Textiles in Bikaner, India

On a recent trip to the edge of the Thar Desert in India, I had a wonderful experience learning about local textiles and was welcomed into the homes of local craftsmen & women. As a lover of textiles I will be forever grateful for this most inspiring adventure.

I arrived in Bikaner early after an overnight trip from New Delhi, and was welcomed by my friend Ashok, who runs a small business promoting local textiles. We spent the morning drinking chai, examining the array of hand-crafted textiles in his store and discussing the origins, symbols and methods behind them.

Later we jumped on his motorbike in the stinking hot sun (hovering somewhere close to 45°c) and rode out to the nearby village where many of the makers live. We visited half a dozen families in their homes and shared chai at every household. The children were off school for holidays, so it was nice to meet all the children too. Some of the older children don’t go to school of course, and instead contribute to the family income by spinning or weaving too.
First a stop at the local potters, making traditional clay pot for holding water.

Mangilal Ji's wife using a charkha, famously promoted by Gandhi.These days charkha come new with a bicycle wheel as the main wheel instead of the old wooden setup.
 Generally women spin the cotton or wool yarn and the men of the household then do the weaving, while both spin the yarn on to the shuttle bobbin ready for weaving on the loom. Being from Australia I found it quite amusing to find bags of Australian Merino in many of the homes waiting to be spun, but later understood why when I inspected the hessian-like roughness of the local desert wool! 

Dhanaram Ji, spinning four threads together using a sort of drop-spindle. Those are his beautiful family photographs above.
I finished off my first day with a ride on a camel out into the desert, much to the amusement of the locals. Anyone who could speak English ducked their heads over the fence with a ‘Hallo’ or ‘How arrrre you?’

The following day I got a tour of the local government run crafts workshop, with textiles processing rooms, wool distribution, carpentry workshop, metal workshop, and even a letterpress room especially for printing their own labels. But the highlight of the day was definitely the visit to Ashuram Ji, a weaver who has moved, with his 4 looms, to the city.

What a smiley, friendly character! He spoke endlessly of cricket, and put me to shame by the number of Australian cricketers names he could rattle off. We shared some lunch, including local specialties Kachori (dah-filled pastries) and Kala Jamun (syrup soaked sweets), and he donned his best shirt so I could photograph him at his loom.
Sharing lunch with Ashuram Ji, the cricket-crazy city weaver, pictured above.
Ashok at his personal loom.
Ashok and his beautiful family were incredibly welcoming and generous, and I will always be grateful for the experience I had in Bikaner. If you are interested in supporting the local weavers, you can buy locally made textiles from his Etsy store, The Charkha. 

Ashok and some friends have also recently launched The Khadi Project, to raise funds to realise his dream of building the Khadi Ashram - a place to promote and continue traditional ways of the Thar desert including handicrafts and camel rearing. Find out all about it and donate here.

If you are also interested in Indian textiles, or just a women planning a trip to India, I highly recommend the Women Travel Mother India website. Dianne provides a wealth of information about travel in India, particularly for solo women, and is currently organizing textiles tours in the country.

Reflections on 2014: my 'Year of Retirement' and why I think everyone should Do Nothing for a while.

2014 was a very liberating year for me, how about you? I learned a few thing I wish everyone else would know. It went a bit like this...

At the start of the year my partner & I sold our cafe. We were exhausted & on each other's nerves. We had been working very hard for a couple of years, so, we allowed ourselves to take the year off. We threw a party and called it our 'Year of Retirement'. Much to the concern of both of our mothers, we planned to live off our savings, very simply, with no plans.

Having no plans leads to great things.
For the first time in my life I had no real plans, and it resulted in many amazing opportunities opening up to me throughout the year. In hindsight it seems obvious; having no plans allowed me to take on any good project that came my way and each thing led to another door opening. Just this was a revolution for me, because in the past I'd always been heavily overly committed to work and/or study, as well as having every year mapped out well in advance. When your life is booked out you don't get to try the spontaneous & unplanned.

The year started out a clean slate; no work, no commitments, no responsibilities. All I had to do was pay my rent & feed myself, and those things I was happy to pay for with my savings. Not long after having our 'retirement' party I volunteered my time at the local farmers market, and at a local menswear store, alongside their in-house tailor. I wrote about it here. After several months this became a paying job, and a friend said 'I thought you were supposed to be having a year off?' True, but I was only working 16 hours a week, so I had plenty of time to do other things like sewing, graphic design for friends, and get involved in local community projects. And here are some of the things I ended up doing with my year.

Me in the et la mer window!

- Artist-in-residence for the  Junction Arts Festival.
- Got involved in community group Reactivate Launceston.
- Volunteered behind the scenes of ByeBuy! - an initiative to challenge consumption habits.
- Volunteered to coordinate decorations for Fiesta on George.
- Dressed et la mer's windows for the festive season.
- Took more notice of local politics, even spoke at a council meeting.
- Artist for 10 Days on the Island, teaming up with my friend Serena.
- Without meaning to, I starting picking up graphic design jobs again.
- Many freelance alteration & dressmaking jobs came out of the woodwork, too.

Studio at Fresh window.
Taxidermy Workshop (this little guy had been bred & killed for pet food)

- Joined 8 other Launceston artists & designers to form Studio, and held our first pop-up shop.
- Started work on two big collaborative projects with friends (These are ongoing projects, I'm looking forward to the day I can finally tell you about them).
- Flew to Brisbane to learn how to taxidermy small mammals.
- And yes, there has been garden-pottering and sewing for myself.

For some this might sound like I progressively filled up my year and life, like a giant To Do list. But to me it felt like I had the whole year off pursuing my own interests, plus some thing I didn't even know I was interested in at the start of the year! I did one interesting thing and this always led on to another...

Lino Carving

Money suppresses creativity.
I surprised myself by falling back into graphic design. I had left the industry sometime ago, dismissing it as 'not my scene'.  But I've inadvertently continued to exercise my design skills, and slowly one little design job led to another, led to another, and so on. It feels nice to know people have recommended me to their friends, though what's even nicer is that I got to experience the freedom of not working for money. Yes, some were paid jobs, and some were volunteer work for community projects. But the thing they all had in common was that I wasn't relying on payment from any of them, I was doing them because I wanted to do them. And I can't tell you how liberating that is. It completely freed up my creativity. I'm not exactly sure why but when there was no pressure on me because I wasn't doing the jobs for the money, I enjoyed the work more. A lot more. I wasn't looking at the clock the whole time. And I produced better work.[Here is a good read on the negative impact of monetary rewards].

Working part-time leaves time for afternoon walks, garlic growing
and cups of tea in the garden.

Everyone should work part-time.
This negative effect of monetary incentive is one thing that has led me to believe everyone would be happier if they worked part-time.

Creative types would all benefit from having a little job on the side, which ticked over just enough money for them, but also provided enough free-time to pursue their creative interests. I know too many artists trying to 'make it' as an artist who expect to be able to make a living from their art, but end up struggling. I wish more of those people would be satisfied with a small job, however mundane, to take the pressure off making an income from their creativity. Nothing can sap you of your creative juices quicker than having to be creative for your income.

Likewise, workers at the other end of the spectrum - over-committed, time-poor people with high-stress, full-time jobs - would definitely benefit from working less. Trust me, I've been that person too, and it's not a life. I wish those people could see that if they worked less -  perhaps they would have to give up some of the luxuries all that work afforded them - but they would have more time to do the things they loved. They would become a part of their community, they would know themselves better for it. How can communities grow if the people in them don't have time to contribute to them? How can you know yourself if you don't have time for yourself ?

Allow yourself to do nothing.
If you took a year off, I bet you'd be surprised at what you end up doing. I started the year thinking I was 'people-ed out' and that I just wanted to be a hermit at home, pottering in the garden and sewing clothes for myself. This was not entirely wrong, I did do some of this, but not as much as I had thought. When left to my own devices I got involved in community projects, met lots of new people, I worked on collaborative projects and did lots of creating for others.

I realised...
I am motivated by doing things for others,
not for myself or for money.
I give up my time, knowledge & skills freely, and gladly.
I am more community minded than I knew.
I will never work a full time job again, if I can help it.
Having no hard/fast plans is conducive to the best things happening!

I'm sure several of you are thinking well that's not a 'Year of Retirement' at all, but that's the point. I was busy, I did a lot. And that's exactly who I am and it turns out that is what makes me happiest. To try new things, to get involved and help others. When I gave myself the year to do nothing, I ended up doing everything (that was meaningful to me).

Did you give yourself enough time for yourself last year? If not, I hope you do this year.  x

as the Rogue Tailor

A few months back I had a wonderful opportunity to work on a range of re-constructed clothing for the local menswear store, as a part of our local Junction Arts Festival.

I had complete creative freedom on the project; to do what I liked with the store's fabric scraps and decades worth of deadstock. During the week of the festival I set up a little makeshift tailor's studio in the shop window to sell my wares and chat with customers.

Below are some photos of the event, taken by the lovely Mel De Ruyter, and here you can listen to a Radio National interview with me about the project.

I particularly enjoyed making the cycle-style tweed caps, and the bow ties from tailor's room off-cuts. I also featured men's ties and shirt cuffs on women's blouses, and made some 'soda jerk' caps for the Junction crew (see last photo).

The Tailor's Room

I want to show you some snippets from my current workplace, the tailor's room. Earlier in the year I struck up a deal with a local menswear store -  I'd volunteer my time doing alterations in their tailor's room; in return I might gain some extra skills and learn a thing or two about menswear and fabrics.

I get to work in this wonderful old space, surrounded by old sewing machines, alongside a little old Italian tailor who has been working here for over 40 years.

The menswear store is a bit of an institution in this town. It's right in the centre of town, housed an old theatre building, which had it's heyday in the 20s. Most locals have fond memories of being taken to the store and its cafe as a child. They still even stock a handful of Australian-made brands, including beautiful sports coats made from genuine Scottish tweed.

Recently that tailor decided to retire and I've taken his place. We only do alterations now, so I can handle that. The old fella gave me his old thimble, saying "he made lot-a stitches that one" as he pointed out the neat row of tiny holes, where needles had knocked against it repetitively for over 60 years.

Ways to Use Pinterest

It's interesting, the different ways I see people use Pinterest. I thought I'd share how I use it. Maybe it's totally different to the way you use it.

I often start creative projects with a board devoted to collecting up all the inspiration and ideas I have for the project. For example, when working on branding for someone I'll find examples of type, imagery, layouts, and colour palettes that communicate the style I have in mind. I often share this board with the person I'm working with to get their approval on the overall creative direction of the project. Here is a mood board I created while working through Colette Patterns' Wardrobe Architect series.

I always disliked the standard bookmarking options available within browsers because their text-based nature didn't appeal to me. I'm a highly visual person, so image-based bookmarking is so right for me. I now only bookmark pages I'm interested in with the Pin It tool, so it's a little frustrating when an interesting page doesn't have a 'pin-able' image. My Think. Read. Listen. Watch. board is where I bookmark interesting things to go back to later.

Like many other people I keep boards and boards of pins for inspiration. Everything from future home or garden inspiration, to sewing, knitting & crochet inspiration, typography styles that I like, inspiring or interesting words, and vintage clothing inspiration. 82 or my 124 boards I would class as 'inspiration boards'!

I have a few special interest boards including: David Bowie, Symbology, Totems, Taxidermy, Real Estate Gems and Scientific Illustration.

My One Day I Will... board is pretty self-explanatory; things I'd like to learn/do/acheive. By pinning images to this virtual list it becomes more visceral and expressionary. Usually the pinned image doesn't lead to a website I want to keep track of, rather is purely for visual purposes. I wish Pinterest would add a feature that allowed for pins to have check boxes, then I could tick things off the list.

I recently composted 12 years worth of recipes I had clipped and collected from magazines & newpapers since moving out of home. I just pinned the exact or very similar recipe to my recipes board first. Ditto with a giant box of 'inspiration' I've been accummulately and moving with me everywhere since my teen years. My hoarding just went digital baby! It felt so good to free up that space in my home.

Now that Pinterest has added the map feature, I've started making boards to help plan future travels. For now I just pin attractions I might be interested in visiting, for example an interesting accommodation, or flea market, or national park, so that one day if I visit a country I would already have a number of 'things to do' that are tailored to my interests and not grabbed from a commercial travel guide aimed at a broad audience.

Closer to visiting I will use the map feature to include exact locations. A big-picture view could help me plan where to go (perhaps most of my pins are concentrated in one area). This feature also helps keep track of info, so when actually visiting a city I have all my useful info in one spot. One draw-back though, is that currently you can only 'add places' that have been added to Foursquare. I'd also love it if it were possible to draw line to market the route I'd like to travel.

At a more local level, I also have maps for other Australian cities, such as Melbourne, so I can keep track of restaurants, cafes, galleries, shops & parks I would like to visit. The map feature allows me to see the things I have pinned previously that are near the location we are staying. That way I can do things in a closer vicinity, and I find the visit much less draining and much more enjoyable.

I've noticed a lot of people have wish lists on Pinterest, but I don't add things to my wishlist  all willy-nilly. These are things I have truly considered and would really like to purchase. I use this list to be a bettter consumer. If I feel like impulse buying I try to remind myself of that board and that I might like to save the money for those things instead.

I often don't finish reading books before I have to take them back to the library. So I've started pinning an image of the book cover and noting where I'm up to. I know it's not necessary to use Pinterest for this, but it works for me because I'm using the tool so often and I catalogue so many other things here anyway.

So tell me, how do you use Pinterest?