Qilasaaz was started in 1992-93 in the fort (Qila) of Mahmudabad, Uttar Pradesh, India. Its principal purpose is to enable women to earn a viable income through their traditional and distinctive skills in embroidery and sewing. It was hoped that these skills, which constitute a veritable and vanishing art form, would also be preserved through this process.
Many of the women associated with Qilasaaz were connected, through links extending over several generations, with the household of the Raja of Mahmudabad. Within this context, they had acquired skills that were deployed in the making of quilts, traditional clothes and various other handicrafts. The changes that affected the life of the Qila led to the demand for these traditional work patterns becoming unreliable and the skills therefore increasingly precarious. The result was especially poignant for women who had relied on this work, and who were the repositories of these skills. Not with standing the explosion in textile design in India over the last decades, Qilasaaz has managed to secure a respectable livelihood for the women associated with it. In the process it has also helped to consolidate and encourage the viability of these unique skills. It has now entered a new phase.
There is regular employment for twenty women, and occasional employment for more than fifty. There has been a significant enhancement of other skills, such as book-keeping and financial management, among some of the women. Moreover they now seek the best available medical facilities for their families, and for their children to go to the best available schools.
Qilasaaz has met the challenge of its original mission. We hope that in this new phase it will continue to serve the needs of these women, while remaining true to the imperatives of a local and unique art form.