‘The Shoemaker’s Stitch’- A book carries the bygone story of cobbler’s craft from Gujarat 

Documenting the the tales of celebrated Mochi embroidery craftsmen of Gujarat, ‘The Shoemaker’s Stitch’ by  Rosemary Crill former senior curator for South Asia at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and Shilpa Shah co-founder, TAPI Collection of Indian Textiles Art traces the journey of poetical craft.

This style of leather embroidery was earlier practiced by the Mochi artisans community who worked with a hook-like needle and silk thread in one hand creating stunning patterns of fruits, flowers, animals and human figures  without any design sketched on the cloth or even placed before them.

The book mentions about leather embroidered mats, appreciated by the 13th century traveler Marco Polo, it is still a mystery as to when the community started embroidering on cloth. Some Mochis believe their ancestors came from Sindh and settled in Gujarat’s Surendranagar district in the 14th century.

Taking a  passage from craft history journal, Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency of 1880: which held an elaborate account of the artisans of that perios about fifty families of Hindu embroiderers (it pegged their population at 1,237 at the time). About 250 years ago (i.e. circa 1630), a Musalman beggar, fakir, skilled in embroidery is said to have come from Sind, and taught his art to some families of the shoe-maker, mochi, caste, who, both in Bhuj and Mandvi, are famous for their skill. They work with silk, with a hooked needle like broad awl on silk cloth, mashru (silk and cotton mixed fabric), on broadcloth, net and canvas.

As per the book notes, this chain-stitch embroidery from Kutch has been prized for centuries. With precision and deft artistry, the shoemakers would craft dense chain stitches in twisted silk thread. Embroidered palampores were sent to Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, Mughal courts were decorated with colourful furnishings, and garments were made for the elite women of Gujarat, especially Kutch, well into the mid-20th century.

Today, Mochi street in Bhuj is the home only to four families from the community. The last mochi craftsperson celebrated for his skill—Hansraj Jethabhai—died in 1966. Two sons of the late mochi embroiderer Ramji Jethabhai are at present the only people skilled in the craft, notes the book. They are trying to train others through workshops and skill development projects.

According to Author, “The story of this unique craft is the story of every craft. Artisans are seeking out a new generation of buyers—craft revivalists, tourists, souvenir-hunters and interior designers”.

There were times when international luxury houses and royal families were in awe with these unmistakable crafts, so prized is their skill that these artisans were employed by the   Kathiawar and other chiefs and their produce was shipped as far as Zanzibar.

“Why aren’t we celebrating our own richness? For, as the book puts it, mochi embroidery, like so many crafts, is that delicate chain that ties our past with the present, defining our future,” adds the Author.

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