Tag Archives: cloth

Pop-Up Textile Fiesta Sale: Mexico and India Cloth and Clothes

Gosh, so many textiles, so little time. Just back from weeks of textile travels in Mexico! After a month of textile adventures in India!

Ikat rebozo on the loom, Tenancingo de Degollado

And, in my desire to support the weavers and block printers of Bhuj, Gujarat, India; Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico, who make ikat rebozos; the embroiderers and back-strap loom weavers of Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico, and the beaders and embroiderers of Puebla State, I have collected too much.

Pop-Up Textile + Jewelry Sale 

Tuesday and Wednesday,  February 28 and March 1

Noon to 4 p.m. 

Where: Norma’s Casita Alegria, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

RSVP: email norma.schafer@icloud.com to get directions

  • Rebozos, shawls and scarves
  • Huipiles, dresses and blouses
  • Bolsas, bags and totes
  • Array of jewelry — some new, some vintage
  • Miscellaneous — come see what you will find

I have invited an excellent local cook to come with her amazing tamales. She will offer these for sale at village prices, plus hand crafted hot chocolate made from cacao beans she roasts herself! Come and spend the day on the terraza.

Block printed cotton collected over weeks in India

Textiles from the village of Cancuc, Chiapas

 

India Journal: Fill in the Blanks, Stencil Art

Remember when you were a child and got a set of crayons and coloring book? The book was printed with figures and designs. It was your job fill in the color between the lines.

Stenciled design on cloth gives embroiderer stitch guide

Be careful, a parent or teacher would say. Be neat. Don’t go outside the lines. There were no blank pages on which to scribble or be creative. You got a gold star for staying inside the lines, filling in all the shapes.

Young Ahir woman honing her craft

Soon, you may have been bored and gone on to do something else. Perhaps the color intensity lessened as you hastily went on to the next page. Maybe, you went outside the lines on purpose to make your own mark.

Working on a pre-printed pattern. Is there freedom for color choice?

Yesterday we went to visit India textile expert Judy Frater at the NGO she runs in Adipur, about an hour east of Bhuj near the Gulf of Kutch and the Arabian Sea. Before starting Somaiya Kala Vidya in 2014, Judy was the founding director of Kala Raksha, another NGO dedicated to textile promotion and development.

New Ahir embroidery that will become pillow or handbag

Today she works with indigenous artisans to provide education and training programs designed for cultural sustainability, market development, and indigenous identity.

Ahir women in embroidery circle, all working on stenciled patterns

With Judy during my visit and with Salim Wazir the following day, I talked about the questions we discuss in Mexico that India shares. I suspect that these are pressing questions among artisans throughout the world.

Old embroidered Ahir textile with fine detail

  1. How do you create a sustainable craft enterprise without compromising an artisan’s innate creativity and urge for innovation?
  2. When a designer comes in to work with local artisans, employing his or her own drawings and hires the local artisan to execute them, how does this have an impact on craft preservation and design ownership?
  3. If NGO’s create cooperatives that then produce cookie cutter patterns printed on cloth that the embroiderers then fills in with silk threads in pre-selected colors, is this craft development or exploitation?
  4. If something is produced for the tourist market and not for personal or community use, what impact will this have for design sustainability?
  5. What compromises can be made to make sure that people work for fair wages, without being piece workers doing routine jobs for work they don’t own?
  6. Is paid work the only important consideration or does originality and integrity of communal design hold more value?
  7. How will textile craft survive and who will decide its future?

Workshop participant making panel for tourist market

What other questions would you ask?

How would you answer these questions? I’m interested in hearing from you!

Old mirrored embroidery on silk bandhani, imperfectly beautiful

Mexico and India are both sources for great textile artistry.  Weavers in Mexico have made cloth on back strap, flying shuttle and pedal looms for centuries and longer. In India, artisans have been weaving cloth, dyeing it with natural colors and embellishing it with embroidery since Mughal conquerors and spice trade adventurers moved from central Asia and the Levant.

She is beginning to fill in the blanks.

As tourist preferences drive the crafts market, most non-governmental agencies direct people to make things that will sell. Production uniformity is important to outside markets as collectors demand high-quality, perfect workmanship, and sophisticated design (in their point-of-view).

Whimsical embroidered blouse belonging to Wandh herding community

The whimsy of asymmetry and uneven stitches seems to be losing ground in the commercial marketplace. Only foreigners are interested in tribal textiles.

Rabari women in another workshop also follow a designer provided pattern.

If a boutique owner or retail client orders 100 handbags, he or she may expect that while color may vary, design will be consistent.  If there is deviation or variation, something may not sell and then the risk is that the worker and the organization will no longer receive orders and then go out of business.

Contemporary Rabari needlework

What price will be paid for quality consistency and uniformity? Will the naive, free-form folk art design produced for self-use disappear in favor of making something more polished that will then be sold at a higher price to foreigners?

Vintage Rabari embroidery trim on bandhani tie-dyed shawl

What about making goods for the local market vs. the foreign market? I was told repeatedly that woven goods are now being made with acrylic because it is cheaper to produce and that is what local people will buy.

Whimsical Toran in Ahir village community center

What is the cost and the loss for using cheaper raw materials and industrial mechanization?

I’d love what she’s wearing!

It is difficult to find artisans in India, as well as in Mexico, who are still working in natural dyes because the process is longer and the investment in raw materials is much higher.

Rabari embroidered storage bag, 40 years old

The tourist season in Gujarat, India is about four months long, from November through February, about the same as in Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s the dry season, easier to travel. Yet, this is the hottest December that people in Bhuj can remember. There is no global warming, right?

Sheep wool, hand-woven skirt trimmed in embroidery, pure Rabari

And, this year, because of India’s demonitization crisis and no access to cash currency, about 60-70% of international tours cancelled.  This region that depends on tourism is being hard hit. Sound familiar to those of you who visit or live in Mexico?

Rabari woman working on dress trim to be sold in a boutique somewhere

I’ve heard stories about embroidery designs from one tribal group that are co-opted and used by another because it is more popular. I have heard about a village that weaves a piece of cloth which is sent to another village for embroidery embellishment. Neither is credited with for the work.

Rabari women’s hands make quick work; tattoos and cloth, key symbols of identity.

Since cloth is about identity, does this practice contribute to loss of cultural identity? Who is responsible for this loss? How do we put value on what is made by hand? Are we willing to compensate or are we looking for a bargain, at whatever the cost to the maker?

Tools of the trade: cotton or rayon floss, needles, mirrors

I’m writing this blog post from the airport in Seoul, South Korea. It’s 10:50 a.m., December 14 here. I will be back in California, USA by 8:30 a.m. December 14. Go figure! The international news is daunting, and the prospects of a new presidency are depressing as cabinet appointees are named. I’m still apologizing, especially to the terrific Muslim people I have met along this Path to and from India.

Old block print, made with madder root, backs vintage textile.

 

 

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: Top Artisans at Nature Bazaar

Nature Bazaar is an effort by the Delhi Department of Tourism to bring the best artisans from throughout India to the city for permanent exhibition. Or, let me say, the space is permanent and the artisans rotate. So, it’s more of a pop-up and the artisans change about every six weeks. This group goes until November 30, 2016.

Indigo-dyed organic cotton block print from Rajasthan

Indigo-dyed organic cotton block print from Rajasthan

I returned on my own so I could leisurely browse the textile collection, speak with the makers, and go through the stacks of cloth in search of indigo blue, red madder, turmeric root dyed yellow cloth. I didn’t want to miss anything. This extended to a three-hour meander to uncover as much as possible.

Left, block print of turmeric with indigo over-dye. Right, madder "chicken tracks" with indigo over-dye. Yardage.

Block print yardage, turmeric w/ indigo over-dye (L). Madder w/indigo over-dye (R).

My textile artists friends tell me that the Nature Bazaar cooperative is the best source for India arts in Delhi. Funds from the purchases go directly to the artisans who participate.

Waiting patiently for customers, Nature Bazaar

Waiting patiently for customers, Nature Bazaar

My friend Lee Schwartz, who just returned from a 10-day tour of Rajasthan, claims she saw nothing of the quality on the tour that she encountered at the National Crafts Museum in Delhi. After a visit there, today, I still rank Nature Bazaar as the top shopping spot in Delhi, with second place going to FabIndia.

Artisan from Ahmedabad folds shawls inset with mirrors embroidered to silk.

Ahmedabad artisan folds shawls inset with mirrors embroidered to silk/wool blend.

As with Oaxaca, it’s important to know where to source. I’ve decided to focus  this India visit on textiles and not on typical sightseeing and monuments (though tomorrow we leave for Agra and the Taj Mahal).

Fine miniature paintings with gold leaf, an art form

Fine miniature paintings with gold leaf, an art form

There is so much here that zeroing in on what is important to me helps conserve energy.  It’s impossible to get to more than two or three places in a day because of the intense traffic, horn-honking and dust. It just wears you out!

Indigo dyed patchwork quilt, with dresses, blouses on table.

Indigo dyed patchwork quilt, with dresses, blouses on table.

At Nature Bazaar, I met Margaret Zinyu, who has a degree from the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. She planned to go into fashion design but decided to return to her native Nagaland, in northeast India on the Myanmar border, to work with local weavers using cotton dyed with indigo. She is just starting her company Woven Threads and this bazaar was the premiere of her products.

Margaret Zinyu of Woven Threads

Margaret Zinyu of Woven Threads, Nagaland, India

India is at the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road. The people here are a multicultural blend of Asians and Europeans, Hindus and Muslims. There is as much diversity here as I see in Mexico. The people from the Himalaya foothills, part of India, bring their kite flying traditions to the crafts of the country, for example. These are for sale at the Nature Bazaar, too.

Most of India's indigo is cultivated in Tamil Nadu, in the south

Most of India’s indigo is cultivated in Tamil Nadu, in the south

Wood carved stamps used for block printing at Nature Bazaar

Wood carved stamps used for block printing at Nature Bazaar

There are also several stalls with hand-wrought silver jewelry from the Himalayas and Afghanistan. Many of the designs looked North African, like those I had seen in Morocco and southern Spain.

Tribal jewelry maker from Himachal Pradesh.

Tribal jewelry maker from Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayan foothills of India.

Example of ornate silver earrings inlaid with garnets and embellished with pearls.

Example of ornate silver earrings inlaid with garnets and embellished with pearls.

There is no cochineal here, of course. This is a humid country and the insect is only  found in hot, dry climates like Mexico where the nopal cactus thrives. So madder, the red dye that is more the color of red earth than intense carminic red, is what is found here. However, indigo is king in India and the British capitalized on its export starting in the early 17th century. Today, it is only cultivated in Tamil Nadu in the south of the country.

India's indigo from Tamil Nadu, in the south

India’s indigo from Tamil Nadu, in the south

Walking the streets and riding the Metro, I see women of all ages wearing saris and the shalwar kameez pantsuit with tunic top and harem-style pants dyed with indigo blue. Women’s clothing of India is beautiful, lightweight and easy to wear.

India's sari, block print with gold and indigo

India’s sari, block print with gold and indigo

Mexican indigo is extracted from the native plant Indigofera suffruticosa, known as añil, found in the tropics of the Americas.  Native indigo from India is Indigofera tinctoria, known as true indigo, and is found in Asia and Africa.  The plant and leaf structures are different, but the process to produce the color is the same.

Handmade palm brooms

Handmade palm brooms

The most intense blue comes by dipping the cloth at least several times in the indigo dye bath.

Papier mache toys and mobiles

Papier mache toys and mobiles at Nature Bazaar

My goal on this trip is to bring back examples of  of cloth dyed with indigo, using a variety of weaving, tie-dye and printing techniques.

Searching for Indigo in India: Countdown to Travel

It’s a 24-hour flight from California to New Delhi, not including the layover in Tokyo. I’m getting ready for a month of travel, focused mostly on the India State of Gujarat, with my Canadian friend Fay Sims, leaving San Jose on November 15.

Indigo dye pot, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Indigo dye pot, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

My motivation to go to India is multi-fold:

  • to experience first-hand indigo dye history, artisanry and textiles
  • to visit my first cousin, Odissi dancer Sharon Lowen, who has lived in New Delhi, India for 43-years after leaving the USA on a Fulbright


Sharon Lowen’s Odissi Dance in Swarnakamalam…by kasuvandi

  • to embrace my 99-1/2 year old aunt, my mother’s younger sister, who now lives with my cousin
  • to reconnect with friends, textile artist Nidhi Khurana and her painter-muralist husband Ruchin Soni
  • to compare and contrast the textiles of Oaxaca and Gujarat
Eric Chavez Santiago at the indigo dye pot

Eric Chavez Santiago at the indigo dye pot (happy birthday, Eric)

  • to write and photograph the processes and people
  • to get yards of hand-spun cotton Khadi cloth, Ghandi’s symbol of India’s independence from England
  • to discover who knows what else!
Variations of indigo blue, depending on wool color and number of dye dips

Variations of indigo blue, depending on wool color and number of dye dips

Natural Dye and Textile Study Tour, One-Day in Oaxaca

My friend, master weaver Federico Chavez Sosa, asked me to bring him back a chunk of native India indigo to experiment with. My friend, master weaver Alfredo Hernandez Orozco, asked me to bring him any type of native India fiber to experiment with on his flying shuttle loom. They are innovators.

Indigo blue shirts are first made with natural manta cotton, then get four dye dips.

Oaxaca: indigo blue shirts on natural manta cotton, with four dye dips

I am going with one empty suitcase, the second half-full.

What advice do you have for me on the quest for India textiles with natural dyes in New Delhi, Gujarat state and Mumbai?

Example of indigo block print from India, on cotton and silk cloth.

Indigo block print on cotton and silk, from India

Indigo block print on cotton and silk, from India