Colourful sari scarves from my photoshoot last week

scarves

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Return to Blighty and the ‘coldest winter for 100 years’!

It has been a while since I wrote anything for the blog, been a tad busy ya’ see! The transition from India to England is finally complete, and ran as smoothly as could be expected. Needless to say, the weather has been a shock to the system and my body has gone into hibernation mode. There has also been a lot of DIY to do, which stopped me from opening cases and unpacking my design work for the first couple of weeks.Despite all the commotion I now have a working studio and have started unpacking my delights from India. It has been a great boost to the system to reunite with some of the beautiful textiles I purchased on my travels, each one with its own memory and story. Some of them have been earmarked for different projects while others, like my Lucknow rugs, are happily scattered around the house. I have some beautiful pure silk saris from Kanchipuram which I am planning to make into patchwork quilts at some point. I also have the Kanchi cotton scarves, made by the wonderful women at RIDE, as part of our new venture. I have a huge variety of colours which will be available for sale very soon on my website www.emmamcginn.com – they are wonderfully lightweight and soft making the perfect accessory springtime!Even the exotic smells of India have travelled back with me in the form of hundreds of joss sticks and, most importantly, in the two huge bags of Sambar mix (spice mix) made by the wonderful Britto from RIDE and given to me on my last day in India. I have already made three meals using the magic mix and they have all been delicious! So even if I don’t get back to India this year, I know that I will have to go again at some point to stock up on Brittos super spice! Woo hoo!I have a busy time ahead, in the coming weeks I am planning to spend some time on my website (in between DIY of course!) with an aim to get ecommerce up and running. I will also be doing some product shots of the Kanchi scarves so that I can get them online asap and share them with the world! My indigo project is still going on, but I have to very patiently wait for a parcel from India. It is therefore on the back burner at the moment and part of my ability to be patient is the blatant fact that there is nothing I can do to hurry it along. I also have an article to write for Ethical Fashion Forum on Indigo dyeing, it is well overdue but should be a good one once I get it finished. I am arguing the case for using natural indigo in the denim industry – which seems the obvious choice when you understand the harmful chemicals used to produce synthetic indigo.

So a busy time ahead, and I am finally feeling up to the challenge now that spring is round the corner and life is feeling a bit less hectic.

indian-delights

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.

Preserving Traditional Sari Design

The Weavers Service Centre in Kanchipuram is bursting with master craftsmen employed by the government of India (as part of the Ministry of Textiles) to push their craft to the limits, research traditional techniques and explore new ways to keep the hand loom sector alive in face of modern day competition. It was there I met K.G. Narendrababu (or Babu for short), who took me through the process of designing for hand loom saris. He is an artist at heart and pursues his own work in his spare time, telling me that it is important to have a balance between creating commercialised designs and expressing your own feeing through your art form. I agree with this whole heartedly, but it is good to be reminded sometimes, having decided to work for myself and make textiles my career. There can be a feeling of push and pull, the desire to be creative and explore ones own practice, with the need to commit time to areas of work which will bring in an income.

Babu talked me through some of the changes in sari design. In the traditional design the formula used to create the pattern goes back generations and will differ from region to region. It is inspired by the surrounding landscape of the area, nature and animals. He shared with me the centre’s hand drawn directory of symbols used in Kanchipuram sari design (see images).

Designing takes a modern twist as digital CAD packages are used to produce the patterns to convert it into the many templates used to create the warp and weft threads of the design. Some of the digital designs of sari pallu (the exposed end of the sari) are pictured. The colours maroon, mustard and green are all very auspicious, as is the mango, peacock and lotus flower – all official emblems of India.

A peek inside a kalamkari artists studio

Last month I accompanied an Indian contact, Mr N. Bond, to a town called Kalaastri in Andhra Pradesh; a temple town famous for Kalamkari fabric art – the art of painting directly onto fabric using natural plant dyes.

N.J.Bond is a contact I made through Ethical Fashion Network, he is an advocate and researcher in the field of natural dyes and has been keen to share with me his knowledge and promote their use. I have always been interested in natural dyes and so was keen to see this process of Kalamkari, which has been passed down for generations. The recipes are not written down but taught by master craftsmen to their apprentices over many years.

The fabric is soaked first of all in a milky substance, which will act as a fixative for the natural plant dyes when applied to the fabric. The pattern is first drawn onto paper which is used as a guide and traced through onto the main fabric. The pattern is made on the fabric using a pen like tool filled with the liquid dye. There are many stages which must be strictly adhered to to ensure the best result.

Alongside the many traditional patterns of the gods and other temple inspired designs, I also saw some more contemporary ideas which illustrated the potential for this style of art to be applied to the modern market. There are some designers using Kalamkari in fashion with an aim to promote and preserve this traditional technique. Designers include Upasana (watch their video on Kalamkari) and Vivek Karunakaran who promoted Kalamkari through a collection designed in collaboration with the Handloom Export Promotion Council showcased at the Chennai World Trade Centre earlier this year.

A peek inside the Earth Positive factory in Tirupur

Here are a few pictures from my visit to the Continental Clothing Earth Positive Factory in Tirupur, India.

Inspired by the first ‘green’ factory set up by Marks and Spencer’s, which drove the owners to set up their own version in India, they really are setting new standards for ethical garment production. I will be writing an article about my visit for Ethical Fashion Forum SOURCE Intelligence in the coming weeks.

To read my article follow this link: Continental Clothing: Setting the sustainable factory standard