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Darning – a dying skilled job

The craft of mending and stitching torn garments, known as darning, is a dying profession. Only a handful of these skilled and specialised tailors remain today, writes MICHAEL FISHER 

Changing trends in personal clothing and business practices are affecting people’s livelihood. Lesser people go to the tailors and prefer the choice in a branded readymade garment store. This has killed hundreds of skilled stitching jobs such as darners, rafoogars and embroiders on the use-and-throw culture.

The darner’s craft give new life to sarees, jeans and garments including bed spreads and other clothes. Their needle craft work is unique in present times when the modern generation barely knows to sew on a button.

But the future of the moribund darning job market is near collapsed. So far three skilled darners remain squatting at the entrance of Lakakhi, the laundry shops, two at Panaji and one at Margao.

Darner, rafoogar and embroider all rolled into one is Raghobar Gawa from Dodamarg, who now lives in Taleigao, Panaji and is in the profession of darning for the past 12 years since his father passed away.

Raghobar has seamlessly merged his life into the stitch and mend of diverse fashion wears. The rich and shy customers from within and outer state come to Panaji to mend their clothes that is close to their hearts which they refused to let go as discards.

Following the death of his father, Raghobar at the age of 16 dropped out of school in the 8th standard due to financial difficulties. He had to continue his father’s profession and be the bread earner of the entire family comprising his mother, four sisters (two got married) and one brother. Now 29 years old and a bachelor, Raghobar is waiting for his two sisters to get married before he takes the plunge.

“I wanted to continue my studies and become a teacher, but fate had other plans for me,” he says. “On a daily average, I earn ` 300 to ` 500. I get more for mending sarees and jeans. Sarees because it is made of very thin threads and jeans is made of thicker threads,” he says. His tool comprises 200 rolls of threads of all colours which include silk, poly-propylene and polyester.

“I have no personal wish of my own but to only see my sisters settled,” he replies when asked what he wished to be. His customers come from Margao, Vasco, Mapusa and out of Goa, and chatting up with them keeps him happy, he adds.

At the other end of Lakakhi shop is Bhudayi Chougule from Karnataka, who is in Goa for the past 48 years. “Krishna Gawas, Raghobar’s father who was my dear friend, taught me to stitch, not knowing this will keep me earning for the rest of my life. On an average I darn 20 pieces. Besides the rich and middle class, our customers includes ministers and their children,” he informs.

Till the late mid-80s, every home in Goa had a self-learnt tailor in the art of darning or mending garments that cannot be substituted. This art of stitching remains very labour-intensive but highly skilled. Those days, most of the intricate stitching was performed quicker and more accurately when left in women’s hands who used traditional methods. It was obvious that every prominent cloth shop had a tailor-cum-darner-cum-rafoogar and embroider adjacent to its shop. The tailors were seen darning, sewing or oiling the sewing machines.

As time went by, readymade garments and sewing machines have taken over the livelihood of hundreds of skilled darners. The machines can do the job of 10 workers. The skilled darner jobs are not coming back it seems, but many believe that by training the rural unemployed youths for such highly skilled stitching, this art of embroidery, darning and rafoogar can be revived.

Rajkumar Kamat of BNI and Prashant Shinde of Kaun Banega Yogapati, two organizations that encourage and assist entrepreneurs, can give a fillip to this dying skilled job by bringing them under their umbrella organization. Even panchayat can organise practical workshops whereby Raghobar and Chougule can impart their unmatched needle works to villagers.

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