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    Playing with golds and browns, the designer on plans to explore jute, sikki grass and more

    A little over a year ago, at one of my workshops in Odisha, a basketful of polang seeds (kept aside to be discarded after the oil had been extracted) caught my eye. Picking up a seed, its smooth surface gave me an idea. As I was working on a Patachitra collection, I got my artisans to paint on them, turning them into earrings that are still among the bestsellers at my exhibitions. People are fascinated that the intricate paintings are done on a humble seed, and they often quiz me about the craft, its history and origin. Since my contemporary interpretation of our traditional crafts as jewellery is also a means to help people become more aware about our rich cultural heritage—passing it on to their children so that we have a new generation of craft keepers and story tellers—every question helps.

    Inspired by nature
    Going beyond my crafts, I’ve always been interested in the innovative products created from indigenous materials. This recently got me into research mode, to see how I can create new collections from natural fibres—from pineapple fibre and palm leaf to cannabis grass. In Himachal Pradesh, the latter is used to make Pula slippers. Dried strips of the grass and buckwheat stems are woven into ropes and strengthened by a process of twisting and stretching. These lightweight slip-ons, padded with colourful wool, are often used during spiritual functions. Another interesting fibre is pineapple. I find the making very interesting. It requires each leaf to be hand scraped and the fibre knotted, one by one, to form a continuous filament for hand weaving. The final material is soft and lustrous, and its neutral colour (white or ivory) makes it a great carrier for colours, and to create textures and patterns that will look great as jewellery.

    Gold connect
    When it comes to grass, I’m spoilt for choice. Sikki or ‘golden grass’, found in the marshes of Madhubani in Bihar, looks like antique gold, its lustre and smoothness making it great to string jewellery with. Then there is jute, the ‘golden fibre’. Eco-friendly and one of the earliest known natural fibres, its use is recorded in the Mahabharata. While it has been extensively used in footwear, lamp shade, bags, durries and more, I’d like to explore jute, which grows in abundance in Bengal, in jewellery because the colour of the fibre is intriguing. Non-uniform, with accents of gold and brown, I want to play with textures, especially when it is woven with colourful threads and metal beads. Finally, while working with crafts in Odisha, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, I’ve come across many interesting ways to use coir (made from coconut husk). While the most popular are mats, bags and toys, I think it will look great as jewellery. The rustic colour and stiffness of the fibre is perfect to string, and with hints of gold and silver paint and metal beads to highlight the fibre, it can be made into interesting pieces of wearable art.
    This column marks the end of this six-week series.

    Gina Joseph

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