One of the many pleasures I have experienced over the time our company has spent working with textile artisans in India is their spirit of collaboration when producing handcrafted designs. Collectively the artisans function as a community usually revolving around a specialized, highly developed skill like weaving or a particular form of embroidery. Then there are the associated techniques and processes that require varied levels of expertise to develop the completed product.
Recently we were in Kashmir to arrange the production of our new designs of crewel-embroidered fabric. Before the embroiderers could start on the work we had to take our designs to the naqash or draftsman who transfers them onto tracing paper modifying the designs slightly to better suit the crewel embroidery technique. He then made a trace of the design on metres of cotton by rubbing ink through perforations in the tracing paper. The required raw materials of hand woven cotton and dyed wool needed for the embroidery are supplied by other specialist weavers and dyers.
In a small workshop in Srinagar an expert crewel embroiderer sits with our stenciled fabric and quietly embroiders the various coloured wools that we have selected from the many bundles of wool hanging on the wooden rafters of the workshop. On this sample piece the embroiderer uses all the colours in a small area so we can see how they look next to each other. After some changes are made the fabric is sent to the homes of crewel embroiderers where they will complete the pieces. Finally the fabric is sent to a washer man who will wash the embroidery on the banks of a river with herbal soap.
So when my customers admire the beauty of Tradition Textiles’ intricately embroidered crewel curtains I think of the many hands of expertise that have been involved in the creation of those products. I hope by sharing my knowledge of this experience with the customers that we can be more aware of artisan communities – how they work and survive.