My handcrafted Diwali!

I really wanted to post my Diwali pictures. True to what I believe in, I decided to have a completely handcrafted Diwali. I toiled over Kesar Phirni (thanks to Sanjeev Kapoor), poured them into terracotta bowls and decorated them. Then I baked some Mattris (yes, I didn’t fry them!) in different shapes. Dressed in a traditional ‘Kandhangi‘ handloom saree, I decorated the whole balcony with diyas (terracotta lamps with oil), lit up the Vilakku ( brass lamp) and was all set to take pictures for the blog. That was when the catastrophe struck! 😦 My camera refused to detect the memory card and I didn’t have a spare!

Since I won’t be able to give you a glimpse of my balcony (btw, my little lily pond is finally showing signs of revival), the least I can do is write about ‘Kandhangi’ sarees. I harbour a secret love for sarees. Though you may hardly ever find me in a saree, I am definitely a pro at wearing them and hope to have a collection someday.

Photo Courtesy: Girish

During the recent Karaikudi trip, my friend Roxana was very particular about visiting the saree looms. Widely worn in the hot climes of Chettinadu, these sarees are woven in bright colours. A typical sight in this region is of ‘aachis‘ (the Chettiar womenfolk) wearing a Kandhangi saree, complete with oodles of jewelery and well oiled hair adorned with jasmine flowers. Both of us went berserk, fought over the loot and went broke buying sarees for almost everyone we could think of. Most of the ‘gifts’ never reached their recipients and ended in our wardrobes! 🙂

Characterised by huge borders (sometimes two-thirds of the saree is covered with the border), these sarees are woven using high quality cotton from Tirupur. These sarees take about a week to be hand woven on the loom. Over time, the enterprising community anticipated the decline in demand for hand woven cotton sarees. They have slowly diversified into making silk blended cottons sarees and  stoles. Nowadays low quality yarn is also used to reduce the cost of raw material used.

This cotton yarn is used to make those simple, yet stunning sarees. The hot weather throughout the year call for the use of light fabric, one that breathes.

The looms were in an old house, whose courtyard and verandahs were used to showcase the products for sale. We sat down on the verandahs, enjoying the cool evening breeze and discussed the declining demand for such hand spun beauty. The lady of the house, dressed perfectly in true Chettinadu style was happy to share her knowledge and love for these sarees.

I came back with this and Roxana with lots more. The plan is to couple them with Ikat blouses and loads of bead jewellery 🙂

Diwali Gifts are here!

It’s Diwali again. The time of the year when everything is so happy and festive. The time when winters are here and so are the hot chocolate and coffee sessions with friends. I am particularly fond of candles, little diyas and I cannot have enough candle holders at home. On one my trips to Udaipur in Rajasthan, I found this beautiful hand-carved marble piece. I got one for myself and the many compliments I’ve received over the months has inspired me to make this a part of the Diwali Gift Hamper.

Here is how the lit one looks. It casts a beautiful shadow all around it.

Gift Hamper from CraftCanvas (GS001). Combined with dry fruits and scented candles, the marble tea light holder is packed in an attractive box. Priced at Rs. 699/-

Another one with a little ‘Dhokra‘ Ganesha from Dhenkanal, Orissa- one of the Ganesha’s from the band. Priced at Rs.599/-.

Boxes made in subtle, yet rich Diwali colours. Perfect for Diwali gifting.

You can click here for more photos and email craftcanvas@gmail.com in case you are interested.

This item is available at our eBay Store.

Kutch on a spa wall..

All this while, I’ve refrained from writing about Gujarat. I’ve read (and of course I see them everyday) so much about Kutchi embroidery, mirror work and the beautiful ladies wearing traditional wear that it seemed nothing out of the ordinary for me. Till the point that my husband pointed out that I haven’t blogged about my first project. Its been a year now since its been completed, it is in perfect condition and writing about it seemed the right way to celebrate the anniversary. (Please note that all photos were taken using a mobile camera, regret the quality)

Yes, that was my first craft interiors project. It is a spa and I was offered a project to do something ‘Indian’ for one of the rooms. Since it was my first project, I decided to do something from Gujarat.

Of course, I did the usual stuff- I traveled with an approximate address to find the craftsman. I knew it was somewhere ‘near Bhuj’. I reached there to find a group of migrant workers who belonged to a border village near the Rann of Kutch. The extended family lived in a small house and visited their village once or twice a year to celebrate weddings and other festivals.

The brightly dressed women are the most creative bunch of people I’ve ever met. They have no formal education, in fact they cannot even draw a design on a piece of paper. They sketch (only for my reference, they don’t seem to need any at all. It’s all in their head.) the design with their fingers on the soft earth. These fingers that have created some exquisite embroidery have more in store.

The embroidered clothes that the women wear come as part of the dowry. To make this dowry, a girl starts when is just about 5 years old. The best embroidered clothes fetch the best husbands. So the girl learns and perfects the intricate embroidery techniques very early in life. The girl’s mother makes the bridal bag- an even more intricate piece of fabric that is used to pack her daughter’s clothes. The photo is of Kanta and Isha, Ramilaben’s daughter and sister respectively.

Ugabhai and Ramilaben are fabulous as a couple. While she works at the creative aspects of the wall, it is her husband who gets the raw material ready.First of all, wild ass dung has to be collected from the forest. Kutch is the only habitat for these creatures. Next the local earth (which is rock dry) is beaten up to a powder, mixed with the dung and made into a paste.

The walls are plastered with this. This is called ‘Lippan Kaam’. This is commonplace in most houses in that region and acts as an insulator bringing down temperatures drastically inside their homes. The women are the ones who are involved in making the creative designs.

The design is made on the plastered walls. It starts at a midpoint and slowly grows around that reference point. The designs are usualy not made on paper and is the whole process is improvised as the women work together, singing Kutchi songs and teasing one another. The picture above shows how the finished design looks before completing the final painting process.

The walls are then plastered with white cement. This process is done by hand and the final finish is done with fingers creating waves. Finally, each mirror is carefully cleaned by hand. The final wall looks like the one in the picture.

If you thought the whole process was interesting and adventurous, it is definitely far from it. On day one, Ramilaben wanted to go back home. Her lehenga was so huge that she couldn’t manage washing it in the tiny bathroom at the spa premises. The commode was another story altogether.  Another issue was that these people do this on their own walls at home, so it can be done at their convenience. With a launch deadline, it was difficult to get them to finish.

But when the wall was finally done, it surpassed all our expectations. The final texture that was done using Ramilaben’s fingers is a remarkable example of hand crafted beauty. I travel to this spa quite often. I run my fingers on that wall, and there is definitely a sense of pride.

Crafting Ganesha..

Though I no longer live in Bombay, I still look forward to Ganesh Chaturthi every year. Part of the reason is that it signals the beginning of the festive season and the other is of course, the creativity in all of us that comes to the forefront. Every street has it own Ganapathi and the whole works around it is almost like a competition. It works the same way in most of our crafts. Check out some renditions of the elephant God in various crafts across the country.

Made in Dhenkanal, Orissa, this Dhokra sculpture was handcrafted by Dushasan Behera.

Found in a small alley in Oklipura, Bangalore, this metal sculpture is used in homes for Puja (prayer)

The auspicious silver sculptures are part of the Puja (prayer) room. A new bride is gifted these as a symbol of luck and prosperity.

The stone sculptures of Shivarapatna in Kolar.

A modern style Ganesha made in Udaipur.

A Pattachitra of a  five headed Ganesha from Orissa.

Ganesha masks on Papier-mâché.

That is me holding a Ganesha made with goat leather. The puppet craft Charmakari has Ganeshas on just about everything- lamps, puppets and even wall screens.

Sadly, every year after Visarjan (the day when the elephant god sculptures are cast into the water bodies), I hate to think of the pollution levels that our fun and festivals have caused the environment. A bio-degradable Ganapathi is a great option, but if you wish to retain your Ganapathi or even gift your friends, you can pick one of these options.

This item is available at our eBay Store.

FAQs on Athangudi tiles..

How to order Athangudi Tiles?

  1. There are various designs. You can choose a design and colour of your choice. Click here for a catalog of designs.
  2. You can also custom make designs. In this case, you need to pay the cost of the mould.
  3. Once the order is placed, the tiles are produced. The tiles cannot be stocked for a long time as the ends are porous and discolouration is bound to occur at the corners.
  4. Only about 75 sq ft can be produced each day.
  5. The tiles are about an inch in thickness. Three size options are available- 6 by 6 inches, 8 by 8 inches and 10 by 10 inches.

How are Athangudi tiles laid?

  1. The laying process is different from the regular tile laying process. Masons from Karaikudi should be employed as they understand the process better.
  2. For a minimum of 600 sq ft, the local masons are willing to travel anywhere in India for the laying process. Depending on the quantum of work, one or two helpers need to be provided for the masons. Please note that the mason speaks only Tamizh. A better idea would be to source low cost labour from Karaikudi itself.
  3. Rice husk is used for polishing, which is also sourced from Karaikudi.
  4. About 100 sq ft can be laid in a day.  Post laying, 2-3 days are required for polishing. The polished tile reflects light like a mirror.

How are Athangudi Tiles maintained?

  1. The tile responds well to use. The more you walk on it, the shinier it gets. Non usage may dull the tile. Hence, it is not advisable to use as wall tiles.
  2. Regular cleaning should do. You can even wash the floors. Once a week, mop the floor with a mixture of water and 10-15 drops of coconut oil. It keeps the sheen intact.

What areas are best suited to Athangudi tiles?

  1. It is best suited to porches, verandahs and living rooms where traffic is quite high.
  2. Not advisable for kitchens and open to sunlight areas.
  3. For smaller size rooms, use smaller and less intricate designs. The more intricate ones look dramatic in larger areas.

Athangudi tiles, finally!

It’s been 2 years since I set my eyes on Athangudi tiles. I saw it on a blog that I frequent and it was love at first sight. I’ve spent all these months planning for a trip to Karaikudi. I travel quite a bit, but this trip wasn’t just coming through. When I finally managed to get here, the trip was just perfect. Two really close people, one a friend with whom I’ve spent the dreamy years of college giggling, shopping and forging a friendship for the rest of our lives. The other one is an interesting story, I’ve hardly met him thrice in the ten odd years that I’ve known him and we get along very well.

In the coming weeks, I will write about all the wonderful sights and people we met in this packed four day trip. For now, let me start with my first love.

Athangudi is a relatively new craft. The region is dominated by Chettiars, a community of rich traders. The Chettairs built fabulous mansions with wooden pillars, Belgian and Japanese tiles, Italian marbles and imported stained glass. But over time, they realized that repairs were expensive due to the non availability of spares. So the inherently enterprising community set up an industry that made replicas of the imported tiles. The sand from Athangudi suited this procedure the best and this village became the hub of tile production.

(Photo courtesy: S. A. Girish) Made with white cement, sand and pigments, the tiles are entirely hand-made. Colors mixed with white cement are poured using a mould on a glass base. The glass helps in giving the tile a smooth, polished surface.

(Photo courtesy: S. A. Girish) The design is packed with cement on top and left to dry in the sun.

It is later cured in water for a couple of days and again dried in the sun.

The laying process involves the use of sand, cement, lime and the top is polished with rice husk.

There are about 60 designs, will try to put it up on Flickr with product codes. Here are some of them.

The Bangalore series: Wood carving in Ulsoor…

Ulsoor is just a stone’s throw away from the heart of the city.Nestled in between hundreds of bylanes, there are two small workshops making replicas of old doors. Those old doors were once made by their grandfathers. The replicas are made mostly with the help of machines, only the last bit of detailing is done manually.

Here is a lamp stand in an old house that needs a pair. The new one is machine cut and will end up looking less imperfect, less intricate and in the process less beautiful than the original.

The tools are still simple. A compass, a measuring scale and a hammer.

Different sizes of chisels for various degrees of carving.

Nowadays, owing to the decline in demand, small parts of the door or the pooja (prayer) room doors are made here. With such options available in synthetic materials like fiber and plastic, the craft is definitely on the verge of extinction.

It mostly serves as a repair centre for old doors and furniture. This beautiful chair is being refurbished and a replica has also been ordered.

A era gone by. Bangalore is no more the place it used to be, isn’t it?