A hundred Indian textiles

My home as an Indian sweatshop

It was Wednesday. Kris was (and still is) on a sail boat somewhere between here and Bali, so I have been alone these past 2 weeks. I had the day off…something I needed desperately, as I work the rest of the week. I planned on sleeping in, getting the laundry and grocery shopping done ashore, catching up on lots of neglected chores, cooking myself some real food to take to work the rest of the week, maybe reading a book (William Boyd’s Waiting for Sunrise)…possibly even (oh, frisson of joy bordering on lust!) doing some arts & crafts that weren’t travel journal related.

Meanwhile, an old acquaintance of Kris’s had just got back to Darwin after spending two years in Goa, India. This guy often brings a whole sailboat loaded with Indian textiles, antiques, and jewelry back with him, to sell to the local hippie and “ethnic style” shops in town. This time around, Australia’s customs wouldn’t allow him to bring the stuff ashore unless he got every piece labelled with its country of origin and materials. A rule he didn’t know about. You can see what’s coming in this little story of mine, can’t you?

When Mr. Loon pulled up in his dinghy with the problem, I felt compelled to help him out…felt a bit sorry for him, I guess, though I don’t really know him all that well. So Wednesday was spent at the big table on the back deck, stitching a hundred little “Made in India. 100% cotton” labels onto embroidered blankets, throws and bedspreads, shawls, floor mats, wall hangings…while the sweat ran down my cheeks and dropped off the tip of my nose (as we are locked deep into the sultry heart of a tropical summer at the moment).

The colors were fabulous, and little bits of shisha winked at me from a thousand spots, but the embroidery work was very slipshod, rough and crudely done. Very disappointing. But I guess that’s what the trade has become, for the tourist market…these weren’t artisans or master crafters; these were just poor women trying to produce as much as they could in a short time, to earn enough to help the family. I had to remind myself that, in India, the professional embroiderers are actually the men. I’ve seen some amazing stuff on wedding sarees…the fine gold work and beads mixed with shaded silk embroidery is sumptuous, and meticulous beyond belief. In contrast, the stuff I was stitching up with labels is produced for white buyers like Mr. Loon, who can’t see the workmanship even when he’s looking right at it, because he doesn’t know what to look for. He’s spent quite a lot of money on some of these textiles, he told me…a bit of a worry. You’ve all heard the saying “You get what you pay for”? I think Terry Pratchett improved on that one by adding “…if you know what you’re doing. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you get what you deserve.”

But I got something for my troubles, in the end (you betcha!) When the merchant came back I put my hand on one hanging that I’d left unpacked. It was printed, patchworked silk on one side, printed cotton on the other, no embroidery or mirrors, and I liked the primary colors very much! “This one? This one I want.” The audacity.

He laughed and gave it to me. So I do have something pretty to show for the day my boat became a one-woman sweatshop! 🙂


Kantha see I’m busy? Week 10 ✂ Running Stitch (TAST)

Tast Week 10: Running Stitch

Week 10’s stitch on Take A Stitch Tuesday is Running Stitch…

Possibly the simplest stitch of them all, and yet…who, among embroiderers, is not indebted to this stitch? From basting, easing, and smocking to outlining, gathering, filling, quilting, and pattern darning, running stitch can do it all.

And does it quickly! Please *ahem* note that for once I am not posting my TAST2012 sample at the last possible moment. This piece took the good part of a day to do (it was the pattern darning that slowed me down, and I was plenty distracted) but that’s not too bad,when you count how long some of the others took me.

 This first bit of my sample shows some pattern darning. A simple line of stitches worked over counted threads, (evenweave fabric, using a single thread and a tapestry needle) was built up into a band so even that it almost looks woven. There was going to be a whole field of this darning, but after four repeats of the pattern I got bored (heh heh) so I tore the strip from its mother fabric, and mixed it with other torn pieces of fabric for a patchwork, instead.

Tast Week 10: Running Stitch

My favorite use of running stitch is in the Indian and West Bengal embroidery called kantha. In the best examples of this technique, the entire cloth is covered with running stitches, often used to fill in shapes of animals, plants, and people. The effect of so many running stitches is a subtle, delightful crinkling or rippling in the fabric, and a contrast between puffed-up and stitched down areas that resemble quilting. Kantha embroidery is both decorative, and serves to hold all the pieces of a patchwork down, and if several layers are used, is also a quilting stitch to hold all the layers of a blanket (or somesuch) together, at the same time.

I work this dense running stitch quite a lot. Here it is on a patchwork-covered journal…
book 913 with hand-embroidered kantha quilting

and on a simple felt journal
puff (no. 908)

BUT I am digressing…this here is a detail of my running stitches for the TAST sample. The shimmery pink organza is particularly effective when it is puckered up by the running stitches, letting the light play on its crinkled surface.

I didn’t do anything special to hold the pieces of fabric down—like bond them to the ground fabric, or spray them with adhesive—except some very large basting stitches (removed afterwards) running both vertically and horizontally across all the loose pieces. The edges were left torn or cut. As I worked the running stitches—first vertically then horizontally, forming crosses—I tried to catch and hold down the raw edges of the pieces. Don’t know if I would dare to launder such a thing, but for a static embroidery sample, the kantha seems to do the job of securing everything well enough.

Tast Week 10: Running Stitch

The text is very crude on this one, I didn’t think it would turn out so ordinary. I’ve used running stitch for the letters, which I then whipped with the same color. Kinda ‘meh’. I tried to set the word off better by running a few lines of tiny white running stitches around it. Maybe I should have filled the entire word-shape with white running stitches. But it’s colorful, and pretty, has a rich texture, and I like it a lot, anyway!
Tast Week 10: Running Stitch

I love running stitch…it’s so simple, and versatile, and it instantly gives a design that earthy, “made by hand” feeling.

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This small embroidery sample is for the Take a Stitch Tuesday 2012 Challenge. The idea was to combine my love of embroidery with my love of typography.