Gudi Mudi

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The Gudi Mudi project launched in 2007. Gudi Mudi means' Scrunched cotton" in the local language of Maheshwar. To date, the Gudi Mudi project has trained more than 500 women in weaving, spinning and ancillary activities in Maheshwar, Western Madhya Pradesh, Dindori & Balaghat in Eastern Madhya Pradesh.

In the selection of women for the Gudi Mudi project, WomenWeave has favored divorced, widowed, separated, handicapped, and agricultural laborers with no family income. The project aims to empower the most vulnerable and deprived women of the area.

Through the Gudi Mudi Khadi Project, WomenWeave links organic and non-organic cotton farmers of Central India with formerly unemployed local women to create unique, contemporary handspun & handwoven textiles for fashion products and home furnishings. Where possible we also use natural dyes and local methods of water conservation and reuse. The objective of this linkage is to ensure sustainable income and better lives for the weavers in the area in spinning and hand weaving of the local cotton.

Why Gudi Mudi project?

Maheshwar is in Nimaad, which is the cotton-growing belt of central India. Cotton is the primary type of yarn which weavers use in handloom weaving in Maheshwar. Despite this, the regionally produced cotton has NO direct consumption relationship with local weavers (other than with the Gudi Mudi project) because most of the cotton travels for processing to other regions.

Around 3000 weavers live in Maheshwar. The products they make primarily use cotton, silk, and jari: this results in regional specialties such as the Maheshwari sari.

The entire raw material chain, including cotton yarn, silk (from China) and jari (metallic thread) which has found its way from southern and western India to Maheshwar is highly detrimental to the Maheshwar handloom industry due to potential disruptions from policy changes by the government, relationships with China, market shifts away from global and opaque production modes.

Hence, the project has been activated to sustain an earth-friendly, tightly verticalized production that makes sense for Central India’s cotton growing area, India’s unique craft heritage, and growing international fashion consumer preferences for localized production and transparent supply chains. WomenWeave’s Gudi Mudi project is considered a leader of the global slow fashion movement.

Now the project will focus on the backward integration of the value chain by establishing micro units for raw cotton processing in Maheshwar and surrounding villages where the raw cotton will be sourced from the marginal farmers, preferably from the farmers of the tribal community. Young people from the same district will be trained to operate the units. This approach would help to achieve improved financial self-sufficiency and demonstrate additional examples of social-entrepreneurship at the core of the overall project, as well as demonstrate potential opportunities for self- reliance of the handloom industry.

Gudi Mudi outreach in Dindori

The Dindori district in MP is one such cluster where weaving has been affected by large-scale industrial weaving, insufficient financial infrastructure, difficulties attaining raw material, exploitation at the hands of the middlemen, corrupt practices in the handloom cooperatives. Today, the weaving in this area is limited to fewer than 15 villages with not more than 10 weavers per village. Yet in the past, handloom weaving was the principal source of livelihood for the families of Panika (OBC), Jhariya (SC) and Chandrawanshi (OBC) communities of this area.

Shifting Markets for Dindori’s Handloom

Traditionally, the Baiga tribe is the primary buyer for all the woven products by the local weavers, but in recent times they have been only buying these hand-woven products at the time of marriages and other important rituals. This shift has caused a significant decline in production from the weavers’ side. Along with this situation, the low financial liquidity of weavers with no access to yarn on credit purchase has also hampered the overall production. These conditions resulted in only two months of weaving work in a year. During the remaining months of the year, they work as agricultural labourers, where they receive fewer wages per day than handloom work. These traditional weavers use a poor quality of cotton yarn to reduce the cost of production, but this practice restricts them from entering the growing high-value market for handwoven textiles. Also problematic is that their dyed yarns have poor colour fastness.

What we do in Dindori and why?

WomenWeave has initiated a handloom weaving revival project to create economic opportunities for artisans where the handloom craft is in marginal or at-risk stages. WomenWeave started this first revival project in February 2010 with 40 weavers in the Bajag area of Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh along with the hand spinning intervention.

WW’s project operates in villages identified as having ancient weaving practices. Their handlooms and other equipment like reeds which are as old as the textile weaving technique. Weavers were using ten-count mill-spun cotton yarn both in warp and weft. Only men were doing the weaving and women were helping in the preparatory work without knowing how to weave.

They buy the raw material from the local traders of Bajag and from the market of Gadasarai. They sell the finished products to the local traders who eventually sell the products in the haat (weekly markets) of Chada, Dhurkuta and Padripaani of Bagiachak. All of these markets are within or near the weaving villages.

Women’s Empowerment: Changing the gender relations of production in Dindori

It has been observed that some men were leaving the weaving profession whenever they found other work (even less well-paid jobs) as weaving requires full days of sitting in one place and these men prefer more mobility. Therefore, the project started involving women in the weaving: this progression is the first time in the weaving history of the area where women are also weaving.

Potential Impacts of the Project:

A hand-spinning unit has also been initiated with women of the tribal community so that more people can receive regular employment. Importantly, WW has identified the area as one with high migration to urban locations. Re-establishing the handloom weaving sector here can have a significant impact.

WW and the community aim to initiate natural dyeing, which is currently viewed by customers as a high-value textile characteristic. Sustainable harvesting is feasible in this district, as the entire area is forested. Also, many tribal farmers cultivate Mulberry trees for raising mulberry silk moths which can become a good source of fiber for yarn that could be used locally by the weavers and thus greater synergy between the farmers, spinners and with weavers can be established.

Impacts of the Dindori Project

More than 35 traditional weavers have joined the project since its inception. Various interventions have taken place: exploring weaving possibilities, new product development, the introduction of varieties of yarns in finer counts and better dyes.It has been decided through a cooperative and community-based process that the weaving skills and aesthetics of the traditional weavers, i. e. Ochha, particularly the unusual technique of floating warp and weft threads will remain at the center of all the developments.

Gudi Mudi outreach in Balaghat

Mehendiwara is a beautiful village in the district of Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh, Central India. Here red kaccha roads lead to red mud houses built in a vernacular style unique to the area. Cows wander alongside honking motorbikes on these red roads, and children play by streams that run through the lush green fields. Population density is low and a visit to the closest town or railway station can take more than a day’s travel.

Weaving has long been an integral part of the community here, with exquisite complex patterns and fine cotton handloom a local speciality.

Yes despite the incredible natural beauty of Mehendiwara, in recent years a shadow has fallen over this rural village. When WomenWeave first visited here, abandoned houses and a sense of despair prevailed amongst its inhabitants. Why?

What an earth happened to Balaghat weaving?

Up until the 1980s, Mehendiwara was a weaving hub, renowned for cotton weaving. It is hard to describe the exquisite qualities of this traditional cloth. The cotton is soft, feather-light and fine, with the coolness of cotton but a texture not unlike silk. Weavers wove on looms made from local materials including reeds and shuttles made from buffalo horns.

However in the 1980s, government policy of the time encouraged the weavers to join co-operatives and switch to the plainest of weaves, the rationale for this being to compete in the market with power loom and mill woven textiles. Of course, it was impossible for handloom weavers to “compete” at this scale with machine woven cloth. Due to fierce competition from the mills as well as local-political circumstances weavers co-operatives were closed down and the weavers were left with no market for their products. Gradually the weavers lost their traditional livelihoods with many forced to migrate and seek alternative work as daily wage labourers. It should be noted that most weaving families in the area don’t have agricultural land so have little else to fall back-upon. The village once famous for weaving now has fewer than 50 looms as compared to 1000 looms 30 years ago.

Why is WomenWeave working with Balaghat weavers?

In recent years there has been a massive upswing in the urban Indian domestic market’s interest in handloom. A mini-renaissance of Indian cultural heritage has seen a revival of interest in regional weaving styles. In addition, global currents of sustainability and artisanal luxury have helped reshape perceptions of hand loom weaving both in India and internationally.

The future looms bright in Balaghat

It’s WomenWeave’s intention to capitalise upon this market opportunity with the core aim of providing dignified, meaningful and sustained employment to weavers young and old. Most of the weavers who know how to weave the intricate styles unique to Balaghat are now in their 50s and 60s. However, of the most intricate, the surviving weavers who have knowledge of these processes are now too frail or their eyesight is too poor to be able to weave. In addition the ecosystem of many supplementary roles and materials that supports a weaver at their loom no longer exists. It is no less than a tragedy that this intangible cultural heritage has been lost in the space of a generation.

However, not quite all is lost. There are still enough active weavers who can create the exemplary fine cotton weaves of old. This means that as well as providing them with sustainable employment, it is also imperative for them to be able to pass on their knowledge to a new generation. However, young people from the local community need to feel that weaving offers them a good livelihood with potential for self-betterment and entrepreneurship.

In the space of last few years, WomenWeave has been able to rebuild some of the eco-system of fine cotton weaving in Balghat since its inception of project in 2014. There are now few new looms in operation, with WomenWeave ensuring the weavers sufficient support and market linkages to optimise their livelihood opportunities.

As well as weavers, WomenWeave has been providing outreach in surrounding areas to tribal, lower caste women who sit at the very margins of society. By teaching these women spinning of the cotton yarn, a whole new livelihood opportunity has opened up for them

WomenWeave is providing assistance in terms of technical orientation, skill up-gradation and better work opportunities in order provide round the year employment to women in these interior areas of rural India.