Design and Business Education for Handloom Weavers in India

Case studies, Design, Designers, Education/Learning, Entrepreneurship, Business Devt.

Design and Business Education for Handloom Weavers in India: Innovation, Tradition and Entrepreneurship

Clifford, Ruth


Issue #002, Winter, 2019                                                                            ISSN: 2581- 9410


This essay draws upon my PhD research on design and business education for traditional artisans in India, carried out in three periods of fieldwork between 2015 and 2017. The research was shaped around case studies of two institutes started in the last decade that aim to reduce the gap between the artisan and a high-end market, to increase the value of craft amongst the market and the artisans, and to sustain livelihoods: Somaiya Kala Vidya in Kachchh district, Gujarat; and The Handloom School in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh. 

     The research focuses specifically on handloom weavers and addresses the following questions: how does design education fit the local context? who owns traditional and other designs? what is the value of craft from the viewpoint of the artisan-designer as well as that of the market? It also explores how traditional methods of learning to weave compare with learning and applying contemporary design concepts. My understanding of traditional practices was enhanced by undertaking a short apprenticeship in weaving in Bhujodi village, Kachchh. This essay reveals the experiences of the weaver-graduates who have participated in the study, alongside emerging findings and an assessment of the effectiveness of the institutes in achieving their aims. (fig 1)



The handloom industry currently employs over four million people, serving fast-growing luxury markets in India and abroad. Approaches to the industry’s development, however, have been based on a clash of ideals: on the one hand, handloom symbolises a traditional identity, feeding the ‘national and global salience for the local’; on the other, weavers are viewed as ‘outmoded’ and ‘objects of welfare,’ at odds with fast-moving technological advances.

     This conflict has emerged out of a series of historical events in India’s craft and economic history. From the nineteenth century onwards, traditional craft industries experienced decline due to imported and local mechanised imitations flooding domestic markets, centralisation and mechanisation of the ancillary industries such as spinning and cotton cleaning, and the stagnation of agriculture which co-existed with the craft industry. Despite these factors, weaving continued to thrive throughout the twentieth century in many parts of India due to the insight and entrepreneurship of weavers, the suitability of design to handloom as opposed to machine and the fact that the looms needed no electricity – access to which continues to be limited in rural India. The swadeshi movement, spear-headed by Mahatma Gandhi, highlighted the decline of local crafts and campaigned for Indians to make and wear khadi (hand-spun, handwoven cloth) in support of the Nationalists’ fight for Independence. But nationalism was also an impetus to industrial growth, something championed by Jawarharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India after Independence in 1947. The newly-developed mills produced imitations of the coarse, natural khadi in support of Gandhi but were also part of the country’s industrial growth. The dialectic between modernity and tradition in craft was also evident during the period of British rule, revealed in the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the other imperial exhibitions that followed it; new technologies were showcased alongside crafts that epitomised ‘traditional’ India for the British selectors. The colonial art and technical schools which proliferated in India in the mid-nineteenth century were of the same ilk and failed to attract traditional artisans. Those traditional artisans that did join these schools would go on to be employed in mills, while fine art graduates worked as company painters.

     Thus, colonial exhibitions and art and technical schools asserted the Western separation of ‘fine art’ – the realm of the artist – from ‘decorative’ or ‘industrial arts’ – the realm of the crafts person. In India they were all covered by the same terms, kala or shilpa, and considered to be interrelated. The first design institute, the National Institute of Design (NID), opened in 1961 just over a decade after the country’s independence, and aimed to shed any association with the colonial schools and ‘bring design back to India,’. Yet there are several factors that liken NID to the colonial schools, not least that its development was funded by the Ford Foundation, USA, which it has been argued suited America’s Cold War diplomatic policies – an informal imperialism whereby America could frame India in its own image. In addition to this, its founding director was Gautam Sarabhai, a successful mill industrialist, and the governance of the institution was by the Ministry of Commerce (and later the Ministry of Textiles) rather than the Ministry of Education; these factors all suggest that it was part of the Nehru’s modernising agenda. Finally, it was only open to the urban English-speaking middle class. Despite its aim to meet the diverse needs of the whole Indian population, it has been argued that it reinforced social divides, notably by by a former director, Ashok Chatterjee, such as that between the designer who has the creative skills and knowledge of the contemporary market, and the artisan who  simply executes the design. In this scenario the artisan’s status is reduced to that of a labourer, and any traditional and embodied knowledge the artisan possesses is ignored or devalued.

     Adopting different approaches, Somaiya Kala Vidya (SKV) and The Handloom School (THS) both aim to avoid these opposing dualisms. SKV strongly encourages a focus on local traditions which are the artisans’ ‘USP’, and innovating upon these traditions to make them relevant in contemporary markets. THS which invites weavers from all over India via local non-governmental organisations (NGO)s, focuses more closely on nurturing entrepreneurs who will utilise newly-developed business, design and technical knowledge to employ others in their community to create high quality fabrics for luxury markets.


Weaving in Kachchh

The weavers of Kachchh, known as Vankars, are part of the Dalit (lit. ‘oppressed’) Meghwal community. Recent Government statistics report that there are 500 handlooms and 900 weavers across Kachchh, with the greatest concentration in Bhujodi village where there are approximately 250-280 families. The Vankars’ traditional clients were local herding and farming castes with whom they have long-standing relationships bound by the exchange of woven cloth for dairy products and sheeps’ wool. Among the woven products were men’s blankets (dhablo) and turbans (pagri), and women’s veil cloths (ludi) and skirt lengths. The ritual importance attached to the woven products for traditional clients meant that Vankars had a stable market until cheaper alternatives took over. While in the past the Vankars had relied solely on their Rabari, Ahir and Bharwad clients, today clients come from all over India as well as other countries. They are taught by their fathers or other male members of the family, and the craft has been passed down this way for numerous generations. (fig 2)

     From the 1970s onwards Kachchhi crafts became more widely known across India and the world as designers working with Gujarat State Handicraft and Handlooms Development Corporation, NGOs and commercial enterprises began operating in the region, adapting the crafts for urban markets. After the devastating earthquake of 2001, there was heavy investment in Kachchh by both central and state governments and NGOs, and industries came to the district to take advantage of a five year tax holiday; consequently, Kachchh became more visible worldwide. It now receives large numbers of tourists, craft enthusiasts and buyers from all over India and overseas, and Kachchhi craftspeople travel throughout India selling and showcasing their crafts, and some travel the world.


Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya and Somaiya Kala Vidya

Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya (KRV) was founded in 2005 by Judy Frater, twelve years after founding Kala Raksha Trust, on the basis that artisans’ potential was not being reached in contemporary markets, and that teaching artisans design would be more effective than teaching designers about craft and its deep-rooted contexts. In 2014, the KRV curriculum which had been developed with the help of an Ashoka Fellowship and input from education professionals, was taken by Frater to a new institute, Somaiya Kala Vidya (SKV). The curriculum consists of six two-week courses spread over one year and covers: Basic Design, Colour, Marketing, Concept Development, Finishing and Presentation and Merchandising. Each batch consists of ten to fifteen students and includes block printers, tie-dye artisans, weavers (men), and embroiderers (women). All classes are taught in Gujarati or Hindi. In between each class, students return home to apply some of what they have learnt to homework and to ensure that their own, on-going work is under control. Visiting faculty are designers working in industry and include foreign professionals as well as graduates of design schools such as NID. There are two permanent faculty, both traditional artisans and graduates of KRV or SKV:  Laxmi Puvar, a suf embroiderer, and Dayalal Kudecha, a weaver. They act as intermediaries between the students and visiting faculty. More recently, a post-graduate business course for graduates of KRV and SKV has been added which helps artisans to understand the monetary value of their products in new markets, also its cultural value.

     Out of a total of 158 design graduates from both institutes since KRV’s first course in 2006, there have been twenty-nine weavers. Sixteen of the graduates have gone on to complete the business course, four of those being weavers. Most graduates from KRV and SKV continue to ‘innovate within their traditions,’ an express aim of the course, and have found growing economic success, and wide national and global exposure. (fig 3)



Maheshwar became famous for weaving during the rule of Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar (1767-1795). Ahilyabai invited weavers from other parts of India to produce for the court which created a successful weaving industry; she remains an icon of the craft today. The architectural decoration of the 16th century fort on the banks of the Narmada river inspired the geometric patterns that feature in the dobby borders and end panel (pallu) of Maheshwari saris. The current success of Maheshwari handloom is largely down to charitable organisations founded by the descendents of Ahilyabai – Richard and Sally Holkar. Their first initiative was Rehwa, founded in 1978; Sally Holkar went on to establish Women Weave (WW) in 2003. These organisations have helped to revive the town’s handloom sari industry which had sunk into decline over the previous century. Since 1978, the number of weavers in Maheshwar has increased from three hundred to over 7,000 at the time of writing. (fig 4)


The Handloom School

From 2009 onwards, Women Weave held individual workshops to teach entrepreneurial skills and English to young females based in the area and male weavers; by 2013, a fully-fledged school had been established which is now known as The Handloom School (THS). The curriculum was put together by Sally Holkra in conjunction with two design graduates of NID, who also teach on the course, and a professional educator. It includes lessons on business skills, communication and IT, technical up gradation and design. An advisory board was set up comprised of experts from the marketing, design, education and industry sectors. 

     The male students are recruited from all over India, identified by local NGOs or the Government of India Weavers’ Service Centres. Each batch numbers between ten and fifteen students. THS aims to promote handloom as a sustainable livelihood opportunity in rural areas across India, many of which are subject to extremely low wages. Sally Holkar’s belief is that, “if we train young talented weaver men to become business weavers capable of dealing directly with the market rather than through middlemen, we are at the same time perpetuating their skill, enhancing their income earning abilities and bringing together an all-India team of weavers which is relevant to the market.”  

The success of Rehwa and WW has made Holkar realise the value of handloom around the world; as a result, THS aims to expand its influence to weaving clusters throughout India. (fig 5)

     The students’ days are divided into classes in the morning and weaving in the afternoons. After six months on the campus, they pursue internships directly with clients, or they work on orders from THS. A useful example of an internship is that offered by ecommerce site,; students spend a week or two at the company’s office learning how the company runs its online business and are familiarized with design, production and quality. Fabrics woven as orders from THS are showcased at the ‘Buyer Seller Meet’, an event held in Delhi shortly after the end of the course, and attended by existing clients of Women Weave as well as potential clients. Profits from sales are reinvested into running the course. As well as generating sales, the event enables the weavers to learn about the market they are aiming at and to develop their communication skills with clients.


Some General Insights

The range of experiences of design and business education is broad among the graduates of each institute. My study is not comparative because each institute has different aims, and they have been going for different lengths of time. THS began more recently, thus it is difficult to make any concrete claims for its impact – true also for the advisers who conduct evaluations after each batch. Recruiting students from all over India has meant, however, that some graduates find it difficult to implement their learning in their local region after graduation. SKV on the other hand, with its focus on Kachchh, can make the teaching relevant to the students’ lives and local ways of learning. The other significant difference between the two institutes is cost. In its first year, KRV first paid artisans a stipend but by the third year it was charging students fees in order to be sustainable and to encourage artisans to value education. The location and the spread of the classes over time means that students are not kept away from any ongoing work for too long. But at THS because many of the weavers are from very poor families, taking six months away from their home is a huge investment; they simply could not attend if they weren’t subsidised. Therefore THS doesn’t charge students and pays them a weekly subsidy, the equivalent of what they would usually make from their weaving work. Funds come from a mixture of donors, the Government, and profits made from orders but sustaining sufficient funding continues to be a challenge. 

     In Kachchh, I witnessed the directions taken by graduates – which in most cases was the continuation of the craft into a successful business. Increased income is evident in buildings of new houses, expansion of workshops and sending children to good schools. Several graduates have had the opportunity to travel abroad and showcase their products in high profile fairs such as Santa Fé International Folk Art Fair in the USA; for Dayalal Kudecha, an SKV graduate and permanent faculty member, this event brought in three times the amount he would earn in a year the first time he exhibited there. His work and that of SKV graduates Khalid Amin (block printer) and Aziz Khatri (tie-dye artisan) was featured in The Fabric of India exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2015-16). 

     The success of THS graduates was relayed to me by Sharda Gautam (THS director in 2016) and by some of the sponsors. Gautam anticipated that they would not clearly see the impact on individual weavers until five years after they graduate but he noted some initial findings. Firstly, most graduates had been successful in adapting to new yarns, techniques, materials and sizes of warps. He added that “80% achieved good quality, zero defect fabrics.” Interviews with graduates also suggested that they found new techniques important for increasing value and versalitity, leading to increased market opportunities. Mudassir is an example of a weaver in Maheshwar who is running his own enterprise and incorporating new techniques. According to Holkar, weavers’ understanding of colour is greatly increased; prior to the course, most didn’t know that “mixing blue with red makes purple.” Both Gautam and Holkar felt that the students’ knowledge of English knowledge hadn’t achieved the standard that they had aimed at but that weavers could at least understand English better and had perfected their introduction as well as ‘golden words’: key business and weaving-related terms. Most students became more confident about  talking about themselves and their work in their own language during the course which helped continuing communication with fellow graduates and staff via Whats App. Advisory Board member, Neelima Rao, reported the weavers’ increased confidence when communicating with buyers. She was surprised at how comfortable the weavers seemed in a wealthy Delhiite’s home at which one of the Buyer Seller Meets was held. Her preconceived idea was that they would feel “on the back foot” because of the traditionally low status of weavers, commenting that, “essentially what we wanted to break away from [that], for them to come to the level of the market, to not feel they were anything less than anybody – all of those things we didn’t know if the curriculum was doing…It was really rewarding to see that it did work.” This was seconded by Mehmud Ansari, a weaver from Chanderi, who added, “We got the confidence to speak to buyers. We were made to speak in front of everyone so that made me more confident about the products.”

     Among THS’s success stories are two graduate weavers from Mubarakpur whose study was facilitated by the Varanasi branch of the All India Artisan and Craftworkers Welfare Association (AIACA). After graduating, they set up a Self Help Group (SHG) and manage a group of twenty weavers; they replaced the two AIACA members to manage marketing and communication, and help other weavers with production. Four weavers from Rajasthan, sponsored by the NGO, Rangasutra, Bikaner, also went onto set up their own enterprise. 


Valuing and verbalizing traditional and new knowledge

SKV graduate (2015), Pachan Premji Siju lives in Bhujodi. He has been weaving fulltime since the death of his father when he was in Class 7 (primary) forced him to leave school in order to support the family. When his older brother, Purshottam, who graduated from SKV in 2008, introduced new designs, materials and colours to their production, Pachan was not convinced they would be successful. His opinion at the time was that “the more pattern in the design, the higher the value,” and he stubbornly refused to learn new ideas, saying “I will design with my own mind and be happy with it.” After years of economic struggle, Purshottam and his older brother, Danji, decided that Pachan should get some understanding of design and he eventually joined SKV when the family was able to support him. Pachan worried that his lack of literacy and numeracy would hold him back on the course but was encouraged by his teachers who said to him “you know your craft – you’re not a student, you’re an artisan.” He worked closely with Pravin, a fellow student on the course and a B.Com graduate. Pachan had a higher level of technical skills and would help Pravin with weaving, and in return, Pravin would assist him with reading, writing and calculating costs. Commenting on the experience, Pachan said, “Initially I couldn’t understand what use [the course] would be for me. They used to give us tasks, like to go and collect some leaves and flowers from the garden. I would say “we are weavers, what use is this for us?”” They were asked to draw from the objects they had collected which helped Pachan to realise, “that everything we put into weaving comes from nature.” He also learnt what colours worked for which market. Pachan won the ‘Most Marketable’ award for his ‘Treasures of the Sea’ themed  collection, judged by a group of highly reputed professionals, including Ritu Kumar, Anuradha Kumra (Fabindia), Geeta Ram (Crafts Council of India) and Reena Bhatia (Faculty member, M.S. University, Baroda). Ritu Kumar purchased some of Pachan’s pieces for her fashion show, held the following year in Jaipur. (fig 6)

     When I visited brothers Pachan and Purshottam Siju with filmmaker Shradha Jain, to film interviews, Pachan eagerly got out his pieces to show us. Like a lot of weavers in Kachchh, it was important for him to talk about and show his traditional products. The dupatta he had made during the marketing class combined the styles of both the Rabari dhablo which is black and white, and the Ahir dhablo which is multi-coloured, by using black and white in the warp and weft and bright colours in the extra weft patterning in the end panel and long borders (sachikor), with herringbone stitch (machikantho) down the middle to join the two pieces. His explanation of how he came up with the concept demonstrated how Pachan had learned to intellectualise the inherent design concepts in his traditional work and make his tacit knowledge explicit. (fig 7) His confidence had also increased. Prior to studying at SKV course, he was afraid of talking to customers in the family’s shop, leaving Purshottam to deal with them; now he will happily meet and greet clients, and enjoys explaining his design concepts to them in the shop and at exhibitions. Where co-design partnerships have taken place, graduates have the courage to assert their ideas and confidence in their input, thus making partnerships between weaver and designer-clients reciprocal. Dayalal Kudecha said that before studying at SKV he relied “100% on the designer”’ but now in collaborative projects it is fifty-fifty on colour, technique, motif and layout.  

      Social media has been instrumental in connecting artisans with the market and designers for collaborative projects, too. If clients are unable to visit the workshop, pictures and videos are exchanged; seeing the process enables the client or designer to understand it and appreciate the time it takes to weave products. The challenges that have arisen out of working with commercially-led, often fast-fashion markets have forced the weavers to meet a new set of demands, very different to those for local clients for whom they made one-off bespoke pieces only when they were needed. 

     The combination of knowledge and pride in their tradition, or rather selected aspects of tradition that weavers believe determine their identity, and a new set of skills and knowledge of contemporary design concepts, builds the weavers’ cultural capital as well as confidence, self-awareness and social mobility. Furthermore, their increased access to the urban and global market through contact with visitors, travel and social media enables them to promote and position their traditional product and story within a ready market while managing diverse identities that are influenced by a mix of the local and popular culture as well as ideas of ‘Indianness’ and an increased global awareness. 


Work choices and ambitions 

In 2016, prominent master weaver, Shamji Vishram Valji, from Bhujodi village, Kachchh, estimated that fifty percent of traditional weavers in Kachchh now choose alternative occupations. Indeed, members of his family had done so, as well as other members of weaving families I met during my research. The majority of graduates of SKV and KRV, are keen to continue their traditional occupation and take it in a new direction. For many weavers whether graduates or not, in the more isolated villages of northern and eastern Kachchh, weaving is preferred to agricultural labour or working in a factory. Weaving allows them to work at home, manage their own time and receive the help of family members. Furthermore, there is a strong sense of pride in their hereditary occupation and a faith in the importance of their service (seva). Conversely, numerous weavers across India, particularly those who have been exposed to new opportunities, find weaving boring and irrelevant to them; some view being stuck at home as being powerless, as Venkatesan’s study of the Pattamadai mat weavers reveals. She argues that the motvation behind interventions in the craft are based on idealised notions of historic village crafts that compel weavers to continue their craft to uphold this image. In many weaving areas of India, weavers are striving to escape their traditional identity to get away from its association with backwardness and low social status.

     Since Independence there has been increased access to formal higher education for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Other Backward Castes (OBC), the categories to which most weavers belong. In common with others classified as SCs and OBCs, many weavers aspire to a government job after college but due to the high level of competition, government corruption and their lack of social capital few have succeeded. This was confirmed in interviews with students conducted at SKV by visiting faculty member, Usha Prajapati, who reported that, “for me, the best thing I liked about the whole thing was that students were saying “we don’t want to join college, because there is so much competition we might not get a very good job.”” 

     They view formal schooling as a way to improve a household’s economic position and the family’s cultural capital. This can lead, however, to the decline in their craft and their identity as weavers. Despite influential figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore promoting the belief that education should be relevant to an individual’s local context, the separation between school and college education and their traditional occupation is expressed strongly by weavers . This dilemma is articulated by Kumar in her study of the Ansari weaving community in Banaras where basic literacy and numeracy are valued as they enable the weavers to write receipts, complete forms and manage general business activities. But Ansari leaders express the concern that young weavers, if continuing to higher education, will escape their hereditary profession. Reaching higher education is rare, however, among weavers; many, particularly in poorer areas, fail to pass 10th standard which is the basic entry requirement – a fact also noted by Kar among Sambalpuri weavers in Orissa. Even those who have passed 10th standard often can’t afford the risk of leaving the family business to continue in higher education, or to try for a job. The death of a parent constrains them further still, as Pachan’s story (above) reveals. 

     THS and SKV provide alternatives to the existing options of working for a master weaver or pursuing college education. Unlike the Indian Institutes of Handloom Technology (IIHT) – there are nine in all across India – which offer a curriculum that focuses on science and technology, and train traditional weavers and others as technicians in mills, THS works at grassroots level and encourages weavers to remain in their cluster. They help the weavers to improve their capabilities and to create opportunities in their craft as well as generating employment and economic capacity in their cluster. The fact that THS is free and provides a stipend for those suffering hardship encourages recruitment. This provision has enabled several poor students to pursue their education but has meant that some students from more stable financial circumstances take the aims of the course less seriously. For example, Mansukh, from Kotay village, and a graduate of THS, was still planning to return to school to re-sit the 10th standard which he had failed, in the belief that it would improve his opportunities in education and employment. Similarly, Kamlesh from Gujarat, was weaving part-time while studying for a BA in Sanskrit before attending THS. During the course he had expressed plans to start a weaving business but a year on is working as a distributor for cell phone company, Idea. This challenges THS; their admission criteria do not exclude non-traditional (or first-generation) weavers, or weavers who are not practising full-time – all of whom are perhaps less likely to be fully committed to handloom as an occupation. It is noteworthy that Mansukh and Kamlesh were both unmarried at the time they were interviewed; without financial responsibilities they would have been under no pressure to rush into a job. The limitations of this essay do not allow for discussion of issues surrounding gender among weaving communities in India; suffice to say that women of the same age as Mansukh and Kamlesh experience very different expectations and responsibilities. A glimpse into the life of Bhavna Sunere, a young weaver in Maheshwar, provides an insight into the challenges faced by women.


Choices for women: Bhavna Sunere

Bhavna is an hereditary weaver from Malaharganj village which borders Maheshwar. After graduating with a BSc in Maths and Science, she started teaching at a local college and having secured a coveted Government job is an exception among those weavers who have gone through formal college education. She now plans to study for an MSc in Maths. 

     Her family works under master weavers and have a relatively low income. Prior to attending the Women Weave (WW) workshops in 2011, Bhavna didn’t think too much about weaving; it had always been there in the family and she would generally weave in the evening after college, supporting her father and grandparents, or working on her own loom which helped to fund her studies. She identified the transformative effect of the WW workshops, commenting that, “If I didn’t do the weaving course, I wouldn’t have completed studies at all,” and is now interested in starting her own weaving business. It will be something that she will have to fit in alongside teaching, studying and her  domestic duties; she has taken charge of running the household since her sister married and her mother became unwell. Her dedication and ambition is admirable. (fig 8)

     In his work on informality and labour supply in the Banaras industry, Basole gives a fitting analogy for the importance of manual or traditional skill as a sort of insurance: a poori-sabzi (popular Banarasi breakfast) vendor insisted on teaching his sons the skills of his trade, despite them both attending school, because his view was that, ‘“with a skill in his two hands, he will always be able to feed himself.”’ Many weavers in Maheshwar view their skill as just that – a back-up, a way to bulk up their income, or to fall back on should other career paths fail. But ultimately the decision to continue weaving, whether by innovating and branching out to new markets, or to continue weaving plain cloth for the Government, rests on two main factors: a sense of identity which connects weavers to heritage and tradition; and economic necessity.



In this essay, I have shown how design and business education for traditional weavers in India is challenging the divides and disparities that exist between artisans and the contemporary urban and global market. In narrating some of the experiences of graduates of both THS and SKV, I have attempted to highlight some of the successes and challenges facing both the institutes and weavers. Pachan’s experience demonstrates how SKV helped him to intellectualise his traditional knowledge, reigniting his interest in his craft, increasing the value of his work and enabling him to gain recognition; according to Frater if artisans don’t get this, “they will leave craft, and they should leave craft in my opinion.” 

     The aspirations of students and graduates of THS vary according to their economic, social and cultural backgrounds, which in turn vary because students come from all over India. Weavers in Maheshwar benefit from the continuing support of WW and THS because of their proximity. Although new IT and phone technologies have enabled communication with weavers from different parts of India, those in remote areas still have to rely on the their local NGO for intermediary support; markets and buyers are less accessible which inevitably affects their level of recognition. 

     The school is still in its infancy and according to the director, it may take two to three years for the graduates to absorb their learning at THS. Both institutes help weavers to realise the value in handloom, thereby increasing their future choices; they also show weavers that their traditional occupation can bring recognition, respect and a good income. But it is also important to consider the market’s reception and perception of graduate artisan-designers, as Frater reports, “Many times the jury if they are new people, they’re surprised. They have no idea that artisans can think!” It would be useful, therefore, if craft narratives and debates were to go beyond thinking about craft and design as fixed categories, and if the weavers themselves were involved in these narratives and debates. Sustainable futures in handloom will depend not only on the new knowledge, skills and confidence that design and business education may provide but also on the markets recognising diverse knowledge, creativity and capabilities, whereby the outcome is not only the end product. 


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Herzfeld, M. (2004) The Body Impolitic: Artisans and Artifice in the Global Hierarchy of Value. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

 Mamidipudi, A., Sayamasundari, B. and Biker, W. (2012) ‘Mobilising Discourses: Handloom as Sustainable Socio-Technology’, Economic and Political Weekly, 47(25).

See: McGowan, A. (2009) Crafting the Nation in Colonial India. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mathur, S. (2011) ‘Charles and Ray Eames in India’. College Art Association, pp. 34–53. Available at:

Deepali, D. (2001) Crafting Knowledge and Knowledge of Crafts: Art Education, Colonialism and the Madras School of Arts in Nineteenth-Century South Asia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

Mitter, P. (1994) Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, 1850 – 1922: Oriental Orientations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

See: Chatterjee, A. (2005) ‘Design in India: The Experience of Transition’, Design Issues, 21 (4), pp. 4–10. doi: 10.2307/25224014.

Kumar Vyas, H. (1991) ‘The Designer and the Social Technology of Small Production’, Journal of Design History, 4(3), pp. 187–208.

Mishra, R. N. (2009) Silpa in Indian Tradition: Concept and Instrumentalities. New Delhi: Aryan Books International in association.

 See Mathur, 2011.

See: Wintle, C. (2017) ‘Diplomacy and the Design School: The Ford Foundation and India’s National Institute of Design’, Design and Culture. Routledge, pp. 1–18. doi: 10.1080/17547075.2017.1322876.

Clarke, A. J. (2016) ‘Design for Development, ICSID and UNIDO: The Anthropological Turn in 1970s Design’, Journal of Design History, 29(1), pp. 43–57. doi: 10.1093/jdh/epv029.

See: Chatterjee, 2005 (#5 above).

Ghose, R. (1989) ‘Design, Development, Culture, and Cultural Legacies in Asia’, Design Issues. MIT Press, 6(1), pp. 31–48. doi: 10.2307/1511576.

See: Edwards, E.M. ‘The role of veilcloths among the Rabaris of Kutch, Gujarat, western India’. Costume, 43 (2009), pp.19-37.

 Frater founded Kala Raksha Trust with Prakash Bhanani in Sumerasar village, Kachchh, in 1991, to preserve and promote the traditional arts of the region. See: 

Interview with Judy Frater, January 2016.

Interview with Sally Holkar, July 2016. The school has had one complete batch of female weavers from the local area, and four batches of male weavers from both the local area and different parts of India. The social restrictions on women limit them from studying away from home or becoming entrepreneurs in their own right. Aside from northeast India, handloom weaving is dominated by men, carried out in rural areas in workshops attached to the home; women support weaving with part-time activities such as warping and bobbin winding which they can do alongside domestic chores.

 Interview Shilpa Sharma, CEO of, July 2016.

Educationalist Feruzan Mehta, one of THS’s advisory board members, conducts interviews with the weavers after they have completed the course to understand their experience of it and to determine any modifications necessary for the following batches Interview via Skype: June 2016.

 The introduction of fees after the first few years allowed potential students to understand the reason for them and enabled them to see the benefits of paying for education after seeing the success of the alumni. Sponsorship by a donor organisation is available to those unable to afford the fees.

Interview with Judy Frater and weaver, Shamji Vishram Valji: January 2016

nterview with Sharda Gautam, July 2016. Sharda has since left THS.

Interview with Sally Holkar, July 2016.

 Interview with Neelima Rao, January 2017.

Interview with weaver, Mehmud Ansari, July 2016.

Interview with Vidushi Tiwari, project manager, AIACA’s Varanasi Weavers and Artisans Society, September 2016.

Interview with weaver Pachan Premji Siju: August 2016.

 Kar, S. K. (2012) ‘Knowledge process of rural handloom community enterprise’, Society and Business Review, 7(2), pp. 114–133. doi:

Interview with Dayalal Kudecha, January 2016.

 Pachan was recently part of a group of weaver-graduates of SKV who collaborated with students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Human Ecology:

 SKV strongly encourages an understanding of low and high quality but the popularity of the ‘Kachchhi shawl’ (a re-interpretation for the popular market of a regional tradition that expresses cultural identity), and the increase in selling platforms, including exhibitions, e-commerce sites and notably, fashion and home brand Fabindia, has led many weavers in Kachchh to mass-manufacturing. Kasturi describes this as ‘manufacturing tradition through industrial production.’ 

See: Kasturi, P. B. (2005) ‘Designing Freedom’, Design Issues. The MIT Press, 21(4), pp. 68–77. Available at:

Judy Frater also discusses the issue of scale on her blog:

See: Hobsbawm, E. and Ranger, T. (1992) The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge University Press.

See: Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distincton: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London and New York: Routledge.

 Venkatesan, S. (2010) ‘Learning to weave; weaving to learn … what?’, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 16, pp. S158–S175. doi: 10.2307/40606070.

 Interview with Usha Prajapati, February 2016.

See: Bordieu, 1984. 

Jeffrey, C., Jeffery, R. and Jeffery, P. (2004) ‘Degrees without Freedom: The Impact of Formal Education on Dalit Young Men in North India.’, Development & Change. Wiley-Blackwell, 35(5), pp. 963–986. Available at:

Kumar, N. (2000) Lessons from Schools: The History of Education in Banaras. New Delhi: Sage, p.125. 

 Interview with Bhavna Sunere, July 2016.

Basole, A. (2014) ‘Informality and Flexible Specialization: Labour Supply, Wages, and Knowledge Flows in an Indian Artisanal Cluster’. St. Louis: Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis. Available at:

 Interview with Judy Frater, January 2016.

 Interview with Judy Frater, July 2015.

List of illustrations

Fig 1:  Apprenticeship in weaving at Bhujodi; weavers Prakash and Jyantilal overseeing the first warp.

Fig 2: Jyantilal Premji Bokhani demonstrating the hand-throw shuttle loom (haat sar).

Fig 3: SKV design batch of 2015 working on their logos.

Fig 4: THS students taking inspiration from the carved stone decoration of the fort.

Fig 5: Dibya Darshikusum and Shahid Ansari, students of THS batch 4, practising different weaving techniques.

Fig 6: Pachan’s presentation to the SKV jury: Anuradha Kumra (Fabindia) examining a silk sari. 

Fig 7: Traditional dhablo woven with un-dyed, hand-spun sheepwool beneath a dupatta  woven by Pachan on the SKV course.

Fig 8: Bhavna Sunere with her father, Santosh; her paternal grandparents (dadi and dada) are in the background.




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