Artisan Stories

BHACHIBEN BHURABHAI AHIR

Master Craftsperson, Traditional Indian Embroidery

Bhachiben lives in a remote village in Gujarat, India. Dignified, graceful and 80 years young, she is full of life, and one of the founding members of the SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre (STFC). One of the most wonderful aspects of Bhachiben is that she not only passes down her precious craft through generations, but has also expanded its horizons to include the STFC women members from other communities as well. Reminiscing about her journey, she said, “I learnt the art of Ahir (embroidery) from my maasi (aunt) when I was 12. I began by decorating homes and trousseaus in exchange for some vessels and other household goods. However, I only understood the potential of this craft when I became a member of STFC. Over the years, embroidery became more than just my livelihood; it became my life and my passion. It exhilarated me and set me free. I want many, many more women to feel the way I do and experience economic freedom.”

GAURIBEN RAMABHAI

Master Craftsperson, Traditional Indian Embroidery

I learnt the art of Ahir (embroidery) from my maasi (aunt) when I was 12. I began by decorating homes and trousseaus in exchange for some vessels and other household goods. However, I only understood the potential of this craft when I became a member of STFC. Over the years, embroidery became more than just my livelihood; it became my life and my passion. It exhilarated me and set me free. I want many, many more women to feel the way I do and experience economic freedom.

Gauriben Ramabhai is a highly skilled artisan in traditional Indian embroidery – a skill she learnt from watching her mother. Today, she is the Vice President and a shareholder of the SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre (STFC), a movement that makes marginalised artisans the producers, owners, shareholders and managers of their company.

Married at 17, she had to walk several miles each day to bring the family drinking water—money was in short supply. As Gauriben searched for sundry jobs to add to the family income, she came across SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association), an NGO that works to ensure employment for women, and life took a drastic turn. Gauriben says, “I was aware of embroidery work made on clothes for a daughter’s trousseau, but never imagined it could be of commercial interest. So when SEWA offered me money for this work I was in shock.”

Today, this 44-year-old mother of five, has been instrumental in financially empowering almost 15,000 rural women. She says, “I had the skills, but honed them with the efforts of SEWA. My contribution towards this craft is being able to embroider, while also guiding other women who embroider to live a good life. The recognition I have received for this work inspires me to do much more for our sisters.”

VINOD VANKAR

Master Weaver, Bhujodi Handloom

Even though Vinod has been a weaver for over 7 years, it has been a part of his family for three generations. He learnt the art of weaving by watching his father and grandfather every day at the handloom. However, as the time came for him to take up his heirloom craft, the art was almost extinct. The demand for handwoven fabrics dropped, forcing his father to stop weaving. At the age of 18, Vinod had to move to the city and worked as a labourer for minimum wage. He missed his family; then he heard of the handloom school in Maheshwar. The prospect of making a profitable income doing what he knew so well, while also living with his wife and daughter was enough to bring him back. He attended the school and learnt how to market what he weaves, now he weaves at home with his wife and has a strong sense of ownership towards everything he weaves. He would like nothing more than to have his name on the clothes, and for people to know that it is he, who created the exquisite Bhujodi fabric.

DURGA

Master Weaver, Maheshwar Handloom

Durga enjoys weaving, and the sense of productivity that birthing a piece of fabric gives her. She says it reminds her of her inability to conceive, but also of her ability to now see her dream to fruition, through the fertility treatments she now has the means for. Her new-found sense of independence and economic freedom has given her the power to pursue and claim what “God didn’t give her.” She is the master of her own dreams with the means to bring them alive.