Women Weave, in addition to providing employment to women through its Gudi Mudi Khadi Project, also makes entrepreneurs out of traditional weavers through their Handloom School.
About a two-hour drive from Indore, along the banks of the river Narmada was the capital of the Indore kingdom, Maheshwar, known for its Maheshwari textiles. The Maheshwar weavers developed under the patronage of queen Ahilya Devi Holkar, in the late 18th century.
Keeping the tradition alive, and providing employment to hundreds of women of Maheshwar today is Sally Holkar of the royal Indore family.
The Holkars have been in Maheshwar for over 250 years now and have provided many with education and a livelihood, through programmes supporting local artisans.
Sally moved to India in 1966 after she married Richard Holkar, the son of Maharaja Holkar. She began to take an interest in the women weavers of the village when she discovered that the 1,500-year-old handloom weaving of Maheshwar was on the decline with the dwindling patronage from the royal families after independence. Her husband and she wanted to revive the dying tradition of handloom weaving, and co-founded the Rehwa Society in 1978 with a grant from the Central Welfare Board.
Although Sally stopped her association with the Rehwa Society, she decided to stay in Maheshwar and start an organisation that would employ women who are not traditional weavers. After obtaining a grant from the TATA Group, Women Weave was born in June, 2003 with the local women weaving clothes from locally grown cotton. Where Rehwa had used silk from China and cotton from Coimbatore, Women Weave believed in community building and using local material for their products.
Women Weave’s primary mission is to work towards providing sustainable livelihoods to the women of Maheshwar and at the same time serve as a bridge to better lives.
Today, Women Weave is creating a community of weavers and connecting them with potential customers, providing craft skills training, and empowering women through its five programmes.
The Gudi Mudi Khadi Project links cotton farmers in Central India with the local women of Maheshwar, thus procuring cotton for locally weaved khadi textiles. The fabrics are handspun, hand-woven and much of it is naturally dyed with eco-friendly processes. The aim of this programme is to ensure sustainable income and better lives for the weavers in the area in spinning and hand weaving of the local cotton.
The KhatKhata project’s mission is to identify weaving clusters and villages with old weaving practices, but the industrial revolution has managed to make these communities nearly extinct. Women Weave has reached out to and revived nearly 35 such weaving communities and clusters in India, with their current project underway in the Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh, where the weaving is limited to fewer than 15 village with not more than 10 weavers per family from communities like Panika (OBC), Jhariya (SC) and Chandrawanshi.
Various interventions have taken place in terms of exploring weaving possibilities, new products development, introduction of varieties of yarns in finer counts and better dyes, etc. Through this development 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.
Women Weave runs the Handloom School in Maheshwar where traditional weavers are trained to become entrepreneurs. The programme was built on earlier training sessions in ‘barefoot’ business, computer skills, English, and design, to begin a more holistic, progressive and formalised curriculum that will support and cultivate the next generation of handloom weavers and weaver-entrepreneurs.
The Handloom School runs a six-month duration course, with 17-20 students in each batch. Women Weave reaches out to traditional weaving communities to apply for the course. The Handloom School is currently running its sixth batch, with 70 students graduating so far.
Women Weave runs the ‘See to Weave Programme,’ which has been organising eye camps on a regular basis in in Kota-Rajasthan, Chanderi, and Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh in 2003. Recently, it trained five staff members from the Maheshwar team through Vision Spring, a US-based NGO working worldwide to provide training, testing equipment, and glasses.
Women Weave runs a daycare centre at the weaving centre in Maheshwar for the children of spinners and weavers working with the Gudi Mudi project. Women Weave also sponsors the early childhood education of more than 130 youngsters in Maheshwar.
Women Weave aims to reach out to interior regions such as the Balaghat cluster of weavers and revive the tradition of weaving. The idea is to know and work with these clusters, and train them to become self-sustainable entrepreneurs.
"We take what they have and try to make something contemporary out of their techniques. But also working from their own homes, their comfort zones, their art and techniques is preserved at the same time,” says Nivedita, Executive Director, Gudi Mudi Khadi project.