Avani Earthcraft was founded in 1997 by Rashmi Bharti and her husband Rajnish Jain in Tilonia, Rajasthan, a town in Northwestern India. For over 20 years, Avani has revived traditional textile methods of hand-spinning, hand-weaving, and natural dyeing. Many of these traditional techniques came from the Shauka community. The Shaukas, a nomadic group, specialized in items like thulma, or thickly woven, semi-felted, woolen blankets, and chukta, a type of thick, soft rug. Today, Avani Earthcraft works hard to preserve these and other traditional styles while introducing new, economically and environmentally responsible styles, as well as harvesting natural dyes from local plants.
One of these plants, Ageratina adenophora, is an invasive weed introduced from Central Mexico in the 19th century as a garden flower. Called ban mara or “forest killer” in parts of the Himalayas, it has destroyed the native vegetation of vast tracts of land. Avani Earthcraft gives the ecosystem a chance to recover by harvesting large amounts of the plant to use in natural dyes. It yields a lovely range of yellows and olive greens.
From “seed to scarf,” Avani Earthcraft’s entire process is complex, multifaceted, and involves a wide range of skills. All production processes use clean energy and organically sourced material at every step. After 15 years of studying organic, indigenous pigments, the cooperative currently works with a color palette of 30 shades derived from local sources. This palette adorns a range of unique yet functional textile products, including extra-soft, abstractly patterned shawls and stoles, as well as home furnishings and even wearable garments for the whole family.
The first step in creating an Avani Earthcraft textile is cultivating, collecting, and harvesting the dye materials. As dyes are prepared, the collective’s artisans spin raw wool and silk into thread. Hand-spinning, practiced by both men and women, is an activity typically done at home and provides a supplementary source of income to many local community members. The straightforward process requires only a drop spindle and silk or wool. Using just gravity, drop spindles both twist and pull fiber downwards to transform it into thread.
Today, interest in preserving ancient weaving and dyeing customs has rapidly been declining; Avani Earthcraft hopes to combat that by establishing weaving centers in villages across the region, thereby creating economic incentives for young people to carry forward this craft.