Gabba is one of the significant handicrafts of Kashmir and finds its origin in the humble efforts of reusing old woollen blankets. Gabba making has its roots in village life, therefore the reflection of rural taste and aesthetic preference is visible in the craft. Gabba is a traditional example of sustainable design as it uses waste as a resource for making new useful products.
A domestic craft, Gabba was originally used by a common man to keep warm during the harsh winters of Kashmir. Gabba is a creative and thrifty utilization of old worn out woollen textiles to enhance their thermal quality by means of layering.
There is no exact date of Gabba’s origin and it finds little mention in books on handicrafts of Kashmir. There is a local belief that 200 years ago there lived a boy named Lassa Tota in Anantnag district of Kashmir. Being very poor, he fixed together different pieces of old woollen clothes of various colours, which gave rise to a unique kind of mattress. The new design fascinated people around him and they started making similar type of mattress, which led to the origin of Gabba. This suggests that Gabba has its origins in Kashmir. According to another theory, a refugee from Kabul, Abdul Rehman prepared a saddle in appliqué technique for his host Kamal Bhat. This interesting idea caught the imagination of the local makers and Gabba came into being.
Legend has it that in 1846, the then Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Gulabh Singh, on his visit to a village in Anantnag requested his host to sell him the piece of flooring – a Gabba – he was sitting on. Maharaja Ranbir Singh, another patron of Kashmiri handicrafts, honoured Gabba makers on various occasions and master crafts person were often invited to the palace. This is an evidence of the popularity of Gabba among the royalty in Kashmir.
Gabba is considered to be the common man’s carpet as it is relatively inexpensive. The embroidery is done on a woollen cloth with a hook tool called “Aer”. Gabba is made in two ways. Patch work or appliqué’ Gabba is made by joining different pieces of old rags of varied colours. The patches are joined with such skill that the onlooker cannot tell that it is made out of different pieces. Traditionally pieces of old rags or waste blankets were sewn together and embroidered. Even pieces of fabric were joined with the help of stitching onto a larger piece of fabric to form patterns.
Another way of making Gabba is by first dyeing the cotton or woollen cloth in a single colour followed by embroidery done with the yarn of different colours. In this type of Gabba, double stitch embroidery is done with cotton yarn. Such kind of Gabba is popular locally. Currently, craftspeople do not use the conventional old rags to make Gabba. Instead new blankets are used. The artisans have started dyeing the blankets before embroidering them.
Another type of Gabba is where embroidery is done using spun cotton yarn. The cloth used as a base differs from other Gabbas. In chain stitch, the embroidery is done so close that the base is not visible in the final product. Sometimes, the craftspeople use staple yarns instead of wool for embroidery.
A Gabba comes in varied sizes with dimensions of 9×12 feet, 4×9 feet, 2×4 feet, and 3×4 feet. Gabbas have been traditionally used for various purposes & during different occasions such as marriages, in guest rooms and embellishing the interiors of palanquins for brides. Chainstitch Gabbas are also used as curtains. Gabbas have also found use in rituals and as prayer rugs.