Colourful sari scarves from my photoshoot last week

scarves

Pictures from Christmas at RIDE

In a hurry to catch a flight now, but wanted to get the pictures up beforehand so you can all see them. We ended up giving gifts and dresses/shorts to approx 250 children, all associated with RIDE, many of whom live on hand-me-downs so to receive their own dress was a very special occasion! We also added a few little extras; balloons, tea, cake, and a little toy car or bangles. Mad and hectic day but oh so rewarding!

Enjoy the pictures!  Emma x

Weighing up our Christmas loot!

Thanks to the generosity of the Sew Scrumptious ‘Dress a Girl’ campaign, along with donations from family and friends, we are proud to say we have a huge amount of clothes to distribute to the children at RIDE‘s 2nd Christmas bash (you can read about RIDE’s 1st Christmas Here)!

The parcel of clothes arrived last week. All the hand made dresses and shorts (made by people in the UK) are just so cute I couldn’t help but start photographing them. I was on my own, looking through the suitcases, and just had to share the excitement! I couldn’t photograph all of them, there’s about 150 dresses and 70 shorts, but they really are all beautiful, even more so because they are made with love.

As with last year, we will be gathering children selected by RIDE organisation, they will include children from RIDE’s Love to Learn project and those who are living at the orphanage. We are looking at up to 150 children, that’s more than last year eeekkkk!

The afternoon will start with some fun and games (I’d like to say organised but not sure it will be), followed by tea and cake. We will distribute the wonderful clothes and take as many pictures as we can so we can share the day with those who made it possible.

The remainder of the clothes will be distributed by RIDE in the coming weeks, during their regular visits to smaller, local charities, and amongst targeted groups and villages.

Meeting my master batik printer

A 400 mile road trip later and I am overjoyed to have witnessed the batik printing of my first batch of scarves! They are still only samples at this stage but it was an amazing opportunity to meet the master craftsman who will be responsible for printing my collection. To see his studio, watch him work and be able to explain (with the help of a translator of course, I haven’t learnt tamil as yet!) some of my layout requirements to him.

His set up is far from high tech, the wax used for the batik is melted in a metal tray over a gas burner, held up on bricks. The lighting is very poor in his workshop, and I noticed that when he prints he is actually working in his own shadow (!) but he seems to manage anyway. When they have current he hooks up a light which improves conditions. A table of damp sand is used as a base for the fabric, and is smoothed over with a wooden rod before laying the fabric.

One of my scarf prints took a bit of explaining, with geometric ends, and a giant feather in a slightly slanted half drop repeat across the body of the fabric. This took a few samples to get him to understand what I wanted, but I love the fact that each sample is now one of a kind, so didn’t mind really. None off them actually look wrong, just different, and for production I want to aim for consistency, even if this is not what I end up with.

Getting to understand the needs and limitations of the artisan is a crucial element to getting the best out of the relationship and ensure you don’t end up frustrated. This trip has helped me determine what I can and can’t ask of him (like do not suggest that he moves his set up to reap the benefits of natural light), and what can be done by me to make his work easier.

Block printing is a process which is done entirely by eye and hand. The printer identifies a visual guide to show where the next block should be placed, irregularity of repeat is what makes it unique and genuine, however it is the mark of a true master when the irregularities are only slight. Things like layout, the number of points to be matched for each repeat, and also the rigidness of the fabric (whether the fabric moves during printing), are all elements which will affect production. For my designs I have a complicated repeat, lots of points to match, plus silk fabric so the difficulty level is pretty high!

For the aforementioned feather print scarf I have agreed to make a template which will be used to mark dots on the fabric as a guide for the repeat; this will speed up production time and ensure the the angle of the block is consistent.

It was very encouraging to see the next generation of batik printers present; the masters son was there as apprentice ready to lend a hand, all the time observing and learning.

Thanks to The Colours of Nature for inviting me to join them on this inspiring road trip – where I also got to witness denim production at a small powerloom factory, and the mind blowing process of industrial scale washing! One machine can wash 30,000 metres of fabric IN ONE DAY!!!!! I will share some pics at a later date, the machines are like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

The making of a John Lewis rug

In the rural town of Sri Perumbadur, just outside of Chennai, a small production unit is producing hand knotted and cut rugs. The factory is apparently the last hand knotting rug company in south India (the majority of rug manufacturing taking place in the north) and employs mainly women.

The organisation is an example of business supporting women’s empowerment in India. There is a convent and school next door to the factory which is financed by a trust set up by the company and offers free schooling and childcare to employees.

During a visit to their factory last month, I had a go at knotting a rug, sitting at the loom with other workers. There is a certain knack to twisting the wool around the warp thread. But once I knew what I was doing I got into a rhythm – I can imagine it being quite therapeutic and relaxing. However, I managed to cause a panic being a bit carefree with the cutting blade – I didn’t realise it was so sharp!

The rugs are made from 100% New Zealand wool. Once knotted, they are trimmed down to flatten the tufts and create a blank canvas. The pattern outline is marked out before the real cutting begins, using scissors to remove sections of the rug and create the raised surface effect. It would be easy to think this was done by some kind of machine; if I hadn’t witnessed for myself the true craftsmanship I would not believe it! The pattern shown is Greek Key and the cutting process takes a day to complete one design.

The unit produces a variety of rugs and work on bespoke project for overseas clients, however the Greek Key has been their mainstay product over the years, being sold exclusively to John Lewis in the UK.  John Lewis send a representative out to visit the unit regularly, and seem extremely committed to supporting small scale producers.

You can see the rugs on the John Lewis website, CLICK HERE

Chennai Crafts Bazaar

Picture of some of the wonderful crafts on show at The Crafts Council of India Crafts Bazaar 2012, held at Valluvar Kottam exhibition centre in Chennai as part of the Kaiwalam World Crafts Summit. With over a 150 artisans from across India, the Crafts Bazaar showed off India’s rich heritage of arts and crafts.

I couldn’t help but make a few small purchases, which included some cow bells made into a wind chime with amazing acoustics, a beautiful colourful geometric printed blanket and a few too many wooden printing blocks (they can go in my print room when I get back to UK!). I was tempted to buy a giant Khurja t-pots, but really couldn’t find a way to justify this purchase (or transport it safely)!

Testing out some of my new batik blocks!

Bleeding Madras – Inspiration from the past

I came across Bleeding Madras (Madras being the British colonial name for Chennai) during a visit to the Handicraft and Handloom Export Corporation (HHEC) in Chennai, where I had been invited to look through some of their vast fabric library which spans over 60 years! The fabrics they have collected cover many traditional print and weave techniques, IKAT, batik, tie & dye, jaquard and so much more. The library is dusty and dank, but who cares, I managed to spend over 5 hours there! The staff were really helpful and full of knowledge, which they were happy to share with me.

Bleeding madras was a type of woven fabric popular in the 1960s, it is no longer available today and the knowledge of the process has disappeared. It used dyes that were not colour-fast to colour the yarns; which were then woven into the traditional Madras check designs. The result was that the fabric changed colour over time, with the original colours fading and bleeding into one another. This bleeding, something which would be seen as a technical fault today, was what made the fabric so appealing, as the wearer would feel that they were getting a different look every time the shirt was laundered.

Designers of sustainable fashion are striving to find solutions to marry the irrevocable nature of clothing with the ever changing tides of fashion. It seems that this is exactly what they had over 50 years ago. A garment that changed and developed over time and became unique to the wearer, as everyone would wear and wash their clothes differently, creating a unique story of its life cycle, which reflected the life of its owner.

A day of reflection on Day of the Girlchild

Today is the first ever International Day of the Girl Child, so I wanted to share with you why this day is so important in the little part of the world I am currently living. Based on my experience through volunteering with NGO RIDE (Rural Institute for Development Education), in Kanchipuram, South India.

In rural Kanchipuram there are still many landless tribal communities living pretty remote lives and affected by the caste system. Due to lack of education they are extremely poor, without any particular skills many end up working in stone quarries or as day labourers when the work is available.

It is still common in some of these communities for men to marry more than one woman, or girl; I’ve met a girl as young as 13 with a baby on her hip, accompanied by her husbands first wife. The role of the women is an isolated existence shared only with the other wives of the group. They don’t have the understanding of education to realise that it could help them out of poverty and provide their children with a better future.

RIDE tirelessly encourages and aids enrolment in school through all levels of society. They have had some success with the tribal communities through offering support, assisting with enrolment, paying for books and providing help with school fees.  However, even when the children do attend school, the girl is still vulnerable. She will be the one pulled out of school if help is needed at home, if someone is ill, if there is a younger sibling to look after, or if there is only enough money to send one child (the boy) to school. Without education, these girls are very much at risk, without sex education they are open to abuse.

RIDE has set up a system of support that reaches out to these children whether they are at school or not. Understanding that they will not necessarily get the encouragement from home to attend school, RIDE creates a safe and positive environment for the children at their centre in Arpakkam. They invite children from different communities to attend regular programs, to promote a positive attitude towards learning and play, and to create a safe and trusting environment where the children feel happy and able to express themselves. The children are taught though fun workshops, and encouraged to think positively about education and develop their own love for life and learning.

Being a grass roots organisation, RIDE is able to monitor and keep tabs on the children they feel are at risk, knowing them by name and understanding their individual circumstances. At the moment RIDE is focussed on the girls, as there are a few who are reaching womanhood without any real parental guidance. They are in need of support and counselling to help keep them out of danger and protected.

This is a slow, day to day challenge, but without RIDE, and many other grass roots charities and NGO’s around the world, these children and many like them would have no-one looking out for them. They are a great credit to OUR society as a whole and we should do all we can to support them in their tireless work.

To find out more about RIDE visit their website WWW.RIDEINDIA.ORG or their FACEBOOK PAGE

Floral Decay at Tipu’s Summer Palace

Some close up images of the beautiful Tipu Sultan Summer Palace in Mysore. The palace is covered throughout the year to protect the exquisite floral frescos from further fading. The beautiful opulent decoration combined with crumbling walls and faded pattern makes it all the more interesting!