In an ancient bazaar, situated behind the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, I squeezed my way into this narrow market stall to take a closer look at the amazing array of sparkly trim….some were so high up, the only way to reach them was to use a broom; poke them and hope you caught the one you wanted as it fell!!
I have always dreamed of visiting India, and this New Year, I got my chance. Travelling to the Kerala in the South, to “God’s Country” (interestingly Cornwall gets called the same), I had planned two weeks holiday visiting forest and jungle, city and coast. Arriving in India at this time was a bit of a gamble. News travels fast these days and a few weeks prior to my visit, the country was in turmoil with the Government making severe changes to the monetary system resulting in enormous queues at ATM’s and limits on cash withdrawal. I decided to continue with my plan to visit and was so pleased I did……India is a everything you see in films and on the TV… and much much more.
I deliberately didn’t visit India with work in mind, but when you are a lifetime lover of textiles, it is sometimes hard to separate work and pleasure! I was fascinated by the amazing colours and the beautiful silks lining the shelves of the tailors shops behind the temples, marvelled at the speed and skills of the machinists, using very simple machines and some using their laps as cutting tables!
I spent quite a while chatting to these tailors, most of whom had been in the same job for over 25 years, taught by their fathers and desperately trying to keep their skills alive. As is the case with many traditional crafts, generations of skills are being lost, taken over by mass manufacturing and a need to have things made cheaply. Tailors have worked around the temple for hundreds of years.
In the mountainous region of Munnar, it was fascinating to visit Aranya Natural textiles, where traditional hand dyeing, block printing and paper making skills are being actively promoted. The Srishti programme runs various programmes for education, training and rehabilitation of differently abled children of Munnar’s tea plantation workers. It is a fascinating project and was great to spend time there watching dyeing and printing in progress. I was unable to take photographs here as it is a place of education, but if you are interested, you can find further details on their website.
I was hoping to find linen whilst in India, but maybe I was in the wrong place, as didn’t manage to find anything nearly as wonderful as the cloth we get from The Baltics. There was silk and cotton in abundance…maybe I should consider a range of products made from silk and cotton? I was encouraged to find that small businesses still manage to exist in India and are able to make a living from traditional skills. It reminded me what I love about textiles and how the process of hand printing, dyeing and other techniques such as batik and tie dye are magical and how important it is to not let them get swallowed up the processes of mass production. Things we make by hand have so much more value than those that are churned out by the millions in factories. As most of you know, our products are all printed by hand using traditional screen printing methods and made in the studio…..it’s great to know that similar traditions are being kept alive in India.
I loved India and I plan to return…that is, once I have managed to get over the madness of the tuk tuk drivers and drivers in general!! There is no such thing as a white line in the road and if there was, no one would take a blind bit of notice!! Its a freeway where whoever goes fastest gets in front and on a hairpin bend, you overtake and hope that anything coming the other way will stop in time!
As a celebration of all things handmade, we have 10% off our linen fabric (offer ends Friday 20th January 2017)…..visit our shop for further details.