No Barriers


The Friends of Tilonia

In an article for Catalyst, Ellen Fish, executive director of Friends of Tilonia, wrote, “Being illiterate and poor is no barrier.” Fish knows this from first hand experience gathered through her work linking The Friends of Tilonia and the Barefoot College.

Tilonia is the name of the web shop formed by the partnership, but its namesake is a small village located in Rajasthan, India where the Barefoot College is based. Founded in the early 1970s, the college’s mission has been to improve the quality of life for impoverished communities in rural India. Its main instruction combines traditional methods with modern technology with the goal of “learning by doing.” The curriculum addresses basic human needs and promotes both economic and environmental sustainability.

The Barefoot College’s philosophy revolves around Ghandian principles; it has been designed as a replacement for traditional charity. Male and female graduates from the college’s various training programs acquire environmentally and economically viable skills and bring them back to their villages. Skills range from building and maintaining clean drinking water systems to creating numerous forms of employment in marketing and selling artisan-made products.

The college’s online artisan enterprise came about in the course of its partnership with the Friends of Tilonia, Inc. According to Fish, more than 400 artisans, primarily women, earn supplemental income by selling handcrafts that include sewing, needlework, embroidery, tie-dyeing, block-printing and weaving to Tilonia. Tilonia’s home collection features a wide variety decorative pillows, bedspreads, quilts, and duvet covers that meet the demands of contemporary decor, but with a twist that reflects traditional Indian craft.

The Tilonia artisan collection is based on ancient Indian traditions. Among the textile techniques used is barmer appliqué—traditionally sewn on bedspreads with black or brown bases. Inspired by nature, the motifs include trees, leaves flowers and wildlife. Depending on the intricacy of the appliqué work, an elaborate bedspread can take up to a month to complete.

Another technique used is bandhej, which dates back 5,000 years. Tilonia’s bandhej, or tie and dye, is created mostly by a family in the Roonpangarth in the Ajmer district in Rajasthan. To create intricate patterns on the fabric, women tightly wrap fine threads around small pinches of fabric. Men do the dyeing in traditional natural dyes including indigo and tumeric.

This year, Tilonia will be exhibiting several new items at Artisan Resource™, a special section at the New York International Gift Fair® that runs from August 19-21, 2012 at the Jacob Javits Center and Pier 92. Artisan Resource offers a number of handmade production resources and products, at export terms from countries of origin. Numerous artisan groups from countries from Afghanistan to South Africa will be exhibiting their products. This special section serves as a source for designers and retailers who are looking for unique items, as well as partnering with these organizations to keep artisan craftsmanship, traditional methods, techniques and cultural heritage alive and flourishing.

According to Fish, Tilonia will display products from six artisan partners including home textiles, tableware, glassware and women’s accessories.

Other products at Artisan Resource include Avani wild silk textiles handwoven from naturally dyed, hand spun yarn by women artisans in rural India; Collectivo 1050º contemporary black pottery produced using traditional methods by women potters in rural Mexico; ROPE natural fiber table runners, placemats and home décor produced by women artisans in southern India using agricultural waste materials; and Studio Xaquixe handblown glass tumblers, bottles and chargers produced by formerly unemployed youth using re-cycled glass collected by the local community from public spaces.

For more information about The Friends of Tilonia and The Barefoot College, please visit,