Friday, March 30, 2012

Kittens Love Textiles

Apparently mice are a big problem for textile collectors, so they like to keep cats around. This is good news for me. And, the collection we spent the last three weeks with:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Will Work for Textiles

What have we actually been doing for the last month, you ask? Since we got to Kutch, we've been working on documenting the collection of a local textile expert, cataloging the age and origin of each piece and photographing each one. The collection has over 1500 pieces, and we just hit the 400 mark.

We started this when our friend Salim mentioned that they needed someone to catalog the collection, but never had the time or equipment to do it. Wanting to stay in Bhuj, and traveling with cameras and computers, we immediately volunteered and have been spending our days photographing since.

Because the pieces are part of a private collection, I won't be sharing the photos here, but I've been taking a few close-ups to document the techniques. Below is block printing, kantha stitch, Parsi embroidery, more kantha, running stitches, mochi embroidery, zari embroidery, kalimkari, and more kantha stitches.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Book!

My friend Jenn passed this post from Print & Pattern on to me, featuring an actual photo of the I Heart Stationery book! It's the first time I've seen it and I'm so, so excited. A full page! I can't wait to see it in person when I get home. 

You can order the book for yourself here, or get it at your local Paper Source!

Photos from Print & Pattern

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The White Rann

The White Rann, around 80 km north of Bhuj (feel free to translate to miles) is the world's largest salt flat; every few months the tide comes in 60-70 km, covering the desert with salt and turning the ground white. To the north is desert and the Pakistan border, and an area where no one lives. There is nothing as far as the eye can see, and it looks like you are staring out over the ocean. After a trip to some of the northern villages of Kutch, we stopped at the Rann to watch the sun go down. Our timing was off so we didn't see the sun set (we were too early) but I have never seen anything like it. And even though you are miles and miles from the ocean, it smells like you're standing at the beach.

We also saw a mirage in the distance: what looked like the coast with water and boats was actually heat waves and a car far away at the horizon. I had never seen one before, but it's easy to see how people (or characters in every cartoon ever) are tricked into walking miles and never reaching the "water."

We headed home with our feet and faces caked in salt, as if we had just spent a day at the beach.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The New India Scissors House

While walking through the market last week, we came across a little hole-in-the-wall shop selling scissors and antique sewing machines. All the shopkeepers in India use huge brass scissors but we couldn't find them for sale anywhere until this little place. The shop is run by an adorable old man, and if I could have fit some of their old sewing tables and antique Singers in my suitcase, I would have walked away with a lot more.

The bags he wrapped the scissors in were almost better than the scissors themselves:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Textile Heaven

Kutch continues to be amazing. After two weeks, I'm still not bored of looking at textiles (which we have done all day, every day). Here is a look at what we have been seeing since we arrived:

Plus, a baby cow for good measure:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Happy Holi!

Last week was Holi in India: a festival celebrating the harvest and coming of spring (among other things in different states) where people basically go crazy and throw colored powder, dye and water on each other. We got to celebrate Holi twice: once the day before at a local textile non-profit, and once on the actual day in the city of Bhuj. They were definitely two very different experiences.

At Khamir on the day before Holi, the staff of the non-profit celebrated in the afternoon by running around throwing powder and dunking each other in the water tanks. Throwing the powder is called "playing Holi" and you run around chasing people and trying to smear as much powder as you can on their faces. It started calmly, and ended with the dye technician being picked up by four men and dunked in the water tanks, as water was thrown in every direction. We all got soaked and covered from head to toe in neon powder.

Even the puppies wanted to play Holi:

The next day, we went in to town to see what the real Holi was like. I was picturing this, but it actually looked nothing like that. The streets were pretty empty, since a lot of people were either hiding inside to avoid the mess, or showering off the Holi powder caked all over them. We bought a bag of powder, then wandered the streets looking for the party. We never found one, but as groups of boys on motorcycles drove by they would throw powder and we would smear it on each other's faces. One sneaky seven-year-old biked by twice to pelt us with water balloons. All the touching of strangers only led to one creepy feeling-up moment, but the icing on the cake was when a dad drove up in his minivan full of kids and dumped curdled yogurt on our heads.

That signaled the end of Holi for us since the curd smelled so bad in the hot sun, and we wanted to get home and clean the powder out of our ears. But despite the curd dripping off us, Holi was an amazing experience. Bhuj is not touristy at all, so people did double takes at seeing two foreign girls walking around covered in bright powder. We even played with a few people who clearly didn't celebrate Holi: they would walk up to us completely clean and smear powder on our faces, just for a chance to see the strange sight of foreigners celebrating Holi.

Holi was not what I was expecting, but getting to spend the day joking around with strangers and getting covered in hot pink and turquoise powder was still fun, and definitely memorable.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In to the Desert: Bhuj

Blog secret: while we have been traveling we have had spotty internet, so I've been scheduling blog posts from hotels with good wi-fi, then publishing them over the course of the next week. That means the blog is about a week and a half behind where we actually are. We have been in Kutch, in the city of Bhuj, for the last ten days, and just made the executive decision to cancel the rest of our trip and stay here for the rest of our time in India.

Kutch feels like what Rajasthan probably felt like thirty or forty years ago, before there were tourists everywhere and attitudes had adjusted accordingly. Kutch is in the desert, a nine-hour bus ride (including break-downs and repairs) from the big city of Ahmedabad. It feels very remote, and we have spent the past week and a half visiting villages, talking to textile experts and being welcomed into people's homes. The area is known for crafts and textiles, and some artisan families have been practicing the same craft for hundreds of years.

In Rajasthan, most of the arts have been commercialized, but here you can walk in to a village and see people making quilts and embroidering dresses just for personal use. We met a man who invited us to his house to see his family's collection of old textiles, which he is gradually selling off piece by piece to support his family.

Kutch jumped to the top of my list of favorite places as soon as we arrived, and after ten days I feel like we have barely scratched the surface.

The paintings above say "Bhuj" in Hindi (not the language of Kutch, but one that I can write) and I painted them in the style of the highly decorated trucks you see thundering dangerously down every road in India.

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