A double-cloth fabric weaving technique, sujani weaving is believed to have originated in the mid-nineteenth century in the port city and cotton-milling centre of Bharuch, Gujarat. Sujani weaves are used primarily to make cotton-filled checkered sujani quilts, but are also used for tablecloths, rugs and prayer mats.
Also known as sujni or sujuni, the name sujani is believed to have derived from either of two origins — the Gujarati sujavu, meaning “to strike or conceive,” or the Persian sujani, meaning “needlework.” The latter suggests that the craft was adapted from hand-sewn or embroidered quilting techniques of the same name practised in Bihar (sujani/sujini embroidery). The history of sujani is largely anecdotal. The most popular account attributes the origin of the craft to merchant and weaver Nabubhai, who created the first sujani quilt in c. 1860. Another story claims that the technique was introduced to Bharuch by a man who learned the skill at a colonial prison in the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
Sujani is characterised by two layers of fabric, with the cotton being inserted between the warp and weft threads during weaving, rather than sewn into place, such that it becomes part of the fabric. This technique also ensures that the cotton is not easily displaced and makes the product highly durable. It is woven on a pit loom using a throw shuttle, similar to cotton weaving. Other essential tools in the process include a firki (warp reel), charkha (spinning wheel) and nari (a length of stiff grass used in the pirns). Both undyed and dyed mill-spun cotton yarn are used according to the predetermined colour scheme for the design. The warp yarn is wrapped with the help of a charkha and placed on separate firkis, while the weft threads are wound on kandis. After the loom is beamed and warped, the weaving commences, usually carried out by two persons working simultaneously on the loom. The cotton batting is inserted using a silli (metal rod) for every three-fourths of an inch completed. After filling, the pockets are sealed by weaving the remaining quarter inch that completes each woven and filled row. The process of weaving, filling and sealing are repeated for each subsequent row. Once the weaving is completed, the cloth is removed and the loose ends are gathered and knotted.
The preparation of the warp threads, including colour-sorting, sizing and winding, is usually carried out by women. Preparing the yarns and setting up the loom can take about a month, but once the loom is set up, weavers can produce up to a hundred sujanis at once, with one quilt taking two weavers a day to complete. Although the sujani is traditionally woven using cotton, more expensive varieties use rayon, silk and zari threads to make decorative brocade designs in the body and border of the fabric.
Sujani weaves feature two kinds of designs — geometric designs with alternating white and colourful squares and floral designs with butis woven using the extra-weft method. While earlier sujanis featured patterns in bright shades of red, green and blue, newer sujanis have incorporated pastel palettes of light yellow, sky blue, pink and coffee brown, as well as darker shades such as violet and navy blue.
Although initially sold predominantly in the textile hubs of Bharuch and Surat, robust trading networks and the migration of locals created export markets for the fabric in Africa, England, North America, Japan, Singapore and Burma (now Myanmar). However, industrialisation and the decreasing demand for quilts in the face of a growing market for blankets led to the subsequent decline of the craft. However, since 2000, there have been increased revival efforts by organisations and institutions such as Garvi Gurjari and the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, which includes documentation, marketing support and training of organisations, resulting in a rise in popularity in recent years.
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