Wednesday 29 April 2020

Block printing in India

Block printing was another one of the interesting crafts we saw being made in India. Block printed fabrics were on sale in many outlets in varying colours and degrees of complexity. Some places also had the blocks for sale and they made a lovely display. We saw several demonstrations of printing and in the Amber Fort we also watched a craftsman making blocks using a thread operated drill.
The same exhibition also included a printer making a small printed square. We saw him using three blocks with different colours, first a blue to outline the border and the central motifs, then a turquoise to fill in some of the areas and finally a block with a red dye to add flower shapes.
Later on in our tour we visited a workshop near Bhuj where we printed our own fabric. It was interesting to choose complementary blocks to print on to the cotton and try to envisage what they would look like in the final version.
We first used a brown resist paste with one large block for our main design motif, then used a smaller block to print highlights in black dye that roughly fitted into the main design. There is a definite knack to block printing! It’s important to make sure you have a thin, yet even, spread of resist or dye on the block and then you have to apply it to the fabric with a sharp tap.
Once the printing was dry the fabric was dyed in indigo and the resist removed. I have to say that the final result ended up looking far better than I hoped and I’ve now hemmed my piece of fabric and will use it as a scarf.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Handmade buttons Indian style

We saw some interesting variations on handmade buttons during our travels in India. The blue ones in the picture above were made from small circles of fabric. The material is then gathered round its edge, the centre is filled with scraps of fabric and then pulled up to form a ball. These ones are decorative and quite soft, but with a firmer centre they could be used as functional buttons.
The other type of handmade buttons we saw were fashioned from simple wrapping. During a workshop at one of the women’s cooperatives we visited we were shown this technique for button making. Our teacher there produced a beautifully neat button by rolling a small amount of thread into a ball and then wrapping the remaining thread round and round the outside in a circular motion. She finished it off by passing the thread through the centre of the ball with a needle. The buttons in the image here were made using the same technique but less skilfully as they look a bit lumpy!

Wednesday 15 April 2020

Parents celebrated on lace bobbins

Many lace bobbins celebrate relationships and these include parents. In some cases the bobbins were gifts from parents such as the bobbin on the left made by Jesse Compton which is inscribed ‘A present from my father 1836’. The date on this one is hard to read I wasn’t sure whether it was 1886 or 1836 but as Jesse Compton died in 1857 I’m assuming it’s the earlier date. Others, like the two following bobbins, are simpler and just say ‘Dear father’ or ‘Dear mother’. The next bobbin, which I think was made by Bobbin Brown of Cranfield, is inscribed ‘My dear father’. These would have been stock bobbins held by the bobbin makers but, the last bobbin, ‘Sarah Ions my d[ear] mother’ is a more personal message and would have been made specially for the lacemaker who ordered it. I love these old bobbins and the messages they convey. Do they commemorate special events such as birthdays or were they bought as thank you gifts? I wish I knew more about their history.

Wednesday 8 April 2020

Indian shisha mirror work

Shisha (glass) mirror work is unique to India. According to Anne Morrell’s book on Indian embroidery it is thought to have developed in Baluchistan or Gujarat and may originally have incorporated naturally occurring mica rather than mirrors. Blown glass is used now which is broken into pieces and then cut into shapes, most often circles. However in one of the examples I bought the ‘mirrors’ seem very flexible and more like cardboard than glass (see below).
Anne describes the traditional technique for holding the mirrors in place with two vertical and two horizontal threads forming a cross across the face of the mirror. This cross forms the base for the top stitching which comprises buttonhole, herringbone, or chain stitch forming a circle round the edge of the mirror. It’s important to get the tension of the holding stitches just right as if they are too loose the mirror falls out and if they are too tight it’s difficult to work the circle of edge stitches.
That’s the traditional technique, however at one of the women’s cooperatives we went to we were shown a different method. The embroiderer made a ring of thread round her finger, worked buttonhole stitch all the way round it to make a ring and then slip stitched it over a mirror on the base fabric which was held in place with stitches through holes in the mirror (see above). Embroiderers, particularly those working for a living, will always use faster ways to produce the desired result if they can, because time is money. Whatever the method and the materials used it is a beautiful technique that is unique to India.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

Indian chain stitch embroidery

Chain stitch can be made using a needle, a hook or mechanically using the Cornely machine. Anne Morrell in her book on Indian embroidery suggests that chain stitch was probably introduced to west Gujarat from Baluchistan although there is also a theory that it was imported from China. Although chain stitch is seldom used in contemporary Chinese embroidery it has been found in textiles in ancient tombs. If you are embroidering chain stitch by hand it is quicker to do it using a hook rather than a needle and it results in a more regular line on the reverse of the work. The hook is similar to the ari (the shoemaker’s awl) used to embroider leather for footwear (see my blog of 25 March), although, because it is held differently, the handles of the two types of hook are different.
Embroidery with a hook is generally easier if the fabric is fixed taught in a frame. For needle work the fabric may be held in the hand or in a frame. Anne Morrell notes that when embroidering chain stitch using a needle, the worker generally stitches away from herself and this makes it easier to produce small even stitches. The two pieces shown here are variations on the same pattern produced as a sheet of square pieces approximately 10 cm in size, which are cut up to allow the purchaser to buy as many as they want.