The final day of the project was time to for the women to complete all of the samplers they had been working on and to label each one ready for accession into the dictionary of traditional designs. It was also time to reflect on the project and find out what they felt they had gained from the project and what their views were on any forthcoming workshops.
To complete the overall story of how the group created their quilts, LOkesh encouraged Premjibhai to show Emma the small local garment factories where they bought their waste fabric which had been used, as well as recycled garments, to make their quilts. Small spaces with just a few workers making garments for the local market,the spaces were a hive of activity and energetic making. Being so close to Diwali the current production was mainly of Diwali dresses that would typically be sold in the local market and the off cuts from which would likely make beautiful brightly coloured quilts and other applique designs.
Before finally closing the workshop, Premjibhai was requested to demonstrate the technique of cut work which involved accurately marking the fabric with diagonal cuts in various patterns as a reference for appliqué. To ensure all of the designs would be accurate, the pattern was drawn onto tracing paper in which small pin pricks were made. The paper was then placed onto the fabric and a solution of tailors chalk and water was dabbed over the paper transferring the pattern onto the fabric. From this transfer Premjibhai would measure the correct cutting tool to produce the cut needed and then layering several pieces of fabric underneath cut ten pieces of fabric at a time.
On the fourth day of making, LOkesh asked the women to start making samplers which did not use their traditional designs and colour combinations and instead used their own innovative fresh designs and patterns. It was interesting to see how the group approached this task given that usually any new or innovative pattern would be given to them by a client or design student who wanted their design to be turned into reality. To help develop ideas, Dahiben gave Jamnaben one of her son’s art books which had a series of drawings comprising of overlapping circles, squares and triangles which she started to carefully and methodically work out in fabric. Dahiben herself started to work on an alternative version of the tube-light motif, while Vishali had embraced the task by developing a completely new design.
Later than morning, LOkesh and Emma had the opportunity to learn more about those in the group who lived locally by visiting their homes. The first visit took them to Shantiben’s home just a short walk from where the project was based. Shantiben further demonstrated her skills by showing the numerous quilts and other household furnishings and decorations she had made using waste material and recycled garments in which she showed a real pride and dedication to her work.
LOkesh and Emma were then taken to visit Deviben’s house, where she lived with her Father and with her two sons. Premjibhai and Deviben being brother and sister were keen to show us their family photographs which were proudly displayed on the wall. Deviben had gone ahead to prepare for the visit, pulling out of cupboards her past history of quilts which demonstrated her working methods and intricate methods of cut work.
On the third day of the project the group continued making samplers for the dictionary of designs while conversation around the sewing circle was in full swing with the group acting as a team to ensure all of the traditional designs and motifs used within their craft would be represented by the samplers made.
It was interesting to listen to the groups stories and how they had all come to learn their craft. Most had been passed the skills from their mothers, who had taught them their craft at an early age apart from Shantiben who had only recently picked up the skills from a neighbour fifteen years earlier.
One particularly intriguing story was from the group’s newest member Miraben, who on reminiscing about how she had learnt the craft from her mother at a very young age explained how she had also helped her mother to make a specially commissioned and very detailed white on white sari for the famous Bollywood actress, Nargis Dutt (pictured above) who she also got to meet once the commissioned was completed.
It was also interesting to learn how the Jamnaben and her husband Premjibhai acted as agents, helping to bring in large bulk orders from clients such as Fab-India and equally distributed the work throughout the village helping the community to find sustainable work.
After a day’s break to allow time for reflection, the second day of the project was a chance for the group to continue making their traditional sampler designs and also saw the addition of a seventh member to the group, Jamnaben’s sister Miraben. It was interesting to see the group together in a sort of sewing circle out of which came numerous discussions of what samplers still needed to be made, who was to make the sampler and what colour combination should be used. Although the group were back working within their traditional media, it was obvious that their design ethic and consideration had been fully activated through the previous days tasks.
Later that day Premjibhai, Jamnaben’s husband, took Emma and LOkesh on a tour around another part of the community which was heavily involved in the production of shoes for the local markets. Something that made this visit so pertinent to the project was that numerous members of the group’s husbands worked within this small industrial space to earn the family’s livelihood through the trade. Winding through small cramped lanes, Premjibhai led LOkesh and Emma through the village stopping at various different parts of the production process and at workshops that worked with numerous different types of materials. A lot of the workshops who were involved in one part of the production process would usually pass their part completed products to family relations, working just a few doors down, to continue with the next stage of the process. The community was a small mass production process passed from family to family until the product was complete.
The day’s session of making continued into the afternoon with Emma and LOkesh making their own samplers under the expert supervision of the group. Later that afternoon, the group had visits from other members of the community’s pets, including Honey and Sweety the rabbits and a tortoise who lived just a few doors down from where the workshop was being held. The atmosphere was a relaxed and productive one, so much so that it seemed odd to think of any other way of this craft being produced.
The opening day of the project was a chance to meet the women who would be engaging in the workshop over the forthcoming week and to introduce them to the project and discuss its aims. As a way of doing this practically, a series of tasks were devised to help distract them from their usual routines of making and to sensitise them to alternative colour and pattern possibilities which could be adapted for use within their craft.
To start the day’s activities off, the women involved demonstrated their handicraft and skills by showing LOkesh, Emma and the rest of the group their past quilts and samples of previous work they had done for various clients. Some of the quilts were over 30 years old and had been made by their mothers for the family household, while others were new designs made from recycled clothing as additions to their own family’s household needs.
In preparation for the workshop Emma and LOkesh had devised a series of activities to help the group explore new colour and pattern possibilities away from their craft’s traditional designs. The first activity concentrated on colour interaction. Emma purchased some coloured handmade paper from the Kalamkush paper factory and had cut the paper into strips of various widths ready for the women to weave together in various combinations. All of the group’s members took a very different approach to the task than the one that had been considered and the product of the session was a multiplicity of designs and colour combinations stuck together with packing tape and glue. Numerous members reached for the uncut pieces of paper on which they stuck the strips to make new and unique patterns. The resulting designs all proof of the participant’s inner creativity and design consciousness waiting to be engaged with creative and innovative tasks.
For the second activity the group were invited to draw something from around the house that they found interesting or had a fondness of, but using no pencils or black pens, only coloured highlighters, pencils and felt-pens. At first the group seemed a little shy and with lots of giggling and awkward shuffling making it apparent how much this task was moving them away from their usual working practice. To ease them into the task, Emma began to draw which helped to alleviate the group’s anxiety and soon they were drawing numerous objects situated around the household. It was interesting to see how Visali drew so accurately with her ruler and pencil and how Jamnaben eventually admitted that this was the first time in her life that she had ever drawn while Kuverben was much more settled with the activity having been an avid drawer in her youth.
After taking them away from their traditional methods of working, the group returned to fabrics, cottons and needles. In order to reflect on their tradition, the group made samplers of the traditional designs they regularly used in their craft from which a ‘dictionary’ of designs could later be formed. Very quickly, small sampler squares of various different designs, including stars, kites and chocolates were appearing, the group constantly seeking approval of their work from both Emma and LOkesh. Most of the group didn’t use rulers to measure and instead used fingers to work out the sizes of the pieces of fabric they needed. Whether it was the presence of LOkesh and Emma or the previous assignments they had been faced with, there was a large amount of consideration of colour combinations and conferring between the group before they started work on their chosen design; something which demonstrated the supportive ethic of the group and the surrounding community.