It will be an amazing and fast-pased photographic tour for 3 weeks. This is not a textile tour per se but there will be textiles everywhere. We start out by flying from Chennai (Madras) to Madurai then we tour in a motor coach back to Chennai. There will be no time to make regualar posts on my website this time. I expect to send daily photos and stories you’ve come to expect on Instagram. Hit this link https://www.instagram.com/peggyoster/ and click on the pictures is all you have to do to keep up with us. My Instagram name is Peggyoster. Click the map to enlarge.
A Weaving Shed and Fashions to Buy
(..and tying on new warps my way)
Vijayalakshmi Nachiar is the Director of Appachi Eco-Cotton Pvt Ltd (www.ethicus.in and www.thecottontrail.com. She showed us around her hand weaving shed , her design studio, and her shop for which is called Ethicas, “The Ethical Fashion brand”.
In the large weaving shed were perhaps 30 jacquard looms, all operated by handweavers—men because lifting the threads on jacquard looms is really heavy lifting. There were two women contentedly sitting on a mat twisting the fringes for scarves.
I asked her how the weavers tied on new warps and was THRILLED that they do it exactly as I recommended in a previous post before my trip. The photo of the white and red threads shows a new warp tied to an old one. The “knot” was really a kind of twisting. One of the women (I wonder if this is a woman’s job) came over and demonstrated how the two warp threads are twisted/knotted together. The old warp is still in the heddles and the new one is all beamed on, just like I have shown.
Then we were shown Vijayalakshmi’s design area at the end of the room where the weavers were working. She has innovative designs that reflect Indian craft and tradition however, her products are not only saris. They make garments, accessories and home furnishings and the style and taste are lovely. I bought a scarf that was like the color “blanket” that she uses in her design work to choose her colors. In the blanket all the colors of threads are in both the warp and weft so she can see exactly the color that is the result from the different threads crossing one another. In fact, she designed a scarf like a color blanket. I love owning a scarf that is really this tool that many weavers’ know about. The blue fabric is just one of the ones I saw and liked. Vijayalakshmi has a very easy nickname which is Viji.
In her cotton spinning mill (previous post) they spin long staple cotton (160s size) for the Japanese market with their handpicked locally grown cotton.
Handlooms at Home
We visited two homes with looms and were told that most of the houses in this village in Pollachi, had a loom.
One house had this tall and fairly modern-looking jacquard loom. It looked like it took up most of the house, but we didn’t see more than the room with the loom. The husband and wife both weave in shifts for all but 3-4 hours a day to weave saris that are on order.
You can see us walking by the wall of another home which is much lower. There is a jacquard loom with the jacquard mechanism high over head, but since the ceiling is so low, the warp threads are at floor level. You can see someone’s feet in the photo to show how low the threads are to the ground. Then the feet are in a pit where the pedals are which operate the loom and the jacquard mechanism. These pit looms are traditional in India. The photo with a woman standing beside the loom shows the jacquard mechanism high above the loom. This is what makes patterns in the cloth (a simple explanation). [click first photo below]
Fine Cotton From the Ground Up
Outside the town of Pollachi (southern India) we visited the Appachi cotton farm to see organic cotton being grown. It is a small farm of only 3 acres which is a traditional size for a small farm in India. They grow long staple cotton which is handpicked and is sent to their mill. We heard an interesting presentation about small organic farming. The speaker is well known but I didn’t take down his name. He is the one wearing white in the group photo. He told us what a cattle farmer is mainly interested in is how much dung and urine his cows produce. Near the end of the talk we heard a cow coming close giving a long “Moooooo” . I looked around us and realized we were sitting on folding chairs in a cow shed. Soon a bunch of cows came up and as soon as our chairs were folded away, the cows were let in the shed to eat. There were troughs for both ends—food at one end and dung and urine at the other. On the left in the picture is Yoshiko Wada our tour leader. On the right are the husband and wife who are the owners of the farm, a cotton spinning mill, and a weaving business, called Ethicus which will be in the next post.
We were given a wonderful lunch by the owners of these businesses and over the doorway in their home was a picture of Kama Denu, the cow god. (In the South, cattle raising is important. On the plane to Delhi the man sitting next to me saw the photo and knew about this god, so it is not an insignificant deity.)
We were taken to a huge cotton spinning mill where the cotton fibers are processed into pretty thin yarns (160s). At Ethicus, we were shown extra fine cotton that was going to be handspun—the sample scarf we were shown was woven into cloth so fine that it passed through a wedding ring. The sizes of the threads were: warp 1/160s and weft 1/230s. [click first photo below]
Some Scenes from our Little Bus
It wasn’t easy getting photos out the window of our van but I had to get one typical of the traffic. It was a mess but everyone honked and slid buy without any scrapes. I chose not to ever ride in the front seat.
The grocery stores and shops were right on the edges of the streets mainly.
The stucco houses were typical of new construction but there was junk and debris every where with new and old housing.
I did see some factories out and about but had no idea what they were for.
I’m home now and settling in. I will miss sending these posts to my web master, Bob Hemstock. He has made all my snapshots into photographs and I am grateful. He says the next time I’d better take some picture taking lessons: he had to really do a lot of work with what I sent him. He deserves all the credit but I’ve loved doing the posts. I may do one more if I can settle into it. [click first photo below]
Another Warping Method
We saw this huge warping wheel in a room, maybe in a house or maybe in its own small shed. Notice that the bottom part is in a pit. Most of the looms in peoples’ homes have the treadles in a pit and the weaver sits on the ground level.
The women take the mass of warp yarn and wind the threads onto rolls (for spools) in preparing for the threads to be wound on the warping wheel. The man runs the wheel and is holding bundles of two warps he had made previously.
I was (always am) fascinated to see the cross in the warps. You can see the big lease sticks holding the cross as the threads come off the spools and in the warp itself on the wheel: it is being shown as the X held in the green threads.
The woman is holding the cross in her fingers: before it goes to warper, she winds the warp onto spools.
I tried to show the beginning and end of the warp on the pegs.
It was interesting to see the men and women hanging around. I wonder if they were there to see us or if there are usually men and women hanging around the warping procedure. [click first photo below]
Getting Warps Sized
We got up early to visit the people whose business it is to size warps for the weavers. It’s like putting starch on the thin fragile warp threads so they can withstand the tension and abrasion from the loom during weaving the cloth. We had to go early in the morning before it got too hot so the sizing wouldn’t dry too quickly. The spay was very fine and big brushes were run up and down the warp on both sides many times so the sizing was spread on evenly. They did maybe 8 warps in a morning. The warps were brought in on a bicycle. The finished warp would be bundled up and sent off to the weaver.
It’s interesting that all the warps we saw were all the same length because they were all to be woven into saris at 5.5 meters in length. [click first photo below]
Warping in a Street
Imagine my delight when we rounded the corner in a little village and saw these warps being made in the street! There were several local people working on them and maybe supervising. It was fabulous that we could walk among the threads.
At one point some men wanted to show us the sari that was going to be made. It was lovely and so nice to see a lot of people involved and interested.
They were passing sticks through the white warp to space out the threads. It looked very much like a group cross on the sticks, doing just what we do and there was a raddle to make the spacing exact.
The red warp was in a vacant lot. At one point there was some commotion at the other end. A goat had come up and threatened to nibble on the threads! This was in a village within the city of Madurai. [click first photo]
Since I share my hotel rooms with two amazing weavers I have to do my late night blogging in the loo not to disturb their sleep. [click first photo]
Here are some inadequate photos I took while we went inside part of this temple. We got there just before sunset so it got dark before we saw very much. I hope pictures from the internet will do it justice. We were told there at 12 separate towers! [click first photo]
Driving Down the Mountains from Munnar
Sadly we left the Aranya Naturals workshop in the morning and drove 5 hours down steep, rugged mountains toward Madurai. Our drivers took a hair raising one-lane short cut for much of the way. I have learned not to sit in the front seat because watching on-coming traffic is very scary.
The mountains were covered with tea plantations and we happened along some tea puckers. The chop-chop-chopping of the clippers was interesting to hear in the quiet country side. Attached to the clippers is a box that catches the tiny tips of the plants. Then the box is dumped into the big sack on the back. We saw only one man-this is mainly women’s work. The road was full of serious switchbacks as we came down. No knitting was done on that ride! [click first photo]
Day Two At Aranya Naturals Exquisite Workshop
It’s late after a fabulous day being tutored by the wonderful employees at the Aranya Naturals complex. Look them up on the web. They train and employ physically and mentally challenged adults over 18 in all sorts of fabric dyeing and design. The workshop is so organized and each section has its own operation. I did stitch Shibori (tie dye) with several women and then had the pieces dyed by the indigo (blue) and madder (red) dyers. You can see how enthusiast everyone was. They and their families are given housing, schooling for the children and complete medical facilities. This is just a drop of information about this truly amazing place. The 10 of us in the group were taken in hand by the experts and we dyed, batiked, and block printed our own individual ideas in a day and a half. [click first photo]
A Fabulous Experience
We went to a large workshop/complex in Munnar, India called Arranya National for two days of a natural dying workshop. It is a fabulous place which I’ll tell about in my next post. The school is on a tea plantation in a gorgeous area.
I immediately was assigned an artisan who has developed a special pole wrapping technique for dying cloth. We worked together (I mostly watched) and other artisans around came by to watch him. I loved the results so the second day he did another pole wrapping for me on a huge pashmina shawl which is an extremely fine and soft wool. I’ve never had one of these shawls so jumped at the chance of having one specially dyed. For a bigger pattern a larger pipe was used and coarser string used and the wraps farther apart. Most of these I’ve seen are diagonally patterned but I choose to have my lines straight. The final result is lovely and I’m thrilled.
An Idyllic Boat Ride
We took a boat ride on rivers, lakes, and canals which was heavenly and peaceful. There were a lot of boats but we got spread out soon. At night they put down mosquito netting and we spent the night tied up next to people’s small houses.
Lunch, dinner, and breakfast were delicious on board. In the morning the local people bathed, did laundry, an brushed their teeth in the river. Glad we had sinks and clean bottled water. Next day was back to Koochi. [click first photo]
A Few Photos from India
One afternoon we went out to the country to a house surrounded by fields. It was delightful to be in quiet, peaceful surroundings. After lunch some girls gave us embroidery lessons while sitting in the yard. My teacher had henna designs on her palms that were very elaborate.
A Day Full of Textiles
This morning we boarded our little bus and went to the National Institute of Design (NID) which is a design school founded by Charles Eames. The nine of us in our group gave short presentations about our work and about that many students presented their work. We all were impressed with one another. I showed my sheer ruffles, veils, bookmarks and the costume that lit up that I wove with fiber optics. I ended with my doll clothes. I took cards with pictures of the sheer pieces and that were snapped up by the students.
Before breakfast a graduate from the school brought his lovely shibori (tie dye) scarves to the hotel sell. We were taken to a popular restaurant, named Swati for lunch. The photos are from there. Several of us noticed a girl wearing a 1940’s bandana scarf and looking very stylish. That brought back memories and a good laugh. After lunch we visited the showroom and workroom of a fashion designer who works with traditional Indian fabrics on which he does exquisite gold embroidery. The red dress is an example of one of the least elaborate designs. Everything was gorgeous. The second fabric is a hand block printed fabric with gold embroidery which was beautiful in another way. I bought a shawl that was only block printed without any embroidery. I love it because the scale of the block prints is small. It was interesting to see the men doing the embroidery in the workshop. It was well lighted and clean and every one was busy, busy punching the needles to do the embroidering. [click first photo to enlarge]
A Great Start: Shopping for Textiles!
Today 4 of us hired a driver to take us shopping to some of the places on our list for Ahmedabad. First stop was closed, but the next was a jackpot. We had the place to ourselves while the driver waited about an hour to take us to the third place.
Bandhej is a fashion shop to die for: very contemporary, very wearable, very Indian colors and fabrics.
The next stop was to a tiny, out-of-the-way shop selling organic textiles. They had hand spun and handwoven lengths of fabric made from different species of silk, cotton, and much more. There were organically dyed and block printed cloths, too. Some in our foursome bought a lot of fabric to dye at home (see photo of them carrying their loot coming out of the shop). We had to take our shoes off to enter even though it was a dirt floor. Fabrics were pulled out to show us and heaped upon a drop cloth on the floor. We were shown interesting varieties of silk cocoons and their fibers and cloths. One cloth was made from a stick-like piece that the silkworm made to attach the cocoon to its tree. Oh, how I wish I’d taken a picture of the cocoon (almost the size of an egg) and its stick, the fiber made from it and also the cloth. The cloth looked rough, loosely woven, and beige-in color. It was interesting but not attractive.
We visited a friend of a friend and then were sent home in a motorized rickshaw. Three of us barely fit but we made it through crazy traffic back to our marvelous hotel: House of MG. Tomorrow we will visit the family of the owners of the hotel!
[click first photo for slideshow]
Here I am in Ahmedabad, India. My flight was 16 hours non stop to Dubai. Then we had a couple more hours to get to India–the best long flight I have ever had was on Emirates Airlines.
The stewardess were elegant and so was everything else, especially the extra space and movies! We left San Francisco at 4:30 pm and arrived in India at 3:00am. It was the perfect timing for sleeping and being awake and not tired when we arrived. We went to bed at 6:30 am and slept until 4:00 this afternoon. I hope I can sleep tonight and completely avoid jet lag.
Our hotel is elegant with old and modern decor inside and out. Here are a few pictures taken in the room– all elegant with lots of textile art around. Here are pictures of some of the framed embroideries in our room and a contemporary touch with buttons as art on a wall. The beautiful tiled floors are throughout the hotel and the ceilings are unbelievably high. Tomorrow we will venture out of our hotel. [click first photo to see slideshow]