Stitch by Stitch: With Kutch Weaving and Kala Cotton Fabric

As a socially and environmentally responsible textile brand and sustainable textile company, featuring Kutch weaving and Kala Cotton fabric, Stitch by Stitch is committed to promoting sustainable, artisanal textile production which enhances cultural livelihoods with our collection of handmade kantha quilts and cushions. That is why we are proud to be working with an organisation in the heart of Kutch in Gujarat, India, preserving the cultivation of indigenous Kala Cotton, and supporting local farmers and craft-based textile production.

By Karen Sear Shimali of Stitch by Stitch, Photos courtesy of Khamir

Featured Image: Direct Purchase of Kala Cotton from Farmers

The Origins of Stitch by Stitch, a Sustainable Textile Company

Why is Kala Cotton special? Kala Cotton is a genetically pure variety of cotton which thrives in the Kutch region, an area with low annual rainfall (less than 40cm), without the need for additional irrigation. It also grows organically, without the need for synthetic pesticides and fertilisers.

cotton bolls, used by Stitch by Stitch in Kutch weaving and Kala cotton fabric
Kala Cotton Bolls

The Kala Cotton Initiative is a partnership between Khamir – an NGO working to develop the rich creative, craft industries of the Kutch region – and Satvik, an organisation promoting ecological farming practices in Kutch.

Kala Cotton is a type of Old World cotton, which includes indigenous varieties such as Arboretum and Herbaceum, which archaeological evidence shows has been grown in parts of India and Pakistan for thousands of years. These Old World cottons were grown in the region until the mid 18th century, when hybridised cotton varieties were introduced to suit mill production in colonial Britain, and later, India. Gradually, the old cotton production and hand weaving techniques declined. More recently, a devastating earthquake occurred in Kutch in 2001, and this led to rapid industrialisation, which brought some prosperity, but also had a negative impact on cultural livelihoods. Small-scale weavers could not buy raw materials in bulk, and found it hard to integrate with changing markets. As a result, the number of weavers in Kutch declined from over 2000 in the mid-1990s, to around 600-700 today.

Three people at a cotton loom
Kala Cotton Weavers at the Khamir Campus

Kala Cotton is purely rain fed due its deep root system, so unlike large scale industrialised cotton production, it doesn’t require vast amounts of water to grow. Around 1400 litres of irrigated water is required to cultivate 1kg of Bt cotton – a genetically modified, pest-resistant cotton plant which produces an insecticide to combat bollworm – which accounts for the majority of cotton grown in India today. Kala Cotton is of the type G. Herbaceum, which has not been hybridised, and is therefore genetically pure. It is organic since this hardy species has a naturally high tolerance to disease and pests, meaning it can be grown without the use of harmful and expensive fertilisers and pesticides.

Farmer suicides are a tragic result of the financial risks that small farmers take on. Irrigation systems, and the manufacture of chemical fertilisers also require vast amounts of energy and produce greenhouse gases. Pesticides pollute soil and water. Bt Cotton generates 628g of CO2 gas per kg of seed cotton, whereas Kala Cotton by contrast generates 109g per kg. Khamir confidently claims that Kala Cotton production in Kutch is among the most water and energy-efficient in the world.

In the early market systems of Kutch, local farmers supplied local weavers with the raw materials to produce soft and durable textiles. After many years of experimentation and perfecting spinning and weaving techniques, the Kala Cotton Initiative has created a new holistic and practical supply chain between the farmers, ginners, spinners and weavers of marginalised communities, to convert raw cotton into beautiful hand woven textiles. This sustainable production, from seed to cloth, is in total harmony with the local ecology. Khamir has reinvigorated an old craft value chain for the modern, global market which empowers the community and enlivens the local economy in the face of homogenisation and environmental degradation.

Cotton Warping being done by hand
Kala Cotton Warping

Stitch by Stitch purchases all of its Kala Cotton fabrics via hand weavers supported by Khamir, to be made into handmade home textiles. One of the weavers says, “I am proud of my weaving tradition. It gives us an identity, and helps us to stand on our own feet.” Another adds, “I worked as a security man for two years. It was a hard time. Weaving Kala Cotton gets me a fair amount of money. I like working here with the community as leaving home and travelling the distance for work leaves me unsettled. Weaving is my life… there is a sense of belonging that comes with it.”

Happy Cotton Weaver waving
A Kala Cotton Weaver at Khamir, Kutch, India