Victorian textiles: Growing up in a family that makes a ceremony of brewing the perfect cup of tea, I’ve seen tea cosies all my life. Those little jackets for the teapot that keep the tea warm while it is steeping. The other day I posted my Queen Elizabeth 1 tea cosy on social media and was surprised to see the reactions. Many were amused. But most said they didn’t know what a tea cosy was! (more…)
Cross-Stitch – The inspiration for this article came from our cross-stitch expert Shobha, who joined as our first full-time cross-stitch artisan in June 2021. Shobha has been practicing this craft for the past 17 years. When she was in her twenties, she joined the training group led by father, Colombus, and has never looked back. The crafts were introduced to her village by father Colombus almost 70 years before. Father Columbus visited India through a missionary and trained women in more than 25 villages.(more…)
Afghan War Rugs: I made my first-ever Afghan friends in 2017 in India during the Global Entrepreneurship Summit co-hosted by India and the US Department of State. I remember my excitement to meet so many fellow women founders solving problems in their communities worldwide. However, I want to emphasize the challenges amidst which our Afgan women friends were building their companies were beyond our imagination. They were building their companies amidst the looming threat and past scars of ideological and military war.
Ainu: We who love textiles know what it is to revere an exceptional piece of weaving or embroidery. But there is a community where this is literally practiced. And that is by the Ainu.
History of Ainu
The Ainu have lived on the island of Hokkaido for millennia, populating a culture distinct from the Japanese. Following a Hunter-gatherer lifestyle, they, like most communities that live off the land, revered all things natural. This reverence interestingly extended to tools and clothes, the minutiae of daily life. One fascinating aspect of their culture is the reverence of bears, which are seen as gods. The Ainu would often collect bear cubs and bring them up in their homes, exactly as they brought up children. Eventually, these bears were sacrificed in a ritualistic ceremony, with their flesh and fur highly valued as divine. (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.
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…)
Headgear in contemporary times is associated with the outdoors, with events like Ascot, or with pop culture. There are notable exceptions, like the clergy or royalty. And of course, other than where headgear is associated with religious affiliations, it is no longer de rigueur as a part of daily life. This wasn’t always the case. There was a time when headgear was an essential part of apparel, denoting status, religion, and profession, right up to the early 20th century.
A Humble Hanky –One of my earliest memories is my mother dabbing her lace-edged hanky with cologne and tucking it into her saree, along with her keys. To the little me, this seemed the height of femininity and grace. My mother kept her hankies, like precious keepsakes, in a box with a big bow on it. A few years later, an aunt gifted me a set of seven, one for each day of the week, embroidered with pixies and flowers. How delighted I was. (more…)
Filigree: In the miraculous world and history of jewelry, there is one technique done in precious metal, but visually exactly like lace. And that is filigree. As the etymology of the word suggests (filum =thread, granum=grain), filigree involves twisting and curling precious metal threads into elaborate designs. But that is a tiny part of the story of how complicated the process is.
Lace Making: My fascination for handmade laces started three years back in the summers of 2018 when I searched for artisan groups in India to help us recreate old collected laces and trims from Europe. Until then, my knowledge of high-quality handmade laces possible to accomplish in India was limited only to cotton crochet work. However, to my surprise, we found groups of women based in small villages across different states of Southern India, practicing a variety of high-skilled European lace making techniques. (more…)