There is a story behind each of the products in our launch collection so today I thought I would talk about our vintage, hand embroidered cushions and wall hangings, aptly described as “Jewels of the desert” because of the striking contrast between the vivid colours and the arid, desert region they originate from. I came across this vibrant, intricate, embroidery two years ago whilst travelling in India and as I adore textiles and am passionate about design and colour I fell in love with them and was compelled to return to India to find out more about them.
I travelled to the dusty, barren, Kutch desert bordering Pakistan, a region where for generations embroidery has been an integral part of daily life for indigenous women. Women were responsible for embroidering clothing for both domestic and ceremonial use. It was customary to produce richly embellished pieces as part of a young women’s dowry and items would include clothing for the bride and groom, wedding shawls, quilt covers, wall hangings, small bags for tobacco and other products and saddle bags and other trappings for the livestock.
Traditionally girls would start embroidering items for their dowries from as young as six years old using stitches, symbols and motifs handed down from mother to daughter over generations and incorporating them into their own unique designs. When you look at the embroidery in detail and see the complexity of the stitches you can appreciate that some of the pieces have taken months and sometimes longer to produce.
I was amazed by the diversity of embroidery styles and the range of colour combinations and I will talk about this in a later blog but briefly this is due to the fact that each indigenous group has its own style of embroidery, ranging from the geometric pieces of the semi nomadic camel breeding Jats, to the flamboyant open chain stitch embroidery of the nomadic Rabaris. The embroidery serves more than a domestic purpose; it is a visual expression of cultural identity. It is possible to determine the tribe, religion and social status of an individual from the style of embroidery a person is wearing.
Included here are two different styles of dowry embroidery, the one above is my favourite wall hanging, Saloni, which comprises sections of intricately embroidered ceremonial clothing using gold and silver thread combined with pinks and blues. The piece below, is Naguni, a piece of Rabari embroidery which was originally half of a saddle bag.
Sadly these intricate hand embroidered pieces are becoming rare. Progress brings change and improved transportation, migration to cities for work, access to modern media combined with the introduction of synthetic fabrics like polyester and cheap ready-to-wear clothing have all contributed to the decline in traditional indigenous embroidery. Economic hardship has forced women to work on cheap, mass produced imitations for the tourist trade for subsistence wages and some tribes, like the Rabaris, have banned dowry embroidery because the quantity of items demanded and the expense and time to produce them became too onerous on families. Fortunately there are several NGOs working in the region trying to preserve this unique art form.