Threads of Life, We’ve all grown up thinking of sewing and embroidery as women’s work: another unpaid and thankless chore.  Darning socks, sewing on buttons, embroidering a child’s dress with a  motif.  But occasionally, we read something that gives us pause and allows us to look at our preconceived notions afresh.  I was lucky to spot Threads of Life: A history of the world through the Eye of a Needle at my local bookstore. (more…)

Smocking: Those of us who grew up in the 1960s and the decades before then have all worn gingham dresses, very often with smocking. I know that I associate smocking exclusively with dresses for little girls.  But that’s not how the craft started.  In a reversal of timelines from most forms of embroidery, which have been the province of the elite, smocking began as a means to render peasant clothing practical.  And this is what makes it unique among all the forms of embroidery. 

Embroidery Series by Marasim


In 2019 we did a lot of research and development in hand knitting, knotting, smocking, and bead-making techniques. We worked with a group of women artisans in the villages of Western Uttar Pradesh in India. Before making the trip to these villages and meeting these women, I was under the impression that these techniques are almost similar to each other and created similar looks. However, once we worked with these masters, we learned about the nuances of different techniques and various design possibilities associated with them. Together with the artisans, we co-created beautiful and chic panels. (more…)

The Art of Jewelry: There is something about jewelry that engages even the most Spartan of women. You can see the sparkle of the stone and the metal reflected in their eyes as they bend over the counter.  Because so much of the history of jewelry is tied up with culture and anthropology, innumerable craft techniques have sprung up around it because it is so desirable.  We’ve examined some in our recent blogs. Today, in the concluding one, we will look at a few more. 






Embossing: The Art of Jewelry


Enameled Jewelry: In the story of my career, I’ve had much to do with the popularising of fashion jewelry in India.  But that’s another story, which I will tell one day.  For the moment, I want to start a new blog series on the various genres of jewelry, not just in India but worldwide. (more…)

Chikankari Embroidery from India – As a child growing up in Lucknow in the 1960s, I recall being dragged along to the stores when my mother and aunts shopped.  Much to my boredom.  Except when we went to the chikankari shops.  Even as a child, I found the gossamer tenderness and transparency of the craft fascinating, and I’m not alone in this.  In 1903, George Watt described it as “the most artistic and delicate form of the indigenous needlework of India.”  Laila Tyabji compares it to a dragonfly wing.  


Cypress Motif: When studying the history of motifs in the arts and crafts, we often read about the Paisley.  But there is another motif, more mysterious, more philosophical, one that represents death and eternal life. And that is the Cypress.  Many say that the Paisley was born of the cypress when a stray songbird sat on its very tip, bending it slightly.  But let’s go back to the beginning. 


Textile Crafts of Japan : I had a pink hand-painted pajama set as a child, which came in an artful box, with the inside flap mirrored and beribboned. I loved this so much I never actually wore it but pulled it out at intervals to admire it. This was my first exposure to the miracle of Japanese crafts.


How did this small town come to be known as the best in the history of Hand Blockprinting?

It was usual for the Rajasthan medieval elites to have musicians, artists, and craftsmen associated with their family. The artists were attached to their patron’s family. They would create a whole gamut of objects and arts in-house for family-like jewelry, clothes, music, bangles or prints, etc. Sanganer became a land of great artists and patronizing families. Whenever the king or the ruler needed something particular, word of mouth would search for unique skillsets. The best artisans would be found and sent. The selected printers and dyers would prepare a new design or a new shade of color for their king. And that’s how the skills of the artisans of Sanganer became known and sought by higher nobility.

This type of patronage was not just a way for economic sustenance for artisans, but also a peek into the outside world, offering the artisans a channel for aesthetic inputs. 

Sanganer Hand Blockprinting: Like every other textile lover, I visited Jaipur searching for exquisite ‘vintage’ textiles, decorated with hand block printed florals in gorgeous shades of aged reds, greens, and indigo from the era of nobility and generous patronage in the history of Jaipur. I ended up traveling 13 km away from the central city to get to this self-contained city of Sanganer packed with old structures and temples of great details and architecture. It is a town known for its unique ‘sanganeri’ hand block printing technique. It was revelatory to stumble onto Sanganer’s various sister crafts like handmade papermaking, gold and silver foil making, and cotton weaving. The small town has its artisanal ecology.



Last week, I had written about dyes extracted from animals. In continuation of the story of natural dyes, I will describe the primary dyes extracted from plant sources and the often violent history associated with at least one of these.   (more…)

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