girls to take up the challenge and join, successfully graduating in Craft Management & Entrepreneurship. The diploma project she chose was on the declining tradition of felted namda, as she wanted to work in languishing crafts. “It was my heartiest wish to help the artisans to improve their standard of living” she says.

Namda is a traditional carpet made out of wool and Arifa wanted to explore ways of innovating in this traditional craft and aligning it to the contemporary market. She explored different production techniques and traditional namda designs. Making these felted rugs is a long and laborious process, involving carding the wool, spreading it on a grass mat and compressing it manually. The work is back-breaking. Embroidering on the felt is also no easy task.

During her research Arifa discovered that exports of namdas had dropped an incredible 98% in just a decade due to a decline in quality directly resulting from the poor wages earned by artisans. “The artisans were then mixing cotton with local wool,” she says. “This made the namdas less durable. They also used local dyes, leading to colour bleed.”

Arifa decided to apply her skills and knowledge to try to rectify the situation, restore quality, but also to introduce innovations to increase namda marketability. She used 100-percent merino wool, chose less harmful azo-free dyes that do not bleed and opted for quality thread for the embroidery.
She also revived patterned namdas, a craft almost forgotten in Kashmir, where the designs are cut out of the felt and contrasted felt elements are incorporated into the base layer.

Then it was time to test the market and she was chosen to participate in the Dastkar Nature Bazaar of 2010, in Delhi. “It was a sellout,” she says. “I had taken 60 namdas with me, and I sold them all. The response was so good!”
Exposure at the Dastkar Bazaar also brought Arifa to the attention of influential actors within the craft sector, who recognized her talent and drive and invested further in her, both personally and through another Dastkar affiliated project – the Commitment to Kashmir fund for which Arifa went on to qualify as a grantee.

Essential to her approach was a concern to increase craftsmen’s wages. Without these artisans, she knew the craft would soon die. The first thing she did following her success at Dastkar Nature Bazaar was to double the wages of her artisans. “If we earn, why can’t we share our profits with the artisans?” she asks. “I have seen how hard they work and how little they are paid. They should get paid well. Only then will the craft survive.”

Arifa’s goal now is to set up a women-only cooperative with artisans as shareholders so that everyone benefits from the revival of this dying craft and where the profits will go back to the group. For now she employs 18 workers, including 7 women, and pays them three times the amount they usually get. Her company, Incredible Kashmiri Crafts, has helped craftspersons of a dying art earn a sustainable livelihood.

Arifa’s parents were illiterate and her father fearful of the reaction of their conservative community to a woman running her own business. But Arifa had a dream, one that included the upliftment of others; and her drive, determination, compassion and entrepreneurial spirit today make her an inspiration to other young craftspeople. And she credits her father for having always supported her despite his early misgivings.

Arifa has been selected by the Indian Government for an International Craft Exhibition in Italy, and her work has been much appreciated by customers at the various handicraft events she has attended as well as the Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir. She has attended workshops, collaborated with established designers like Priya Ravish Mehra and even visited Kyrgyzstan to learn about Central Asian felt making traditions under the auspices of the Delhi Craft Council.

Today, Arifa feels that mindsets have changed and says “There is still time before I get married. Even the thinking of boys has changed. Now, I can think of becoming someone, before becoming someone’s wife.”

Copyright © 2014 – All Rights Reserved Dastkar

The link to the Incredible-Kasmiri-Crafts website:


All content © 2007-2018 Elizabeth Woods. All rights reserved. You may not take or copy any images or content from this site without written permission.

Dastkar Bazaar

On my way back from Amber Fort, I noticed signs for Dastkar Bazaar by an imposing entrance set back from the main road, which didn’t look like a hive of tourist market stalls; in fact, outward appearances suggested otherwise, so I ventured in to have a look.

The site is extremely pleasant to be in, well laid out, with an abundance of greenery and trees offering cool shade from a blistering sun. Avenues of shops surround the outer walks, making it easy to view each shop, the names of the artisans, and shops opposite. It is easy to look at the wares on sale, and speak with the individual craftworkers in peace. The standard of work is very high.

Dastkar, a private not-for-profit NGO, has set up The Dastkar Bazaar in the city with the aim of bringing together crafts and craftspeople from all over the country. Planned along the lines of the similar market in Delhi’s Andheria Modh, the bazaar will not only give local Rajasthani craftsmen an opportunity to showcase their work, but also bring arts and crafts from far corners of the country to Jaipur. There will be tribal jewellery from Ladakh, pottery and furniture from Uttar Pradesh, glasswork from Delhi, Maheshwari weaves from Madhya Pradesh,Kolhapuri footwear from Maharashtra, silk fabrics from Bihar, Kalighat paintings from West Bengal, filigree work from Odisha, leather products from Andhra Pradesh and more.

While some select artisans will be setting up a permanent shop at the bazaar, the overall theme and participants are expected to change every 3 weeks to bring people something new every time. Weekends at The Dastkar Bazaar promise to be even better with live craft demonstrations (watch out for the gourd lantern carving!), workshops and cultural performances. There will also be a food court for when you want to take a break from all the shopping!”   Quote from Dastkar









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Amber Fort

IMG_0202On Saturday I set out to visit the Anokhi Museum in Amber. When we arrived there was a notice up saying it was closed, to my surprise. Later, I found out it was because sadly, the owner had suddenly died the day before, and the Anokhi shop in Jaipur was closed as well.

Amber is a lovely town, so instead  I decided to make a visit to Amber Fort.

Amber Fort Jaipur

I did not know much about it, so l would definitely like to go again, as there was not really time to explore all of it. I did manage to take some photos of the stunning architecture though. Wonderfully inspiring colours and textures.



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One very overcome dog – it was blisteringly hot.




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Bagru – my first visit and workshop

Off to Bagru to one of Jai Texart’s units for my first block-printing workshop. The journey there by car is an experience in itself, travelling on a variety of types of roads, surrounded by permanently honking horns and crazy traffic weaving in and out randomly. We eventually drive through part of the town  and into the large unit where we are shown around the premises before anything else happens.

Before any printing, we are shown how natural dyes are made, both animal and vegetable, and the fabrics they are used on – animal and plant-based. We will be using a plant-based fibre (cotton) with plant-based dyes. The room we are sitting in is enough to bring out the alchemist in anyone interested in natural dyes, as I am. Shelves full of many rows of glass jars, all containing mysterious looking  ingredients – I could almost imagine Bunsen burners and bubbling jars full of brightly coloured liquids on the table.

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Hemant explained that there were three centres in Rajasthan where they use natural dyes, they being one of them , the others in Kutchi, Guijrat, and Kalahasti. He explained how each colour is produced and from which plants. Before 1890, all natural dyes were used in producing coloured fabrics, then synthetic dyes were introduced. With synthetic dyes you can mix colours e.g yellow and blue to give another colour, with natural dyes you cannot. Each one has its’ own properties The extractions are from nature, and some plants have almost disappeared, partly climate change, sometimes for political reasons, and they become increasingly expensive. So as the options are reducing, new dyes need to be discovered.

He explained how indigo blue is made, from leaves on the bushes, also yellows, reds, brown and black – the colours we would be using. First, our cotton was to be treated with a mordant, which if not used, meant the fibres would not catch the dye. We were to use Harda powder, a yellow powder made from the Harda fruit. Red from Alizarin (plus alum), from the tree Malarya – the root is most productive, but the leaves and branches can be used too. Yellow, from Pomegranate rind, Turmeric, Adusa, Red Kashish, Harda flowers, Harsinger, and Arjun-Chal. Black, believe it or not, from horseshoes. When these are constantly hit when being changed, it purifies the metal, and black is obtained from the iron. So – if anyone has any spare horseshoes, send them to Jai Texart, as they are in short supply!

Henna, if boiled in copper gives a good reddish – black. Finally, the fabric colours need to be fast, so Alum is used to this end after printing and the preparation processes. We learned about tree-gum, jaggery (sugar juice cake), guar-gum, lac and other wonderful sounding ingredients. Not only that, most of the plants also have healing medicinal properties, so the dyes on the skin can actually be quite good for it in some cases.

So off to steep our cotton in mordant and get it dried before printing. The treated fabrics are  laid out in the hot sun to dry.











Next, we went into the shed where thousands of carved wood blocks are stored to choose which ones we wanted to use.

IMG_0112Into the printing unit, where our dried fabrics are pinned out tautly on the tables to ensure they don’t move while we print.


Lines and corners are marked with a rule and tailors’ chalkIMG_0121

Then we start our printing, and are shown how to go round corners.IMG_0120







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A lot of mistakes, but finished, and can now be treated again and washed. First, our fabrics must be dried again in the sun.


The end of a long, very hot, informative fun day – worth every minute, and I am left even more with a sense of how very much there is to learn and practice.











All content © 2007-2018 Elizabeth Woods. All rights reserved. You may not take or copy any images or content from this site without written permission.

Jai Texart – hand-block printers

I went to the main office in Chandpol Bazar in Jaipur to meet Hemant Sethia. He runs Jai Texart with his father and brother, and it is a first-generation operation; a business with a commercial side and links abroad with South Africa, United States, Japan and the UK. The work they do is hands-on craft as a commercial selling business, they are the designers and do all the production to the final item. Mostly the fabrics are used for fashion, and there is one daughter who is studying to be a fashion designer.

They were founded in 2001 and have grown to be a multi-core company that has played a key role in reviving the craft of hand-block printing and its domestic demand. Their aim is to achieve recognition for being committed to the craft. They believe that the ancient craft of hand-block printing can be of commercial use and maintain it’s true historic position if the product is developed, produced and marketed with the right professional skills covering textile and fashion designing.

They started out using existing printing facilities in Bagru and Sangener, and now have their own units – two in Bagru and one in Sangener. They have also increased their numbers of hand-block printers who strive to maintain a high quality of printing and carry the “craftmark” certification for genuine handcrafted products made in India.

Their manufacturing approach is simple and unique – the craft workers concentrate on the craft only. Other aspects of the business are taken care of by experts in their respective fields. The firm also continuously studies methods of hand-block printing adopted in other parts of the world, they make modifications to suit the climate and quality of water in Bagru, and they mix the different techniques and methods of surface decoration. Rajasthan has suitable weather conditions for the processes they use – dry, a great deal of sun and little humidity. One key aspect of Jai Texart is that they only use natural dyes- plant-based fibres with plant-based dyes. Hemant stated that in the Western world, they are only interested in the fastness of colours, so these conditions enhance this.

I asked Hemant about the people they employed – were they all local families? He said that the socio-economic conditions were hard, so they had some full-time, and some fluctuating employment. Moreover, production could not happen in the rainy season or winter. The printing, washing and drying processes were all dependent on one factor – the sun. Some of their employees are local skilled craftsmen, and some not skilled in the craft – they train people who normally do agriculture.

He then said something that really interested me, that they were setting up a new school, hopefully this summer, which will be called the School of Handcrafted Textiles, which will also incorporate a Research centre for Natural Dyes. He wants this new school promoted, and its focus will be block-printing, natural dyes, and to make people employable.

The reason for this is that many people are poor, they may get a degree or other qualification, but they are unemployable because they have no knowledge of the industry. Jai Texart want to change this and wants to train them in the skills and make them employable. I wish them well and will watch with interest.


Quality control – where all the lengths of fabric are checked for flaws and errors, which can then be corrected.








Storage shelves of many thousands of wooden blocks for printingIMG_0115

Washing the fabrics



















All content © 2007-2018 Elizabeth Woods. All rights reserved. You may not take or copy any images or content from this site without written permission.

Bits and pieces – moments in time

As I walk around locally to where I am staying, I see little aspects of everyday things which I will add to this post. They all reflect the rich tapestry of life.

IMG_0072A local shop, where they have tried to teach me a few Hindu words, to great hilarity!


A little centre round the corner where the ladies do ironing for customers.



In this building being constructed, these lengths of wood are supporting the floor above, the equivalent of Acroprops in the UK. Interestingly, they increase in number and complexity of arrangement as each floor goes upwards – one lonely pole on the ground floor?











I bumped into this fellow walking back, and stayed well clear until he appeared to lose interest!




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A short visit to Jaipur

I made a short visit to Jaipur to meet Hemant Sethia in his office – he is one of the Directors of JaiTexart, which has a large commercial outlet in hand block-printed fabrics, which are done only with natural dyes. Later in the week I will be going to my first hand-block printing workshop in their premises in Bagru. More about that later.

After our meeting, I went for a walk in Chandpol Bazar where the office is. Absolutely fascinating. Walking through and past ordinary people going about their daily lives, far away from the tourist attractions. Crazy, crazy motor -cycles everywhere you look, horns beeping absolutely non-stop. Cars criss-crossing the paths of others, hands on horns, many drivers with a mobile phone to their ears, largely ignoring any signals or pedestrians. You step out onto a bit of road with the utmost caution. Shops of every description, street traders, shoe-menders, and I have never seen so many chillies in my life. Piles of beautiful red pungent fruits spilling out of sacks, and the smell makes you sneeze.

The next hazards to be negotiated were a proliferation of rickshaws and hovering taxi-drivers when I reached the roundabout I had been heading for; it was time to leave. But I will go back to explore vibrant Jaipur. It leaves indelible flavours of colour, motion and scents in your mind.




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All content © 2007-2018 Elizabeth Woods. All rights reserved. You may not take or copy any images or content from this site without written permission.

Block-printing at ArtInn, Jaipur

Wonderful block-printing at ArtInn…………………

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One of the special attributes of ArtInn, Jaipur is that it has its’ own studio attached to the house. There is a resident Master Craftsman named Rakesh, who comes in daily to do block-printing in the Workshop. Devena Singh, the owner, does the designs, and Rakesh prints them: the textiles may become shawls, tablecloths, bedspreads, pillowcases, curtains or fabric which can be made up into garments like dresses and shirts. Workshops are also offered which have proved a very useful addition to the centre. Artists in residence and other guests can learn how to do the printing, and practise if they already have some skill.

Rakesh has kindly let me watch him printing since I have been here, and it is absolutely fascinating seeing block-printing done by an expert first-hand.

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All day, as Rakesh is printing, there is a gentle regular thud, thud, as he hits the block each time – like the heartbeat of the house.



All content © 2007-2018 Elizabeth Woods. All rights reserved. You may not take or copy any images or content from this site without written permission.