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A Precious Legacy : An Open Letter Earlier this year, I joined a design team in Srinagar, Kashmir exploring the potential of crafts to generate business through design innovation and improved skills.
The Kashmir Valley is a scenic delight and the crafts of the region have developed over 100s of years. The craftsmen usually learn their craft at an early age. Some start at five years old and most are taught in workshops. This was quite a revelation, for I always assumed that the skills passed from parent to child.
In the group of 12 artisans, or Karigars, I worked with only one had learned the craft from his parents, and he was by far the most impassioned. However, not one could draw even a simple motif. One group would draw, another would trace onto the fabric, while the Karigars would embroider.
What is curious is that the craftsmen were not aware of the possibility of, nor interested in using their skills for selfexpression. They had no attachment to the work beyond earning a living. They were content to labour over marks another mind has imposed upon the fabric.
When I see the textiles of India, I marvel at the skill, the imagination and patience. I had always assumed that this could only be the result of passionate involvement. But in reality, the designer and the craftsman have become separate entities and the latter is never convinced the design he is labouring over is really worth the effort until the money comes in.
But hand crafting has the means to provide both poetic fulfilment as well as putting bread on the table. Perhaps even the potential to save the soul of a world fixated on war and material wealth, but, regrettably, its voice is soft and meek and the practitioners, in India at least, are not educated enough to promote the strengths of their work. The government in India is committed to the promotion of craft, but more as a means for export earnings and less as a vital heritage.
When I watch men labour over my designs, working like mere skilled labour and not the respected craftsmen of yore, I wonder if this is indeed a realistic solution for the growth and prosperity of craft.
The contemporary fibre artist, by virtue of being a designer-artist-craftsman, does fulfil the ideal of hand crafting. But do we have to forsake other methods of crafting completely and adopt the model of the highly educated, urban craftsperson as the only viable craftsman of the future? ••• Gopika Nath
Sitting pretty In my local junk shop, I found a chair covered in a vivid blue gloss paint and vile 80’s chintz, but with interesting proportions. Under the chintz, I glimpsed a 40s or 50s fabric, probably original. I haggled the shop owner down to £10 and, stripped and sanded, the chair looks fabulous. The fabric beneath was bottle green with yellow embroidery in a brick design - sadly too faded and worn. I have resigned myself to reupholstering, could you recommend an appropriate fabric? ••• Sarah Ellis
Ed My first reaction would be to encourage you to find some vintage fabric of the period, Eat My Handbag Bitch T: 020 7836 0830 has a wonderful supply of original materials but it’s also worth looking in antique and fabric fairs. Note exactly how much fabric you need and remember to take a tape measure.
If you are happy to stray a little further back in time,
Osborne & Little, T:020 7352 1456 have a beautiful new collection, Barouche, a mix of velvet and chenille taken from horse drawn carriages and railway coaches in the early 20th century.
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