Over the time I have worked with traditional textile artisans in India I have discussed with them their concerns about their textile communities future and the survival of their specific crafts. Many of the artisans had minimal schooling but instead, at a young age, began apprenticeships or worked within the family craft community. Now these artisans prioritize providing their children with formal educations, however at the same time lamenting that their children will probably pursue careers away from the handcrafted textile industry where they can earn higher incomes. As a result many of the skills passed on for generations risk being lost.
So it was refreshing when I started working with a family of woodblock printers or chhipas in Sanganer, Rajasthan to witness a new approach where knowledge of traditional skills is mixed with the advantages of modern technology and education. The two sons of the family have been delegated the running of different parts of the family business. While one takes care of the administrative business concerns the younger son uses his knowledge gained through studying design to manage the production side. When developing my new designs for a range of cotton block printed table linen he was able to discuss technical problems that might arise with the woodblock process while clearly understanding the vision I had for the designs.
Working as a foreign designer in India can have its frustrations particularly through lack of communication and the need for better product quality control. With their knowledge of technology communication was straightforward for the woodblock printers. I was regularly updated about the development of the samples and the production of the tablecloths. Concerns about colour and quality were easily communicated and resolved. Their knowledge of modern business management complemented the wonder of a centuries old skill of woodblock printing to make the completed products viable in a contemporary market.
So it is with a degree of optimism that the future of handcrafted textiles can continue when the children of traditional artisans can bring the advantages of their contemporary formal education to the textile businesses of their communities.