The tradition and intricacies of Himachal’s Bhutti weaving lend themselves beautifully to contemporary design sensibilities, says Rajesh Pratap Singh
Every time I have visited the Kullu valley, I have been fascinated by the sight of local women wrapped in their colourful woollen shawls and pattus (a traditional patterned woollen fabric) and the men, with their caps sitting slightly askew on their heads. Each brightly embroidered piece is beautiful but every one different from the other!
I have been working with Bhuttico, a reputed weavers’ co-operative in Kullu, for a couple of years, developing fabric for my collections. While the yardages they produce for me are exquisite, I could not quite ignore their traditional patterns. So when The Woolmark Company offered me a chance to design a special line with Bhuttico weavers highlighting their traditional textile, I was thrilled. After months of designing, weaving and a lot of back and forth, when the line of menswear and womenswear was ready, I couldn’t believe the beauty of the pieces. I was delighted, to say the least. The collection gave me the opportunity to delve into their craft in much greater detail than before and, creatively, it was a tremendously satisfying experience. I have always been passionate about the handloom industry. It is my primary source of inspiration and this collaboration has enriched my experience.
When Bhuttico was first formed as a cooperative society in 1944, it consisted of 12 weavers from the Bhutti village, who had taken the initiative to come together to nurture their craft and sustain their livelihood. Today, Bhuttico is among the biggest names in the hand-woven shawl industry and has several national awards to its credit, with over 600 weavers and master weavers using their traditional techniques to create stunning shawls, stoles, suiting fabric and much more. Everything they make is hand-woven on their regular looms and requires a lot of skill. For this collection, I wanted to utilise this traditional skill to create something contemporary and so we’ve used a lot of tweed, among other weaves. Traditionally, you will find a typical colourful pattern on Bhutti shawls and stoles that is only used on the borders. We took that pattern and used it on other parts of the garments too.
With a collection like this, you are always treading a very fine line between a balanced confluence of tradition and novelty, and an obvious ethnic costume. I wanted to ensure that I never slipped into the latter. The idea was to respect the craft as well as the techniques of these brilliant weavers and make something that is relevant to everyone, everywhere in the world while still retaining its Bhutti identity. So, I experimented with cuts, silhouettes, accessories, capes and drapes, always keeping in mind that each garment needed to look like it belonged to this part of the world.
Using Merino wool gave me even greater liberty to experiment within this framework. I’ve been using it for several years now and it is very versatile. For a collection like this one, that’s the first thing you need from your core fabric. Merino wool is one of those staple, flexible fibres that designers use all over the world because there is no limit to the kinds of things you can do with it, in terms of weave structures, printing techniques, silhouettes and styles.
The overall experience of putting together this collection has not been without its challenges, but one thing that really kept me going – besides the creative satisfaction, of course – was my respect for Bhuttico. As an association, it has done a lot for the weavers as well as their craft in Kullu. I admire that and wish it the very best.
The author is a renowned Indian fashion and textile designer and the opinions expressed in this article are his own.