Tuesday, October 25, 2005

KMVS Embroidery Workshop with Maiwa Fibre Symposium

The whole day was amazing. There were two actual embroiderers and two interpreters. The interpretors were all excellent embroiderers in their own rights. The day started out slow and unsure. They were hesitant and shy at first. They could see that we were all very interested in their work and relaxed. The lack of common language between us didn't seem to be a problem. Lots of pointing and smiling seemed to work. I apologize for not remembering the names of these ladies. This woman is holding her wedding shawl. It's hard to see in the picture but there faint lines in the black area. The fabric was block printed first, then mud painted, then dyed - all before the embroidery work was done. The picture really doesn't do it justice. That piece is stunning! She did it all herself as part of her dowry. She's 34 years old and a widow with a son and has no chance of ever remarrying. No one would marry her without another dowry. But even if she does save up, why would she want to remarry? She's better off now. She has high status in her village as an embroiderer. She has a son who will marry and give her a a daughter-in-law and bring in a dowry.

One of the interpretor trying on the wedding shawl to show us. In her village, the embroiderer is not allowed to wear her own embroidery or anything colourful because of her widow status. This custom is apparently different from village to village.

If anything, I came out of there with a better understanding and appreciation of their work. The KMVS group buys directly from the embroiderers and sells directly to the public so there are no middlemen. This means more money for the embroiderers. Right off the bat, the embroiderers are paid a good wage, a percentage is for the village for schools, water, etc. The middlemen would pay roughly 20 rupees a piece and the KMVS may pay 400 rupees for the same work. Big difference. The men are quite involved as well. Even though the work is all done by women, the men has a big say in things. They were concerned about women coming to Canada by themselves, being corrupted by Westerners. Meena (the woman in the yellow dress) has been here before but the others have never left India. Each woman interested had to submit their name and reasons. It was quite a long process in picking the names. The women chosen had to be expert embroiderers and married or widowed. The embroidery work is a strong part of their culture. I really got a sense of pride not just from the embroiderers themselves but from their whole village. There was a lot of planning to make sure we understand their work. Each student had a binder prepared for them with notes on the different stitches, a blurb about the villages, and a very nice special gift. Each binder had an original piece of embroidery done. Each piece handstitched and matted - ready for framing. It's a depiction of the Tree of Life.

Our sewing kit is a Buchki bag containing a practice cloth, a sampler to stitch, a bag of shisha mirrors, and assortment of coloured threads. The shisha mirrors are much thinner than the ones in craft stores. Each tiny mirror was hand cut and polished. Buchki bags are usually given to the girls when they are at an age to learn embroidery. The girls will take the bag with them as part of their dowry.

Each bag was handstitched and embroidered with a sample of all the stitches we learned in the class. The inside is lined with fabric that they block printed. Every single bag was different and unique. Let's just say that my sample looked nowhere near theirs. I think I will need years of practice.