Handicrafts & Weaving

The Handicrafts project has its origins at Calcutta Rescue’s first project – the street clinic on Middleton Row. The sewing teacher from Calcutta Rescue’s school was brought in to train former patients how to make clothes. Before long, these former patients were producing clothes for the clinic’s existing patients. At the same time, of course, they were themselves earning a wage that helped them to support themselves and their families. This was vital employment for people whose opportunities for work were otherwise severely limited owing to illness.


Among the volunteers who worked at the clinic, Julie Speechley, a designer, who saw scope for expansion and diversification, encouraged this project. She taught children from the Calcutta Rescue School to make small handicraft items like; key rings, bookmarks and cards – that gave the children valuable vocational skills.


This success led to former patients being trained and employed to make handicrafts of a sufficiently high standard that they could be sold abroad. Not only did this generate employment and income for people who would otherwise have found it very difficult to find safe work, it also helped raise funds for Calcutta Rescue’s services.


The demand for handicrafts increased steadily and the need for a larger working area soon became evident. Space was made in the school for a small group of people to work on stitching and make a growing number of handicraft items. Successive volunteers also taught the participants new skills – in art, embroidery, woodwork, painting and other crafts.


What began as a peripheral clinic activity has developed today into a vibrant, stand – alone project. The handicrafts project has formal Fair Trade accreditation and more than half of our entire handicrafts sales are to Fair Trade shops.


It has a workshop in the Sova Bazaar area of North Kolkata. Staff members are former patients – widows and women who have been deserted by their husbands, or whose husbands are too sick to find regular work. Students who have had difficulty with academic education or dropped out of school are also employed. They are learning new skills and are continuously improving on those that they have learned. At the same time, they are earning valuable income for themselves and their families. This is all the more significant in a context in which uneducated and unskilled women are typically at the lowest level of employability and constantly vulnerable to exploitation.


The Handicrafts project has 29 trainees, all former patients from our clinic or drop-out students from our schools – in addition to the 12 regular daily staff. Not only does the project produce a wide range of handicrafts that are sold both in India and abroad, it also makes clothes and other items for the patients and students at Calcutta Rescue’s Clinics and schools. The project produces cards, bags, cushion covers, table linen and many other quality products. A new and innovative range that recycles old silk into attractive shawls, scarves and bags, has proved to be very popular among customers in Europe and North America.

The Handicrafts Project also works closely with our Weaving Project using the cloth that has been spun and woven there.