Everything you need to know about the appliqué craft of Bihar, khatwa

4 months ago 40
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Fluid silhouettes, colour palette reminiscent of water colour paintings and an unconditional belief in the power of functionality are at the core of Anavila Misra’s design universe. Known for her textile innovations and love for linen, the designer combines her signature block printing with indigenous crafts and textiles such as batik, jamdani and khatwa at her eponymous label. Among the many techniques employed, Misra has been closely working with khatwa, an appliqué work of Bihar which is locally used to create decorative tents, canopies, wall handguns and home furnishings. From her debut runway collection to her most recent launch, the brand’s lightweight drapes and separates are enhanced with the patch needlework. She walks us through her initiation with the craft and process, with a glimpse at the season’s offerings of floral khatwa in pastel tones.

What is khatwa?

“Khatwa as a technique was used to create narratives about the artisans’ lives in the village and mostly made into wall art, cushions, and bed covers. The products were sold in local haats as exhibitions outside these villages. These artisans were trained under an NGO, a long time back and continued to spread the practice of the art by training interested women in the villages around them.”

Tracing the initial steps

“My association with the khatwa artisans is as old as the brand. My first ever solo exhibition in Mumbai was a collection of artwork with them based on trees and flowers. It was a beautiful showcase and furthered our association and created a continuous workflow for them. Our very first collection, Secret Life of the Forest, was inspired by them and their daily lives which revolve around wildlife—and the adventure of going to the forest for a basic need like wood. Their folklore and experience helped me develop my first-ever runway collection.”

Anavila, spring/summer 2014

Giving it a new lease

“The craft that was mostly decorative and limited in its usage and commerciality has got a fresh lease. It manifests itself in various avatars in our collections. From our debut collection, where we created vivid natural scenery using dragonflies, deers, and berries to our latest release, where the craft has been used to create soft florals, we work with new motifs and also look at our archives for inspiration. They wear saris in their villages, whether they are at home or working in paddy farms. I have learnt their drapes and how they are so comfortable.”

Breaking down the process

“Khatwa is an art of creating designs and narratives on fabric, using fabric. The top fabric is cut in unique designs and placed on the base fabric using fine hem stitch. The base fabric for khatwa work in our workshop is mostly linen. The colour palette is pastel and earthy. Motifs are developed in collaboration with the artisans, and are mostly nature-inspired. We have also intertwined subtle embroideries and thread work to create unique designs.”

Working with the remote craft clusters

“Our work with these artisans is a true example of how constant collaboration with a skill set of artisans can lead to the creation of a unique aesthetic.”

“They mostly work from home in Jharkhand and travel to Mumbai or Delhi for regular workshops and new design developments. We work with 12 families directly, spread across 5 villages near Dumka—namely Jiyajor, Mohalbuna, Gabharna, Kakania, and Lakda. New designs are developed in our workshops with the artisans at our Gurugram unit. They travel every three-four months and stay with us for around 10-15 days. The designs developed during the workshops are frozen, two sets of samples made and then they travel back with work. We send them regular work during their village stay through the post office and they work from home and send it back.” Misra continues her explorations with the craft and reveals that a unique home collection is in the works.“The upcoming home collection will have elements from nature narrated in Khatwa work. From wall art to cushions and table linen, we will be working on natural narratives on our products.”

Anavila, spring/summer 2020

Also read:

What does it take to create a chikankari lehenga fit for royalty?

Exploring the Indian block print’s rich cultural history

Everything you need to know about the ancient craft of mirror work

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