Kutch has long been renowned for its distinctive traditional crafts, particularly its embroidery, practised by pastoral groups like Hindu Rabaris and Ahirs, and Muslim Jats and Muthwas, as well as migrants from Sindh including the Sodha Rajputs and Meghwal Harijans. Traditionally, each community has its own stitches and patterns, though these distinctions are becoming less apparent with time.
The northern villages of Dhordo, Khavda and Hodko are home to the few remaining communities of leather embroiderers, who stitch flower, peacock and fish motifs onto bags, fans, horse belts, wallets, cushion covers and mirror frames. Dhordo is also known for its woodcarving, while Khavda is one of the last villages to continue the printing method known as ajrakh. Cloth is dyed with natural pigments in a lengthy process similar to batik, but instead of wax, a mixture of lime and gum is used to resist the dye in certain parts of the cloth when new colours are added. Women in Khavda also paint terracotta pots.
Rogan painting is practised by only a few artisans at Nirona in northern Kutch. A complex process turns hand-pounded castor oil into coloured dyes that are used to decorate cushion covers, bedspreads and curtains with simple geometric patterns. Craftsmen also make melodic bells (once used for communication among shepherds) coated in intricate designs of copper and brass. Silver jewellery is common, featuring in most traditional Kutchi costumes, but Kutchi silver engraving, traditionally practised in Bhuj, is a dwindling art form. The anklets, earrings, nose-rings, bangles and necklaces are similar to those seen in Rajasthan; many are made by the Ahir and Rabari communities living in both areas. The main centres for silver are Anjar, Bhuj, Mandvi and Mundra.
Kutchi clothes are distinctive not only for their fine embroidery and bold designs. The most common form of cloth printing is bandhani (tie-dye), a practice most concentrated in Mandvi and Anjar. Another unique craft is ilacha (mashroo-weaving), a combination of dyeing and weaving with silk yarn to create designs so detailed and complex as to appear embroidered.
In recent times, the future of many local craft centres has become doubtful, especially since the post-earthquake reconstruction of Bhuj and its surrounds. The consequent creation of many largely unskilled labouring jobs, with higher wages, lured many workers away from handicraft making. NGOs like Kala Raksha are striving to keep local traditions alive.