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.

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 a natural indigo dye house

Last week I visited Colours of Nature, a traditional indigo and natural dye house based in Auroville, South India.

Colours of Nature are reviving the 1,000 year old traditional technique of indigo dying, while using scientific research to develop the dyes and improve on the colour-fastness (one of the main issues with natural dyes in the commercial market). There will be more posts about natural dyes to come, as I pursue this field of interest and integrate it into my ideas for a collection…

India Calls

In just over two weeks my boyfriend (Berg) and I will be moving to India from the UK to spend a year living in Chennai. Berg is working on a migration project based in the city. My time will be split between working for an NGO and researching and writing about ethical fashion.

I have been working for Ethical Fashion Forum for the past few months and will be continuing my work with them while in India writing for the SOURCE Magazine.

I will be visiting sustainable fashion & textiles organisations and meeting contacts I have made through working in ethical fashion and via the Ethical Fashion Network.

I have also connected with an NGO called Rural Institute for Development and Education (RIDE) who I’ll be working with on a long-term basis.

Image: http://www.rideindia.org/activities.htm

RIDE work to support those people living and working in the rural villages of Tamil Nadu in the areas surrounding Chennai.

They carry out fantastic work by supporting children in the villages out of child labour and into education. They provide them with catch up lessons until the children are ready to enter regular schools. They also help the adults to start businesses which have the means to create sustainable income for their families. This is supported by their Entrepreneurial Development Programme which offers practical training in various different fields.

Many of the villages that RIDE work with are known for their exquisite hand-loom woven silk used for the most luxurious saris. This is an area I am very keen to learn more about and develop my understanding of this traditional craft. I’m also interested in the possibility of creating a knowledge transfer programme for those who would like to develop their skills in the fashion & textiles industry.