Category Archives: Travel & Tourism

India Journal: Double Silk Ikat of Patan Patola, Gujarat

It’s two-and-a-half hours from Ahmedabad to the town of Patola in the Patan district of Gujarat. Only four ikat weavers continue to make the double it — both the warp and weft threads are knotted then dyed to form intricate patterns of birds, flowers, elephants, dancers, monkeys and trees on silk.

300 year old Salvi family silk Patola it, Gujarat, India

300 year old Salvi family silk Patola, Patan, Gujarat, India

The double it refers to the fact that both sides of the fabric are identical. There is no reverse or back side. How do they do it?

Ikat weaving in process, Salvi family workshop

Ikat weaving on the loom, Salvi family workshop

Our guide at the Calico Museum, where a dazzling collection of Patolas (as these ikats are called) is displayed, says these weavers are like gods. The masters come from the Salvi family.

Rohit Salvi, master Patola double ikat silk weaver, entrance to old village workshop

It was my mission on this trip to make a pilgrimage to their studio workshop. Australian friend and Gujarat expert, Carole Douglas, told me to be sure to ask to go their home.

7th generation weaver, Rahul Salvi

7th generation Patola weaver, Rahul Vinayak Salvi

Traditional Gujarati brides will wear a Patola for their wedding. A complete silk sari will take three years to make and cost about $20,000 USD, millions of rupees. These are by special order. A small handkerchief size is a mere $200 USD, suitable for framing! None available for purchase.

Salvi dye studio, where concrete tubs are used to wash silk

Salvi dye studio, where concrete tubs are used to wash silk

As I entered the new showroom and demonstration area in the center of Patola Patan Weavers, Rahul Vinayak Salvi and his uncle Bharat Kantilal Salvi greeted me. Rahul explained that he is the youngest of three brothers. His two elder brothers are doctors and he studied architecture. He decided the art would not survive unless he learned to weave, so he left the profession and is now becoming an accomplished weaver and dyer, working alongside his cousin.

Patola double ikat on the loom, with indigo and cochineal natural dyed silk

Patola double ikat on the loom, with indigo and cochineal natural dyed silk

The family works in natural dyes: indigo, cochineal (which they buy from the USA at a cost of $300 USD per kilogram), pomegranate and madder. The raw silk comes from China, which they buy wholesale in Bangalore.

Graph paper is used to plot out the design, just like Mexican weaving

Graph paper is used to plot out the design, just like Mexican weaving

First, each strand of silk is spun, then eight strands are spun together to make an 8-ply thread. It’s then washed then soaked in rice water. After drying the strands are stiff enough to tie for dyeing. Rice water is used in this part of the world for ikat making. In Mexico, we use atole or corn starch to stiffen the cotton threads.

Detail, tied silk threads, ready for next dye bath

Detail, tied silk threads, ready for next dye bath

As I understand it, the Salvi family came to Patan from Maharashtra.  In 1960, Gujarat split off from Maharashtra to become a separate state. This double ikat silk weaving technique is unique to Gujarat and is found no other place in the world.

Patola ikat in natural dyes of indigo and cochineal on the loom

Patola ikat in natural dyes of indigo and cochineal on the loom

At the Salvi showroom, there is a small museum that displays examples of ikat from around the world: Japan, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand and Africa.

Weft threads dyed with ikat (tie-dye) technique

Weft threads dyed with ikat (tie-dye) technique

Missing is an ikat example from Tenancingo de Degollado, State of Mexico. I promised to send them a Mexican ikat shawl to add to their collection, along with a Oaxaca contact where they can source cochineal to buy directly.

Can you see the bird and dancer in the warp threads?

Can you see the bird, elephant and dancer in the warp threads?

I am in awe of the skill and mathematical artistry required to create these masterpieces. The family creates about three or four sari’s per year, made on what looks like a back strap loom, though wider. Yet it is operated like a seated pedal loom, with the sheds opened by a traditional wood shaft.

Loom and warp threads, an abstraction.

Loom and warp threads, an abstraction.

 

 

 

 

 

India Journal: Taj Mahal and Textiles

One of the best days so far is the 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Yes, it’s definitely a tourist attraction and not off the beaten path. But, how can one come to India and not go there? Certainly not me!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING FOR THOSE IN THE USA!

Taj Mahal, Agra, India. Midday is the best light.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India. Midday is the best light.

We traveled by train and took a taxi from the station to the guesthouse. Both the Delhi and Agra stations are a mishmash of individuals and families, sitting, squatting, waiting, eating snacks. Horse drawn carts and bicycle rickshaws compete for passengers with Tata taxis. Noise and humanity is fierce.

Women visiting from the far north of India.

Women visiting from the far north of India, block prints, tie-dye, embroidered trim.

But not so inside the grounds of the Taj, where manicured lawns and well-mannered travelers offer a visual distraction to the looming white marbled domed building.  Perfect Mughal symmetry. Perfect in every way.

Entry gate to the Taj Mahal, ornate with inlaid jade, coral, lapis lazuli and amber.

Entry gate to the Taj Mahal, ornate with inlaid jade, coral, lapis lazuli and amber.

I feel the presence of many who come from around the world as if on pilgrimage. There is a mix of Moslems, Hindus, Jains, Christians, Buddhists. Women, young and old, wear sarees or the more contemporary pantsuit. The cloth colors are jewels. The patterns and designs signify the region of the wearer. The red bindi mark on the forehead between the brows designates those who are married.

Family members from Gujarat state traveling together.

Family members from Gujarat state traveling together.

For me, this was as much about meeting people and commenting to them about their beautiful textiles as it was about being in the presence of this famous mausoleum. I am beginning to identify the regions where the cloth is woven, and which is made with natural dyes.

Sarees in glorious colors. I prefer the cotton ikat and block prints.

Sarees in glorious colors. I prefer the cotton ikat and block prints.

It was definitely a fashion show that kept my attention from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The weaving is very intricate, especially the ikat, and it is a joy to see the cloth used as daily wear.

Gatiman Express, to Delhi from Agra in 1-1/2 hours.

Gatiman Express, to Delhi from Agra in 1-1/2 hours.

We left the guesthouse to catch the 5:50 p.m. Gatiman express (1-1/2 hours to Delhi) back to Delhi, arriving in time for a late dinner. Buy tickets in advance through a travel agent.

Worker uses damp rag to clean Taj Mahal exterior.

Worker uses damp rag to clean Taj Mahal exterior.

My recommendation is NOT to hire a guide but instead rent the audio cassette in English once inside. There are 16 stops that fully explain the architecture and the history. You can move at your own pace and not be harassed by an over-eager attendant who leads you at his pace.

Women wearing batik block prints Malaysia walk along the garden path.

Women wearing batik block prints Malaysia walk along the garden path.

Guides tell tourists to go inside the monument at 6:30 a.m. for sunrise and  at sunset to see the Taj from the gardens across the Yamouna River.

This saree is a fine quality cotton ikat with natural dyes from Orissa.

This saree is a fine quality cotton ikat with natural dyes from Orissa.

In my opinion, it’s best to see the Taj in midday, when the strong sun glows and the domes are white iridescent. My personal experience was that sunset was not dramatic. There’s pollution in Agra, although locals call it fog!

Buddhist tourists from Japan.

Tourists from Japan. I just loved their style!

Foreigners pay more for admission, 1,000 rupees. You can buy tickets online and then print them out and take them to the ticket office. From the ticket office near the East Gate, there are free electric vehicles to transport you directly to the site.Don’t fall for taxi drivers who tell you it’s too far and you need them to drive you around to get in.

Ikat saree from Assam state in north India near the Bangladeshi border

Ikat saree from Assam state in north India near the Bangladeshi border.

Traveling without being in a group has its downsides. And, it’s not easy here to navigate a world where noise, pollution and traffic (hours of it) dominate the experience. Were I to do it again, I’d do it differently.

Monkeys run free throughout the Taj Mahal grounds, especially the mosque.

Monkeys run free throughout the Taj Mahal grounds, especially the mosque.

Agra is multi-cultural. About 60% of the population is Hindu, 30% is Moslem, and the remaining 10% are minorities: Christians, Jains, Buddhists, etc.

Family from Gujarat, our next destination.

Family from Gujarat, our next destination.

We heard so many languages and I identified people from Japan, Malaysia, the U.K., throughout India by their dress.  My friends here tell me that the traditional saree is making a comeback and more young women who want a cultural connection to their country are adopting the saree for everyday wear.

Architecture of infinite passageways. Built with local red sandstone.

Architecture of infinite passageways. Built with local red sandstone.

Old rickety carts to collect trash and grass clippings.

Old rickety carts to collect trash and grass clippings.

Bas relief plaster embellishment on mosque and entry gate walls.

Bas relief plaster embellishment on mosque and entry gate walls.

We have found the people to be friendly, warm and kind for the most part. The young, educated people especially, who helped us with bags, helped us find our way, helped us get taxis, ensured that we were going in the right direction.

Agra Cantt train station. Bustling, finding our way to the right platform.

Agra Cantt train station. Bustling, finding our way to the right platform.

Of course, the first topic of discussion from Indians is our presidential election. People are so surpised at the outcome and wonder how this could happen. I find myself in a continuous state of apology.

Attendant on the Gatiman Express, fast train between Agra and Delhi.

Attendant on the Gatiman Express, fast train between Agra and Delhi.

My hands clasped together, I bow slightly and say, Namaste. What else can I do?

Festooned horse-drawn carriages take people around Agra town.

Festooned horse-drawn carriages take people around Agra town.

Inside the mausoleum, people stand before the crypt of the beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to her 14th child at age 38. Shah Jahan is buried with her. Women bend their heads as if in prayer atop the railing, throw rupees into the center. Wishes. I wonder what they wish for?

Moslem women protect themselves from the sun.

Moslem women protect themselves from the sun.

I don’t notice any breastfeeding women here, like I do in Mexico. I see babies cradled and sucking bottles. I do see (and have eaten) plenty of samosas, dal, chickpeas, and banana chips. Spice is king here.

Samosa vendors on the main road beyond our guesthouse.

Samosas on main road. Safe to eat? Probably, but I didn’t tempt fate!

One night could be enough unless you want to explore the Agra Fort, the Baby Taj and take a day trip out to Fatepur Sikri, a stunning, simple palace complex built after the first Mughal invasion of India that was abandoned after 19 years because of water shortages.

Marble floor of Taj Mahal mosque, in form of prayer rugs.

Marble floor of Taj Mahal mosque, in form of prayer rugs.

Colonialism survives in India. Because I’m a foreigner and paid more for the entry ticket, I was segregated to go into a shorter queue, given a bottle of water and slippers to cover my shoes. Later, I stood in line for the ladies room. The attendant waved me to her and I followed.

Detail of Mosque domed ceiling, Taj Mahal.

Detail of Mosque domed ceiling, Taj Mahal.

She opened a door to a private bathroom stall, pristinely clean. I never got to see what the regular person uses. Maybe, it’s because of my venerable age or is it because of skin color?

School girls at the Taj Mahal. Lots of school groups come here.

School girls at the Taj Mahal. Lots of school groups come here.

Women here have their own safe Metro cars devoted exclusively to the and can go into the front of ticket lines before men, too.

Woven baskets at the Agra train station. What's inside?

Woven baskets at the Agra train station. What’s inside?

Bundles of commercial goods ready to load on the train.

Bundles of commercial goods ready to load on the train.

Tending to the Taj Mahal lawn.

Tending to the Taj Mahal lawn.

Recommended travel tips:

  • Take an early morning train from Delhi to Agra.
  • Check into your hotel.
  • Spend Day One at Fatehpur Sikri (an hour from the city) and end it at the gardens. Squeeze in the Agra Fort if your have enough fortitude.
  • Day 2, take a leisurely breakfast. Go to the East Gate to get your ticket stamped, and collect the water bottle and booties. You can’t go into the mausoleum or mosque unless you wear booties or take your shoes off.
  • Leave backpacks behind. No food or drink allowed inside except water.
  • Be prepared to go through security. Separate lines for men and women.
  • Rent a self-guided tour audio casette.
  • Lunch is iffy. Not really any good place to eat but you can get packaged snacks at the Coffee Shop.
  • You came here to see the Taj Mahal. Don’t rush through it!

Where we stayed: Aman Guesthouse. Nice people. Decent room and food. Nothing special except excellent hospitality and a good price.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

India Journal: Visit to Pure Ghee Textile Designs

Ghee, clarified buffalo or cow butter, is the essential cooking and flavoring oil in India. Ghee also has religious significance and is used at life cycle celebrations throughout the country. It is highly nutritious and is part of the ayurvedic system, which forms the basis of spirituality, food, and health.

Eating with one's hands, to become one with the food.

Eating with one’s hands, to become one with the food.

One could say that ghee is the foundation of Indian life and culture, just as the tortilla is elemental to Mexico. I would venture to say that Aditi Prakash carefully chose the brand name Pure Ghee for the textile design company she started seven years ago to connect what she makes to what is second nature here. Elemental. Essential. Necessary.

Trademark cloth flowers embellish zipper pulls on scrap fabric bag

Trademark cloth flowers embellish zipper pulls on scrap fabric bag

Aditi employs women who are migrants, takes them off the street, trains them in sewing skills and gives them employment. Women sew. Men complete the finish work, led by a master tailor from the neighborhood, who supervises the apprentices. There are two levels of quality control and each product is nearly perfect, just like ghee.

Pure Ghee staff member who oversees quality control

Pure Ghee staff member who oversees quality control

Aditi invited Nidhi and me to her home for a simple Indian vegetarian lunch, to see her workshop studio, so I could learn about the processes and products, and meet the staff who make the bags and accessories that make their way to shops and boutiques throughout the country.

Master tailor finishes edges of new bag design.

Master tailor finishes edges of new bag design.

First, let’s talk about lunch.

Aditi says she uses turmeric in everything. Nidhi echoes this. Turmeric has antiseptic healing powers they say. They add it to yellow lentils with salt and cook the lentils in a stove top pressure cooker for about 30 minutes.

Ghee, chili mustard and curry leaves simmer on stovetop

Ghee, chili mustard and curry leaves simmer on stovetop

In a separate spoon with very large bowl, Aditi combines about 1/4 c. ghee, fresh curry leaves, red chilis from her home state of Hyderabad, cumin and mustard seed. The bowl of the spoon goes over the gas burner until the mixture simmers and cooks, coming to a low boil.

Aditi serves lentil soup in small bowls, a garnish to rice and vegetables

Aditi serves lentil soup in small bowls, a garnish to rice and vegetables

This is added to the lentils, that now has the consistency of a thick soup.

In another cooking pot is potatoes, cauliflower and peas.

Food is ayurvedic, Aditi says. Nidhi adds that cooking is not written down but passed through the generations as part of the cultural tradition. She learned from her mother. Both are independent, creative women who prepare vegetarian meals in the Hindu tradition daily for their husbands.

Silk-cotton draw string bags worn with the sari

Silk-cotton draw string bags worn with the sari for evenings, weddings

Homemade roti, a whole grain flat bread that looks like a tortilla (they both make this from scratch), and brown rice are served as a base for the lentils and vegetable medley. Everyone uses shallow metal plates that look like a cake pan.

Aditi Prakash in her showroom. People find us, she says.

Aditi Prakash in her showroom. People find us, she says.

We eat with the fingers of our right hand, important to bring the five elements from table to body, in complete circle of life and sustenance.

Traditional plaque in Aditi's home.

Traditional plaque in Aditi’s home.

Aditi’s husband is a filmmaker. Both work from home and they built a three-level workspace where each has dominion. Aditi supports craft artisans from throughout India and as an industrial designer, has helped many refine their products to bring to the marketplace.

Bag patterns hang in small workshop space

Bag patterns hang in small workshop space

After lunch and a modest shopping spree (thank goodness Pure Ghee accepts credit cards), the three of us went off to the Nature Bazaar, a cooperative of crafts-people and textile artists from throughout the country.

Artist Nidhi Khurana, New Delhi, November 2016

Artist Nidhi Khurana, New Delhi, November 2016

Aditi says this has one of the best selections in all of Delhi, with very fair prices. It is off-the-beaten-path for tourists but well worth the visit. For me, it will need several hours. There are textiles, lengths of cloth by the meter, paintings and drawings, folk art, brass bells, sari, indigo and Khadi clothing, jewelry from Afghanistan.

Pure Ghee workshop in action

Pure Ghee workshop in action

If you haven’t noticed, India is about color, texture and sound. It is about silk, cotton and the resurgence of tradition. Both Nidhi and Aditi say that the sari is standard daily dress for women.

Lunch preparation, a vegetarian Hindu meal accompanied by Hyerabad mango pickle.

Lunch preparation, a vegetarian Hindu meal with Hyderabad mango pickle.

I’m going back to Nature Bazaar today. There are over 100 vendors with central payment stations. And, yes, credit cards accepted. Perfect for the cash crisis in play now. I’ll be writing more about this. Perhaps tomorrow.

Sneak preview of Nature Bazaar: piles of indigo and block prints

Sneak preview of Nature Bazaar: piles of indigo and block prints

 

 

 

Textile Travel Guide and Tips: How To Be a Cultural Ambassador

Cloth Roads just published a blog post called Textile Travel Guide: 10 Tips to Be a Star Textile Ambassador. 

This comes as a just-in-time-reminder for me about cultural sensitivity and travel to indigenous parts of the world where handmade textiles still flourish. My trip to India was bumped up a day, so I am on an airplane this Monday morning.

It also comes just-in-time for many of you who are attending the International Shibori Network Symposium in Oaxaca, Mexico.

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If you go to the Cloth Roads website, you can join the mailing list and download the guide for free.  It’s common sense and worth the reminder. Some of the tips are to prevent what I’ve seen on guided tours, where participants launch into grabbing and shopping before the local women have a chance to present themselves and their histories.

If you are traveling in 2017 to countries where amazing textiles are found, please take this guide with you.

If you are traveling to Mexico, please bring Textile Fiestas of Mexico by Sheri Brautigam. I contributed two chapters, one about the rugs of Teotitlan del Valle and the other about the rebozos of Tenancingo de Degollado.

As I embark for Delhi, Gujarat and Mumbai, I think about what it means to appreciate cloth and the people of India and the people of Oaxaca who cultivate the raw material, weave and dye, sew and fashion.

We have two spaces open for February 2-10, 2017.

Mexico Textiles & Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos and More

 

 

Mexico Travel Photography: Day of the Dead Photo Challenge, Norma’s Picks

Mexico Travel Photography Facebook Group of 287 members just finished up submitting a photo a day as part of a five-day photography challenge. Here are the statistics:

STATS: Last week’s 5-Day Photo Challenge, Day of the Dead. 39 people participated all week. They posted 136 photos total. 15 people posted 5 days in a row. Congratulations to all.

Panteón de Romerillo, municipio de San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, by Ana Paula Fuentes

Panteón de Romerillo, San Juan Chamula district, Chiapas, by Ana Paula Fuentes

Special thanks to the 15 people with 5-day staying power: Karen Otter, Ann Conway, Maité Guadarrama, Diane Hobbs, Martha Canseco Bennetts, Betsy McNair, Mary Anne Huff Shaw, Aurora Cabrera, Gail Schacter, Shannon Pixley Sheppard, Cristina Potters, Nick Hamblen, Kathryn Leide, Geri Anderson, Karen Nein.

San Martin Tilcajete cemetery, by Karen Nein

San Martin Tilcajete cemetery, by Karen Nein

I selected a few to show you here. Why these? All selections, of course, are personal judgment. I happened to like the light or composition or subject matter. I’m also attracted to blurred images lately, as well as a high contrast black and white photography.

La Señora de Recycling, Toluca, by Betsy McNair

La Señora de Recycling, Toluca, by Betsy McNair

Sometimes, a photo is innovative — the photographer shot from an unusual angle or perspective, came in close or got the sky exactly right.

Mineral de Pozos, Guanajuato cemetery, by Nick Hamblen

Mineral de Pozos, Guanajuato cemetery, by Nick Hamblen

You can see from these that the subject does not have to be looking right at you. The photo can be crisp or slightly out of focus.

Getting into the spirit early in San Miguel de Allende, by Laura Bly

Getting into the spirit early in San Miguel de Allende, by Laura Bly

Ihuatzio, Michoacan cemetery, by Florence Leyret Jeune

Ihuatzio, Michoacan cemetery, by Florence Leyret Jeune

Setting the scene matters. Telling a story counts.

Oaxaca Bachillerato Comparsa (parade) 2013. Her costume is embellished with natural plant materials. By Diane Hobbs

Oaxaca Bachillerato Comparsa (parade) 2013, by Diane Hobbs

Etla Comparsa by Karen Otter

Etla Comparsa by Karen Otter

I bet hundreds of people took photos of the suspended marigolds at the textile museum and not many saw the juxtaposition of orange against blue sky.

Museo Textil de Oaxaca, by Gail Schacter

Museo Textil de Oaxaca, by Gail Schacter

Oaxaca children's procession, by Barbara Szombatfalvy

Oaxaca children’s procession, by Barbara Szombatfalvy

Oaxaca, bringing flowers to the grave, by Kathryn Leide

Oaxaca, bringing fragrant marigolds to the grave, by Kathryn Leide

San Felipe, Chiapas cemetery, by Ann Conway

San Felipe, Chiapas cemetery, by Ann Conway

As you can see, Dia de los Muertos is one of my favorite holidays, right up there with Thanksgiving in the USA. I’m having a hard time letting go the the days behind us, but soon, we’ll be showing images leading up to the Christmas celebrations in Mexico.

Oaxaca Comparsa by Erin Loughran

Oaxaca Comparsa by Erin Loughran

Kids' parade, San Miguel de Allende, 2013, by Gina Hyams

Kids’ parade, San Miguel de Allende, 2013, by Gina Hyams

Tlacolula market Muertos flower vendors, by Christophe Gaillot

Tlacolula market Muertos flower vendors, by Christophe Gaillot

Hope you like this curated selection. To see them all, go to Mexico Travel Photography.

In two weeks, I leave for India. Look for posts about the textiles I find there. Meanwhile, enjoy this beautiful autumn season.

From Los Angeles, con abrazos, Norma.