Brothers Help Revive Indian Craft Of Bhandani

Jul 8, 2015

The 12th annual Santa Fe International Folk Art Market takes place this weekend. More than 150 artists from around the world will be there - many of them will make the bulk of their income for the year at the market. Many artists also get intensive training and connections to international buyers to help them gain economic independence. 


Abduljabbar Khatri founded Sidr Craft with his brother in the Indian state of Gujarat. They work with independent artists to create bhandani, which may sound a lot like tie dying – and indeed it is – but banish your thoughts of T-shirts at a Grateful Dead concert. This process is far more intricate and each piece employs teams of people.


At the center are women. They follow intricate patterns drawn onto the cloth, pinching and tying them with very fine thread.


Bhandani scarves
Credit Sidr Craft/Folk Art Alliance

"Then we dip into the dye so wherever we have tied, that part resists, so it doesn't get the color," Khatri says. "When you open it, all the thread pops up and you will see the very small dot, fine design on the fabric. It can be multiple colors, it can be like one color, two color, three color, four color – as much as you want. You have to dye again and again."


Bhandani is a time-consuming craft, with some pieces requiring four or five months to complete. Khatri says its history in the region extends back thousands of years.


Abduljabbar Khatri dyeing cloth
Credit Sidr Craft/Folk Art Alliance

"See bhandani, when we started as a community it was just for our community. Each community has a color combination and their own design. So this is like identity, it's not just a craft," he says.


Khatri's family did bhandani for generations. He says producers in the 1970s churned out cheap imitations, making it difficult to compete. Many artisans quit the craft. But he and his brother Adullah decided to restart the process.


Originally they did mass production of bhandani. Then an earthquake in 2001 devastated Gujarat, stopping production. But then Khatri connected with international designers and craft councils and they shifted their focus to high-end markets.


"It's inspiring and when you see this craft you will see it's still modern," Khatri says. "We have one piece that's around 80 years old, which my grandmother had made for my mother. And when you see this it's amazing."


Bhandani cloth
Credit Sidr Craft/Folk Art Alliance

The Khatri brothers also made a decision to switch from chemical dyes back to traditional natural pigments. The organization has grown over the years – from working with four women to working with 200 women.


"Their living standard is not like America, but this money they can use for their household, they can use for their children's education, whatever they want, they can use this money and they can live on that," he says.


Being part of the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market assures the artisans of steady work. It also proves that a centuries-old local craft created in a corner of India has international appeal. Khatri says that raises the status of these artisans within their own country.