On a cold December afternoon in Bihar, Padmini and I were doing our best to keep ourselves warm. Our back-packs did not allow for elaborate winter clothing and we hoped to get by wearing multiple tee shirts under a thin sweater. It was about 4 pm when we reached the Sikki Sangh, a women’s co-operative in Ratwa. Working with incredible speed and weaving multi-coloured baskets, these women seemed oblivious to the biting chill. Their fingers flew in a kind of rhythm that seemed to warm them while the constant banter distracted their minds away from the cold.

Over a sip of piping hot tea, I addressed :)  the bunch of ‘didis’ (elder sister as we call them here). I gave them drawings of what I expect, the colour combinations that will work and the little details that could go in for the ‘wow’ effect. Using a battery operated emergency lamp, we pored over the designs. Working late on winter afternoon is not a great idea as the sun sets quite early in these parts. So coupled with the erratic power supply, the women prefer starting their day early to weave as many baskets as possible during the sunlit hours. Sometimes during the festival season, the orders are big and they weave at night in their homes. Since the weaving process is intricate, it causes a huge strain on their eyes.

Sikki basket weaving was previously a domestic activity. The women weave baskets from the locally availbale Sikki (golden grass) grass. Though most of the baskets are used to store knick-knacks at home, special ones are woven by the mother to be used as dowry boxes for the daughter.

Little toys are also made for children. The grass is available in abundance during the summer and winter months. Copious rains turn huge areas into swaps where this grass thrives.

Once the rainy season comes to a close, the slowly drying swamps yield piles of grass. This is then dyed with colours and then dried in the sun. Once dry, the grass is cleaned and cut into thin strips that are then woven into baskets, toys, trays, etc.

Some complex designs have been tried. This lamp here was designed by designers from the Jiyo project.

We left Rathwa just when the sun was about to set. It was the end of a long cold day and we were hoping the cheerful faces we left behind and some frantic texting would bring some warmth to our cold fingers.

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.

Tea light hand carved with marble

Tea light hand carved with marble

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

Diwali gift boxes

Diwali gift boxes

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/-

Ganesha Dhokra Diwali gift box

Ganesha Dhokra Diwali gift box

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

Diwali gift boxes packaging

Diwali gift boxes packaging

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.

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)

Mud mirror relief work from Kutch

Mud mirror relief work from Kutch

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.

Women in traditional Kutchi attire

Women in traditional Kutchi attire

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.

Traditional Kutchi attire worn everyday

Traditional Kutchi attire worn everyday

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.

Ramila ben, mud mirror relief work artisan

Ramila ben, mud mirror relief work artisan

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.

Women working on the base

Women working on the base

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.

Work in progress of the spa wall handcrafted using mud mirror work from Kutch

Work in progress

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.

Final wall at the spa handcrafted using Kutchi mud mirror work

Final wall at the spa

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.

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. Here are some of our Ganapathis :) Check out some renditions of the elephant God from various craft forms across the country.

Dhokra Ganesha from Dhenkanal, Orissa

Dhokra Ganesha

 

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

Ganesha made by Oklipura artisans

Ganesha made by Oklipura artisans

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

Silver Ganesha and Lakshmi Udaipur

Silver Ganesha and Lakshmi Udaipur

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

Shivarapatna Stone sculptures

Shivarapatna Stone sculptures

The stone sculptures of Shivarapatna in Kolar.

Contemporary stone sculpture from Udaipur

Contemporary stone sculpture from Udaipur

A modern style Ganesha made in Udaipur.

Pattachitra Ganesha from Orissa

Pattachitra Ganesha from Orissa

A Pattachitra of a  five headed Ganesha from Orissa.

Paper machier Ganesha masks from Orissa

Paper machier Ganesha masks

Ganesha masks on Papier-mâché.

Leather puppet Charmakari Ganesha from Andhra Pradesh

Leather puppet Charmakari Ganesha from Andhra Pradesh

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, write to us at mail@craftcanvas.com.

 

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 tile designs from Karaikudi

Athangudi tile designs from Karaikudi

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 tiles in Chettiar mansions

Athangudi tiles in Chettiar mansions

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.

Adding colours to Athangudi tiles

Adding colours to Athangudi tiles

(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.

Athangudi tiles blue and red

Athangudi tiles blue and red

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

Athangudi tiles out to dry

Athangudi tiles out to dry

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.

Athangudi tiles contemporary design

Athangudi tiles contemporary design

 

Athangudi tiles on a staircase

Athangudi tiles on a staircase

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.

Carving a replica in wood

Carving a replica

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.

Tools for carving wood

Tools for carving wood

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

Chisels for carving wood

Chisels for carving

Different sizes of chisels for various degrees of carving.

New designs for Pooja room doors carved in wood

New designs for Pooja room doors

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.

Reupholstering a vintage chair

Re-upholstering a vintage chair

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?

 

Stone sculpture in balcony garden

Stone sculpture in balcony garden

You have already seen the beautiful stone sculpture in my balcony garden. Here is the post on where I found it.

When we finally managed to drive out of Bangalore (which seemed almost endless) and left behind the huge building complexes, my friend Mandy and I were glad to take in some fresh country air. The highway was a pleasure to drive on, with picturesque and almost uninhabited surroundings for our eyes to feast on. Some really good 90′s music (loads of nostalgic thoughts in the process) and we were well on our way to Shivarapatna. All that we knew about the place was that it was in Kolar district!

Finding Shivarapatna on Google maps

Finding Shivarapatna on Google maps

We reached Kolar and figured that we had crossed the village atleast an hour earlier and had to head back the same way. So we took a detour (again a vague direction following instructions given by the village folk, who measured distance by the time it took them the last time they visited that place!) and we trying Nokia maps to figure out the direction. Thats when we realized that as far as the maps were concerned, we were non-existent!

Stacked up stone sculptures

Stacked up stone sculptures

Shivarapatna was hardly made up of a couple of rows of houses, all of which were busy with activity. Statues were strewn around in all stages of work. The workshops (like the one shown above) were full of statues ready to be shipped to the US.

Tools for stone carving

Tools for stone carving

The craftsmen were all immersed in their work using simple tools, sometimes even oblivious of our presence.

Some of them were working under the shade of a bamboo structure, an interestingly ‘green’ feature.

My friend helped me with Kannada translations and we slowly started getting an idea of the work. This craft has been practiced for generations, the raw material (stone) coming from nearby areas of HD Kote and Mysore. Granite and soapstone are the two common stones used for sculptures.

Navagrahas- the nine planets

Navagrahas- the nine planets

Navagrahas, the nine planetary gods in Hindu religion are made here. These sculptures are used in temples across South India.

Few interesting designs.

Nandi, Shiva's gaurdian bull

Nandi, Shiva's gaurdian bull

Nandi, Lord Shiva’s bull, a representation of Dharma.

Tall stone sculpture

Tall stone sculpture

The tallest structure that we saw in the village.

Goddess Laskhmi, symbol of wealth

Goddess Laskhmi, symbol of wealth

Goddess Lakshmi, a symbol of wealth.

Hanuman

Hanuman

Hanuman, a devotee of Lord Rama.

Goddess Durga

Goddess Durga

Goddess Durga.

If you are planning to drive there this weekend, you can contact me for directions!

Please click here for more pictures.

Of late I’ve been a little bullish on the recycling front. More so, because of all the DIY (Do-it-yourself) things I’ve been reading about. I remember my mom re-using almost everything. Plastic was hardly ever used. And we’ve had the same furniture for as long as I can remember!

Before the transformation

Before the transformation

Though my first impulse was to throw away this ugly blue chair at home, I decided to think it through. Maybe something could be done to salvage this.

Luckily I had an old (and cheap) dhurrie. I had picked it up for the bedroom and found that it was too big for the space. I had to fold it to use it. so I decided to cut it to the required size, give it a border and use it. Well, that’s another project.

So coming back to the chair, I decided to upholster it with left over fabric from the dhurrie.

First came the painting part. I read a few ‘how to paint’ articles online. It seemed an easy read, but when I finally got around to do it, it was quite a messy thing. If you live in India, the easier thing would be call in an expert.

But somehow, I finished the painting on my own. I had to sand the whole surface, remove the black paint, use a primer and finally finish off with three coats of paint (with a lot of sanding in between coats).

Using the measurements of the existing upholstery, it was easy to get the dhurrie stitched from a local tailor. There is a little bit of fabric left that I am planning to use as a table runner.

After the transformation

After the transformation

And there is my chair. A traditional twist to a functional piece.

Kitschy chair at home

Kitschy chair at home

I use it indoors too! :) More ideas anyone?

I’ve lived in Bangalore for a year. Yet I’ve never come across this place called ‘Oklipura’. Usually crafts are made in villages and I had no clue how to find them. I just knew they were in Oklipura (purely based on some reference in a book), but the address was not known.

So I walked around the neighborhood for about an hour and finally was directed to the right place by the local dhobi (launderer). There I met a very enterprising lady, the daughter of the master craftsman who explained the details. For generations they have been catering to their clients in South Karnataka.

Dakshin Kannada district is known for its unique culture. Bhuta Kola or Holy Spirit worship is a stylised form of ritual dance of the spirit impersonator. It is quite similar to ‘Theyyam’, an art form from the Malabar region of Kerala.

Yakshagana Bhoota mask

Yakshagana Bhoota mask

An interesting form of dance-ritual called ‘Yakshagana’ a dance-drama creating the world of divine and super human beings with all the paraphernalia of costumes, make ups, music, dance and dialogue is practised. A mask of the demon God is worn during this ritual.

 

The sculptures are made in various sizes for different purposes. For sake of puja at home, sizes smaller than a palm size are only used. Any size bigger than a size of a palm are either worshipped in temples or used as decorative pieces at home. Panch Dhatu, an alloy of five metals or Brass is used to make these figures.

Mahishasura metal sculpture

Mahishasura metal sculpture

Spirits are classified as animisitic or they represent Puranic Gods, Cultural heroes or local characters. Mahishasura, the bull demon is worshipped.

Varaha metal sculpture

Varaha metal sculpture

Varaha, an avatar of Vishnu where he was a boar is also worshipped.

Goddess Lakshmi's bust

Goddess Lakshmi's bust

Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped in a different form here. The picture shows the top part of the body of Goddess Lakshmi.  I left the workshop with a fascinating fact told by the lady. She said that the none of these idols are worshipped by people who make them. And its been that way for generations.