The Maiwa Foundation


Though Maiwa Handprints Ltd. and the Maiwa Foundation share similar views, they are separate organizations. The first is a commercial enterprise while the second is a non-profit organization dedicated to education and the relief of poverty for traditional artisans and their families. The Maiwa Foundation has as its purpose reducing poverty in rural villages by promoting artisan self-sufficiency.




Meet the artisans supported by the Maiwa Foundation.

Meet the artisans supported by the Maiwa Foundation

In 2013 the Maiwa Foundation published this small-run hardcover book. 108 pages of full colour photographs with text describing the Maiwa Foundation, its background, and the artisans. The book can be purchased online or from the Maiwa stores.

Our Strength is in Our Hands

So craftspeople have said for countless years.

The Maiwa Foundation exists to encourage and promote high quality craft as a means of survival for indigenous artisans. When the artisans are established and producing, Maiwa Handprints (our for-profit company) can bring their products to the world market. The Foundation works on many fronts to enable artisans to practice their craft meaningfully and profitably.

Sometimes a barrier comes between the artisan’s skill and their ability to complete their work. It can be a small thing … the lack of a grinding wheel that would enable an indigo farmer to deliver his dye as a powder rather than in rock form; a loom that needs repairs; or a block printer’s blocks that need to be recut. In these cases the Foundation can step in and remove the barrier.

Sometimes the Maiwa Foundation can help in a catastrophe as we did in the 2004 tsunami or the 2001 Kutch earthquake. Although we are not primarily a disaster relief organization, we can often fundraise to rebuild looms or re-establish dye facilities.

The Maiwa Foundation can also provide interest-free long-term loans to facilitate major projects. When the block printers of Dhamadka and Ajrakhpur needed to relocate and rebuild due to water contaminants, the Maiwa Foundation was able to assist with strategic lending.

Like any business, artisans or cooperatives can find themselves in financial trouble. Often they turn to the wrong person for help and find themselves indentured to predatory lenders. In such cases the Foundation can step in, eliminate the debt, and have the group repay the Foundation at low or no interest.

The Maiwa Foundation also assists in promoting artisan work on the world stage. We collaborate with museums, galleries, guilds, and art centres to exhibit exceptional work.

Knowledge sharing between artisans has always been fundamental to the evolution of craft. Today it provides not only necessary technical, marketing, and business support but also a dramatic sense that the artisan is part of a much larger community. Younger craftspeople see a future for their art. The Maiwa Foundation directly manages artisan collaboration and knowledge sharing.


The Maiwa Foundation was established in 1997 by Maiwa Handprints Ltd. It was registered as a private trust in 2001 to help fund practicing and re-emerging artisans in the craft sector. The fund is to support work that develops higher-level skills or to sustain existing skills. The Maiwa Foundation has carried out numerous charitable activities for the benefit of artisans and craftspeople in developing nations. Below are some of the Maiwa Foundation’s past and ongoing projects.

Artisan Education

The Maiwa Foundation seeks to reverse the erosion of traditional skills and techniques and to assist artisan groups to regain the height of their former reputation. Increasingly Maiwa finds itself holding an archive of knowledge in natural dyeing, weaving, embroidery, and block printing which is invaluable to artisan groups.

Through the maintenance of an extensive textile collection Maiwa can show artisans traditionally made, high-quality pieces. These pieces both inspire artisans and give a physical example of what can be done.

Showing Rabari embroidery to a Banjara groupShowing pieces from the Maiwa Collection
Taking samples of embroidery to meet with Banjara women.
Maiwa also engages in skill development for artisans by bringing experts in traditional techniques to teach in remote communities. The Foundation will also bring artisan communities together to problem solve and share resources.

Maiwa Masterclass in BengalMichel Garcia at the Maiwa Masterclass
The Maiwa masterclass being conducted in Bengal.
Our largest project of artisan education to date was the 2011 Masterclass in Bengal, India. The Foundation brought together over 20 artisans to share knowledge and learn from experts in natural dyes, weaving, block printing, and other techniques.

Teaching: Nagaland

At the close of the 1990s, the Maiwa Foundation was making a series of trips into the remote regions of northeast India. Villagers still possessed remarkable weaving skills which they used to produce outstanding textiles and basketry.

The Maiwa Foundation set up a training strategy to encourage weavers to dye their own fibres. The first phase introduced synthetic dyeing of natural fibres, eliminating synthetic fibre from the weaving and giving the artisans control over the colour palette. The second stage replaced synthetic dyes with natural dyes.

Teaching: Morocco

Morocco, with its flourishing carpet industry, is very well positioned to capitalize on a natural dye revival. Even though Moroccan carpets do not enjoy the prestige given to Persian or Turkish works, they are nevertheless a viable item of trade supported by the rural infrastructure. Weaving skills persist and women can gain additional income without disrupting domestic life or entering a factory environment.

What have largely vanished are dyeing skills. The local markets are a source of much misinformation. The large tourist centres make fantastic claims of natural dye use that have no basis in any tradition. Tourists are frequently told that greens are obtained from mint leaves and reds from rose petals.

In 2007 the Maiwa Foundation conducted a five-day natural dye workshop. The students learned how to wash fibres and apply appropriate mordants for wools. They then created a range of colours from indigo, cochineal, madder, henna, cutch, chamomile, and a number of local dye plants. Students learned about light- and wash-fastness, about water conservation, and about the importance of basic dye procedures and safe use of materials.

With natural dye knowledge back in their hands, artisans can once again make the weavings that distinguish the tribal cultures of Morocco.

Teaching: Ethiopia

Located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Sabahar is a co-operative focusing on sericulture, spinning, dyeing, and weaving. Sericulture generates income for Ethiopian women while fitting comfortably into domestic life. As with many artisan skills, income can be generated without neglecting children and family.

Sabahar’s expertise in natural dyeing came from books and from almost five years of trial and error. They work with eri silk, mulberry silk, and cotton.

The Maiwa Foundation’s first goal was to increase Sabahar’s natural dyeing capacity. Processes were adjusted to improve colour-fastness and light-fastness.

A second goal of the visit was to have in-depth discussions about product design and where best to position Sabahar’s products to take advantage of a global market.

Teaching: Assam

Assam is famous for a type of silk called muga, which is naturally a golden brown colour. Also present in the region are two other wild silks: tussah and eri.
Eri silk is almost like cotton. It is unusual in that it is spun rather than reeled. Eri is very receptive to natural dyes.
In Assam our natural dye class focused on silk fibres. The Maiwa Foundation provided a thorough introduction to all aspects of natural dye use. In addition artisans were able to consult with the instructors on product development and marketing.
The Foundation invited two individuals to participate in the Maiwa Master Class held in Bengal in 2011.

Teaching: Peru

In Peru, the Maiwa Foundation provided a workshop that demonstrated the “natural” or “organic” indigo vat. These vats are an alternative to both traditional urine-based vats and to chemical vats. Variants use either overripe fruit (bananas, mangos, etc.), henna (another plant dye), or iron.

Our workshop was delivered as part of a “Gathering of the Weavers of the Americas” hosted by the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco in 2010.

The Maiwa Foundation was also able to give a second workshop that focused on the challenges artisans face as they prepare work for international markets. The Foundation is able to give many examples from around the world of artisan groups. This knowledge sharing is invaluable to isolated cooperatives.

Beyond Teaching: The Maiwa Masterclass

The Master Class was a bold attempt by the Maiwa Foundation to bring together highly skilled artisans from all over India. The goal was knowledge sharing on an elevated level.

The Sabahar artisans from Ethiopia were also invited. The languages spoken at the workshop included Amharic, Bengali, Kutchi, Hindi, Telugu, Assamese, French, and English.

To guide the natural dye component of this workshop, the Maiwa Foundation brought in Michel Garcia, a French dye chemist and botanist. On the first day he gathered the questions, problems, and concerns of the artisans, a daunting task: some artisans, such as the blockprinters, are heavily constrained by their process. Washing their cloth in the middle of the procedure, for example, is not an option. For others such as the ikat weavers, changing the order of dyes might result in much extra work because they must tie entire lengths of yarns in order to resist the dye and obtain a certain colour.

The goal of the dyers is always what might be called legacy dyeing: colours that are the shades that the dyer wanted; colours that are as light-fast, rub-fast, and wash-fast as possible; textiles that are exquisite, with beautiful colours that show the apex of the art.

In addition to the Foundation staff, invited textile artisans from the West volunteered to assist in the workshop. Catherine Ellis, Gale Anderson-Palm, and Jane Stafford ran micro-workshops throughout the week so that participants could be managed in smaller groups. Through this strategy participants could divide time between intensely technical studies and more creative patterning techniques.


The Maiwa Foundation supports public engagement through the exhibition of artisan work. By showcasing contemporary, high-quality work on the world stage, Maiwa disseminates a narrative of hand production and artisan livelihood. This narrative runs counter to factory and mechanized production and seeks to radically alter both public perception and buying habits.

Through the Eye of a Needle ExhibitionThrough the Eye of a Needle ExhibitionThrough the Eye of a Needle Exhibition
Through the Eye of a Needle: Stories from an India Desert — Exhibition
Self-sufficiency for village artisans is largely dependent on a recognition of value by western and international markets. Simply stated, handmade craft, which builds on traditional skills and displays high quality workmanship cannot be easily copied by either industrial means or unskilled labour. Moreover, the market is willing to pay a premium for an absence of synthetic content (in craft this usually means the exclusive use of natural dyes and natural fibers produced and used in environmentally sound ways). Works of this type are generally produced in a rural domestic setting, empowering female artisans who need not absent themselves from village life to become wage earners. The end goal of such trade is that artisans come to a full realization of the value of their work. A knowledge of fair market value (in a global sense) protects artisans from predatory buyers and elevates their status within the family and within the community.

Through the Eye of a Needle 2002

Through the Eye of a Needle ExhibitionThrough the Eye of a Needle Exhibition
Through the Eye of a Needle ExhibitionThrough the Eye of a Needle Exhibition


In 2002 the Maiwa Foundation, in conjunction with the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS) co-operative, Maiwa Handprints Ltd., The Vancouver Museum, and other funders mounted an exhibition of embroidery from tribal groups living in the Kutch Desert. After completing it's run in Canadian venues the show traveled internationally.
This exhibition is supported by a 30-minute documentary and a 96-page, full-colour book.


On January 26, 2001, there was an earthquake which devastated the landscape and lives of the people of Kutch Desert. The foundation immediately began fundraising through a series of auctions and speaking engagements and through the creation of an Internet relief site. This campaign raised approximately $35,000.00 which went directly to earthquake relief activities. The money was used for the purchase of tents to provide immediate and long-term housing, the purchase of food and medical supplies, the rebuilding of workplaces, and the replacement of tools and supplies needed to return to work.

The massive earthquake measured 7.9 on the Richter scale.. Kutch was the epicentre of seismic activity felt across most of India and Pakistan. The towns of Bhuj and Bachau were flattened and severe damage was inflicted on the town of Anjar. Seventy-nine hundred villages were affected and over four hundred villages were completely destroyed. The earthquake and hundreds of aftershocks affected nearly sixteen million people, resulting in more than twenty-five thousand deaths, one hundred and sixty-nine thousand injuries, and the destruction of over one million homes. UNICEF estimates that as many as five million children were directly affected through the loss of family, home, or school. Authorities have estimated fifteen thousand schools were damaged or destroyed along with three hundred hospitals. Massive damage was inflicted on the water and sanitation systems and more than twenty thousand cattle were killed.

The earthquake was caused by the Indian plate pushing northward into the Eurasian plate. At the rate of one centimetre per year, this slow collision has produced the Himalayan mountain range. The stresses also affect the Indian subcontinent. Here they produce large disturbances where there are significant faults in the crust.

This earthquake was similar to the June sixteenth, 1819, Rann of Kutch event, which was estimated to have the same magnitude and epicentre. The 1819 quake threw up a nine-metre vertical displacement that has become known as the Allah Bund or the Wall of God. This feature changed the course of the Indus River, thus forming the Kutch Desert.

For residents of the area, the devastation seemed immediate and unending. This part of the world is familiar with struggle but the scope of this catastrophe, the collapsed infrastructure, and the loss of life undermined both determination and optimism.

The foundation immediately began fundraising through a series of auctions and speaking engagements and through the creation of an Internet relief site. This campaign raised approximately $35,000.00 which went directly to earthquake relief activities. The money was used for the purchase of tents to provide immediate and long-term housing, the purchase of food and medical supplies, the rebuilding of workplaces, and the replacement of tools and supplies needed to return to work.


Water is vital to the production of Ajrakh cloth. Artisans take the cloth through a process that can involve over thirty separate steps as first the cloth is prepared, then mordanted, then dyed. Through each stage the character of the water will influence everything - from the shades of the colours themselves to the success or failure of the entire process.
The Khatri community in Dhamadka and Ajrakpur, led by three (now famous) brothers: Razzaque, Ismail, and Jabbar have come together to solve what amounts to a crisis for the traditional blockprinters. Falling water tables and changes in quality of water have effectively forced the group to scout a new site for their “farm” or ajrakh studio. The relocation means the group must raise funds to purchase new land.

The three brothers are located in the Kutch desert on India’s western border. They are part of a family that can trace it’s blockprinting heritage back for nine generations. Razzaque has won the National Award for Craft (as did his father before him) and Ismail has received an honourary doctorate from De Montfort University, Leicester, UK.

The Maiwa Foundation orchestrated fund-raising activities to assist in the land purchase. The Khatri’s produced a collection of exhibition quality double-sided Ajrakh that were auctioned as a fundraiser. Many guilds and textile groups worked together with Maiwa to ensure that the artisans were able to relocate before the water at the present sites became unusable.

As of 2017, the Maiwa Foundation continues to work with a team of volunteer engineers to evaluate solutions or interventions.
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