Project Purkul is a cloth-based handicraft collective born out of the need of the artisans from the villages of Uttarakhand and the willingness of an educator to revive the art form of applique work.
Purkul is a small, pristine village in Uttarakhand, and the artisans there are extensively skilled in applique work—an ornamental technique of sewing in which patterns and motifs are created by stitching layers of carefully cut cloth onto a base fabric. However, these skills are of no use if they aren’t employed in the right direction. 'I don’t come from the textile industry; I was in the education sector. The urge of local artisans to preserve this beautiful art form made me leave my ongoing job and support them. That is when the seed of Project Purkul was sown along with two other passionate co-founders, Khalid and Zoravar,' says Amrit Burret, Director and co-founder of Project Purkul.
The artisans were working with some company that got shut down, and they were left unemployed overnight. They approached Amrit as they knew her through some of her projects with the Doon School when she was working in the education sector and asked for a job. Amrit could not stop herself from stepping out of her comfort zone and starting a business from scratch just to provide employment to these artisans and preserve the dying craft in Purkul, a lovely village in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. That is where the name of the brand comes from—a project born out of Purkul, to support the artisans of Purkul and to preserve the handmade culture in India.
The founder says, 'I had very little idea about these handwork techniques and learned from scratch with the help of two ladies, Nitu Rana and Sunita.' The techniques used by them were unique and delicate in their own sense. Project Purkul employs patchwork, a needlework technique wherein pieces of fabric are laid out and sewn together to create a larger and more complex design. Essentially, it involves creating a whole piece with shreds and pieces of fabric arranged in a specific design or pattern.
In addition to patchwork, another unique selling proposition (USP) of Purkul is appliqué. In the appliqué technique, smaller pieces of fabric are sewn onto a larger one to create a pattern. This could be based on a predetermined motif or design, such as an idyllic scenery, or something as simple as a flower on a relatively plain background. When these layers of fabrics are stitched together, either by hand or by machine, it is called quilling. Quilling serves as a finishing touch to the woven fabrics, and most of the products are hand-woven and quilled by the artisans here.
All the artisans are women who hail from different villages and small regions of Uttarakhand, especially Dehradun. While the majority of them are from Purkul, Amrit mentions that there are artisans who come from local villages such as Vikas Nagar, Gadhwal Region, Mussoorie, Hathibarkala, Bisht Gaon, and Kimadi. For the artisans who cannot visit the unit, the team has opened centers in some of the villages, allowing them to work from home and deliver their products to the resource center. If someone is unable to deliver it, the supervisors visit their houses every month to collect the work and provide them with a new project.
Regardless of the location, these artists produce works of art through their skills and hard work. They create cute baby quilts, bags, tote bags, backpacks, table runners, cushion covers, and many other home care items. The majority of the materials used in making the products are sustainable, and one contributing factor is the adoption of a zero-waste policy.
"We make smaller products from the leftover materials or waste of the larger products, and in this way, it helps us reduce the environmental impact even more. It takes at least 15 days for the smallest products, like a table runner, and it may take up to 3 months to make a quilt, depending on the intricacy of the work. We try to maintain balance by giving the artisans both large and small projects, which take less time, so that the workload is distributed, and they can work on different projects simultaneously," mentions the co-founder.
'Memory Quilts' are also a contributor to their sustainable practices as well as a link to human sentiments. It's a process of upcycling where people send their old clothes, and Purkul makes memory quilts for them. 'When people lose their loved ones, they send us their clothes and ask us to make memory quilts from them in their remembrance. One lady gave us her husband's clothes and asked us to make six quilts for their six kids and give them as Papa's memory. It feels great when you can create memories for your customers rather than just selling the products. That is why we take this work very seriously. Our designer talks to the family and gathers input on how they want the product to be and what they want to include,' says Amrit about their memory quilt project. With this vision of sustainability and sensitivity, they receive orders from various parts of India and are trying to incorporate even more environmentally-friendly practices by using natural fibers like khadi under the 'Charkha Movement' and providing employment to the artisans, keeping the art of applique alive and contributing towards the planet.