Our Chindi Collection: New Beginnings

MarketPlace’s Chindi collection exemplifies two qualities central to our organization: style and economic empowerment.  The chindi, material scraps left over from garment production, are recycled into new clothing and accessories in a variety of creative ways.  Sometimes they are used in patchwork, and sometimes they are made into embellishments such as tassels, trim or other accents. The different hand-dyed fabric pieces add unique style to MarketPlace products.  They are also often the creation of new artisans.  Women who come to the cooperatives with no experience using sewing machines can practice by sewing chindi squares together.  It is a great way to learn to sew straight and accurate seams!  When the sewn-together chindi strips or squares are perfect, they can be incorporated into finished products.  Producing parts of the chindi collection gives fledgling groups the chance to gain confidence in their production, punctuality and quality control.

There are many steps involved taking the chindi scraps from the cutting floor to finished products.

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After production, the scraps are gathered up and sent to a central workshop.  Usually, at the start of it all, we are faced with a gigantic multi-hued ball.  This has to be pulled apart to separate and sort all the pieces.  Scraps are grouped according to size and color.  For color, they are further organized by both pattern and background color.  Two pieces may have the same color in the pattern, but if the one has a white background and the other a dark color, they may not work together.

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Each piece is ironed flat before being cut to a specified size and shape.  Some designs call for 2”, 4” or 6” squares.  Others use triangles of different dimensions. Sometimes the designs incorporate long strips of scraps.

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This jacket requires 6” squares.  A template is used and the dimensions marked on the fabric with tailor’s chalk.

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Stacks of the cut chindi pieces are turned over to the sewing trainees.  These are kept within reach next to each sewing machine.  An artisan takes one piece from each stack in front of her, attaches them together and sews them into a strip.  Then the strips are sewn together to make designated shapes.  Depending on their planned use, the chindis may be made into 1-yard pieces, 10” squares, or some other shape.  By doing this work the trainee learns the basics: how to start and stop the sewing machine, how much pressure to apply on the foot pedal, and how to feed the fabric through the needle.  Fitting the pieces together gives them practice in accuracy as they have to get the corners and edges to line up and keep their stitching straight.

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And here you have chindi patchwork fabric ready for the next step: printing!

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We use techniques of printing and dyeing to create a cohesive piece out of the sewn-together chindi pieces.  It is difficult to know ahead of time how many total chindis will be generated as well as how many of each color.  If the final design is color-specific, we could run out of that particular color.  By overdyeing or block printing over the chindis, we can control the color palette.  For this jacket, the chindis form a backdrop for new hand block printing.

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Here the printed chindi fabric is combined other fabrics to add texture and style.

Below are  three garments using this fabric

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These garments give new life to what used to be considered useless scraps.  And their production gives a new start to women who are determined to transform their own lives.

16 comments

  1. I love your telling the story this way! These photographs really bring us right there, into your production studio, and bring the whole process richly alive.

    When I see the care and the creativity that has been taken to complete each garment, it makes me love my jacket all the more! And each time I put it on, I think of the women who worked so skillfully to make this treasure possible.

    I wear my exquisite jacket and send love back to you all. Thank you!

    Ellen Mitchell

    1. Hi, Jacqui. Great minds think alike! Chindi skirts have been part of our seasonal lines for awhile. Right now, we have a Prachi skirt (#54D-07) which uses chindis, and there have been/will be others. As for quilts, in the past we have teamed with American quilters to do our own home-grown version of chindis. Some of those were featured in blog posts as we offered them at raffles for fundraisers. The artisan groups are not currently producing any home interior items, but in the past they have used chindis to create cushion covers, duvet covers, and table linen as well. All good ideas for the future! Thanks for the suggestion.

    1. Hi, JoJean. You are absolutely right — time-consuming and well worth the effort! It’s part of what makes Fair Trade clothes different than clothes bought at regular retailers: it’s not just the fair wages or good working conditions for the artisan cooperatives that set us apart. No assembly lines here. It’s that human touch, that an actual person sat down and made this garment with her own hands.
      Thanks for your comment!

  2. I appreciated this presentation about the chindi, and I am pleased to see how new artisans are trained.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your stories about both the female workers and how the clothing you offer is made.
    It makes my heart happy to hear them and I am both proud and honored to support the women in India whenever I purchase one of your products.

    1. Hi, Annemarie! We’re so glad you love your MarketPlace garment. Your analogy to village-banking is pretty apt: it’s amazing how the artisan groups start with so little and make so much from it. Do stay in touch — we love to hear from you!

  4. Beautiful presentation of the making of chindis! Several years ago I bought a chindi (water)bottle carrier with a shoulder strap and used it almost daily for my tea (which I made in a mason jar — a very snug fit, I might say). It has finally become threadbare and I want to buy another one, but you’re not making them any more. I suggest you add that item back in, and make it just a wee bit bigger than the original to accommodate a mason jar as well as water bottles. I’m here in line to be your first customer!

    1. Hi, Carolyn! We took your request to our design team, and they think bringing back the water bottle carrier is a great idea! We’re not sure how soon we can do this (we’re gearing up production for our Fall catalog now), but when we do, it will be offered as a web-only item. Stay tuned!

  5. The human element, the personal touch, the artist’s hand–whatever you want to call it–MarketPlace has brought joy into fashion.

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