The day after arriving in Bijapur, I was told hat I would be picked up at 9.45 in the morning by a rickshaw driver and taken to work… At 11.15 my driver arrived. Due to the CEO, Mallamma, being called away to Brazil for a fair trade conference, I was told that Teju, her daughter, would be my point of contact and supervisor for the week.

As I was supposed to meet Teju at 10 o’clock, I expected that she would be at work waiting for me. Instead, I was greeted by a lovely man named Pranesh. He showed me around the craft centre, which didn’t take long, and gave me a brief explanation about Sabala, the work they do, and what makes it unique.

I saw the first room downstairs, where three ladies were using the Banjara stitch to embroider amazing colourful patterns onto various textile items. Next door was a small room cluttered with jars full of buttons and beads, threads, wools, and hand-made jewellery. Up one flight of stairs, there were three rooms. There was a small sample room cluttered with hand-made bags, pencil cases, cushion covers and other textiles. Next door was a large room with shelves of fabrics. These fabrics were all dyed with natural colours and all flaunting Kalamkari print. (I have to admit, I anted to pull the fabrics down and just roll in them! They were amazing). This large room also featured a large table on which the pattern cutter worked his magic and hidden away was another tiny room with shelves of fabric. This would be the room I would spend a lot of my 6 weeks in! The third room on this floor was the machinists’ room, where there were 6 women who stitched all the items together. Mostly they worked on various bags, stitching them into shape, but 2 of them knew how to stitch garments together and add the details such as piping, collars, button holes, etc.

Up another flight of stairs was a huge room divided into two areas. On one side, there were more sewing machines on which there were four ladies sewing lining into the bags, and on the other side were a group of people sitting in a circle on the floor, either weaving the fabric to make their unique jute bags, or hand-stitching the edges and creating handles for them.

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The whole tour took around 20 mins – maximum! Pranesh gave me a brief history of Sabala, and then I was taken back to the office downstairs where I was given some catalogues and brochures to read, and told to wait for Teju. After a further three hours of me swiveling in my chair, and following a phone call from myself, she arrived and introduced herself. I was given another tour of the centre and another brief history and then was told that she didn’t exactly know what I should be doing, but my task was to design 12 garments for my chosen Indian target market. The meeting was brief and after half an hour I was left to my own devices again, clueless about what I was supposed to be doing, so I spent the rest of my time looking through the samples and fabrics at my own pace.

At 5pm, I hopped on the back of Pranesh’s motorbike and we visited Sabala’s showroom on MG Road. It’s a really cute shop with lots of products for a variety of customers – tourists and non-tourists. Mostly they stock hand-stitched cushion covers, bags and women’s kurtas (Indian tunics), but they also supply a whole range of handmade jewellery, soft toys, gift items, dupattas and more.

After my brief encounter with the showroom, I was taken home. It’s difficult to know what to expect from this experience as I spent a lot of today waiting around for people and haven’t really had much explained to me, but hopefully things will be clearer tomorrow.

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