As we know, the vibrant and ravishing cities and villages of Rajasthan are hubs of age old crafts. Some of them have originated here whereas in other’s case, the artisans have been bought here by art-loving kings. Under their patronage and supervision, a plethora of crafts flourished here and the economic conditions of several artisanal families increased manifold.
One such beautiful craft of Rajasthan is the Jawaja leather handicraft. It is a budding craft, with its personalized set of traits and uniqueness. It is not only being restricted to this state, but has spread across the borders.
The intricacy and excellent craftsmanship of this luxurious leather work is the uniformly stitched leather strips instead of threads. The complex process includes the sticking of two layers of leather strips with good quality adhesive and then stitching them by punching holes with a sharp tool called awl or large needles. Then the leather strips are made to pass through the layers which help in holding them tightly. The leather stitches are formed in diamond shapes which add grace to Jawaja leather. Bags with highly restrained aesthetic sense use the texture of leather thongs over burnished leather surface.
Initially, the craftsmen of Raigar community were the ones who were involved in the manufacturing and repairing of footwear, harnesses and bottle bags for pulling water out of wells. With industrialisation, the craftsmen introduced innovative production techniques to produce in large numbers and start new product range.
From start to finish, everything is handmade. From processing of raw skins to the finishing of the product, no machineries are being used. The fresh techniques considerably reduced the odour of leather while it is prepared. This in turn helped the craftsmen in completing all the processes at their homes. The hides are soaked in water first after bringing them from the wholesale leather market. It is taken out and soaked in mixture of brine and the sap of a small green plant called aakh.
This facilitated the taking out of excess skin called chilai and body hair with broad and blunt edged knives. Diversified braiding and knotting techniques as well as brass rivets are used as purposeful and decorative jointing techniques. The leather may also be coloured, glazed, punched, embossed or branded. The hides are sewed with moonj grass sourced locally. The skin is stitched at the edges. They are tanned in pits using the tannin of the bark of the babul tree. Before crafting into products, leather is cleansed and stretched; only then is it cut according to cardboard patterns and stitched with thick cotton yarn or thin leather strips.
Several new age lifestyle and accessory designers are involved in the experimentation of jawaja leather to make an array of new products. Some have been developed, others are in the budding stage. They have been developed in Jawaja from cow and buffalo leather.
The idea is to show a new path to the craftsmen in developing the designs of his cultural craft.