Archive for the ‘Craft’ Category

Soapy twists and squeaky turns

A few months ago, in a fit of creativeness, I ordered a block of ‘melt and pour’ soap. Soapy Twists is a company that makes and sells in India and the glycerine M&P soap arrived promptly by post. Sadly, the creative dust got buried under the carpet of work and routine.

But yesterday, I visited K, where our friends farm organically, live sustainably and save thousands of paddy seeds in beautiful mud pots. So this week, making soap is my small contribution to sustainablity – I was inspired to melt and pour!
M&P is also known as the lazy way to making soap. The ‘real’ way would be the Hot or Cold Process, which combines a base with a fat in the process of saponification. Some faint bell rings in memories from chemistry classes in high school. Not that I made the connections between classroom science and the multinational FMCG companies making profits peddling smaller and ‘cheaper’ bars of soap. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed to know fantastic groups in South India, local women’s groups, who make handmade soap with coconut oil. I still swear by them, but M&P is proving to be a fun supplement!

Today I chose oatmeal-honey and mint-aloe vera from the garden. Not having rubbing alocohol or silicone moulds wasn’t too much of an obstacle. I reused Amul buttermilk cartons, 200 ml tetrapacks, with a little tape over the hole for the straw. Here are the results!



Are you going to Boyonika?

Ikat, sambalpuri and bomkai

Hand woven craft of Odisha

She is now a true love of mine!

(With extreme poetic license and apologies to Simon uncle and Garfunkle as T calls them!)

Yesterday we went on a shopping trip. I’m the worlds worst shopper (only second to JCO, who claims he’s allergic to it and his nurse tells him to avoid it at all costs!) but Boyanika is such a wonderful place that even I can spend hours and hours there. And of course rupees and paisas too!

Boyanika (pronounced “boy-O-nika) is a chain of cooperative stores run by the Odisha State Government department of handilooms, textiles and handicrafts. There’s an outlet in Rayagada, and thanks to the new road, it’s only an hour away from us.

Being in Boyonika is like stepping inside a Jackson Pollock painting: Splashes of the most vibrant colours everywhere! Earthy reds, browns, purples. The light beige of tussar. The bright oranges, blues and pinks. Dark greens and purples. We were immersed in a sea of fabric waves, floating on bales of rumals and bundles of lungis. The little square checks and miniature konarak border contrast with the long straight bomkai borders.

Ikat is a generic word for the process of binding threads together and then dyeing them in pattern before they are woven into fabric. This is a process called resist dyeing, where the patterns emerge as some threads are dyed and some resist dyeing. Batik and tie-and-dye are other forms of resist dyeing, all techniques used in South and South East Asia.

Ikat weaves are found in many Indian states and Sambalpuri ikat is one of my favourites.  It was popularised by Sri Radhashyam Meher as baandha art. Weavers cooperatives in villages in Sambalpur were encouraged and Boyanika is one of the results of this movement. As ST says, if every Indian bought one set of handwoven clothes every year, there’d be enough work for ALL our weavers. Today, after threatening to repeal the Handloom Reservation Act, the Government has fortunately left it alone (and will be moving on to higher priorities like land, minerals and mining I assume).

So, next time you’re going shopping, remember the weavers and their skilled hands, remember Boyanika!!

Oh, and we also managed to squeeze in a short trip to the ant hole :) Though the water levels have gone down and muddy, its still such a beautiful place. Thanks to the unseasonal rains, it all green green green! Enjoy!

Love Birds & Sharing

Over the last few weeks, I’ve knitting a hat for G. She got me the wool and the pattern, so here are some pics. Thanks to PenguinPurls for the pattern and for believing in the philosophy of sharing. My next project is toe socks using magic loop, and perhaps the lovely Japanese Tabi kind. They work well in winters here.

Oh, and I’ve also been watching Hustle, thanks to A, who is now back in college studying hard (or hardly?!) so another thanks to Charlie Mobbs for all the sharing on youtube! It’s a british series about a ‘family’ of grifters. Hopefully you had to stop right here, scratch your head and turn to good old google to figure out what or who a grifter is. Suffice it to say that these days I’m constantly imagining people are trying to pull a fast one on me! Still, it’s valentines day – something I had no evidence of in the tiny town of BC all day long – and it was only when I turned on the internet, opened the newspaper (and I’m sorry to say it was The Hindu filled with cover page ads)  this evening that I was faced with an onslaught of the season of lurrve…So, in keeping with the theme, here’s a little poetry from visit to Kumbia village today, (of course with plenty of poetic licence! )

Beautiful black, almost green & blue
Her feathers ruffled in many a hue
A crown of red and yellow feet
This was the hen that I did meet.

Shes crouched in a corner on the ground
The clucking around her the only sound
She sat in the shade. Around her, her chicks
were nibbling at little beetles, food grains and ticks.

But suddenly the winds came
The sun played her game
Hiding behind clouds dark, insane,
Filled with moisture, heavy with rain.

Fat raindrops fell splashing
Her chicks they went dashing
Helter skelter they rushed
To escape the winds gusts.

Mother hen shook her head
‘Listen here’ it seemed she said
‘It’s only the weather’
She ruffled her feather (s).

She spread out her wings
Over the confused little things
And gathered then under
Safe from the thunder.

The glistening drops
Soon came to a stop
And out came the chicks
Back to clambering on bricks.

They scampered around
Pecking at the ground
Mama hen went back
To scratching at a sack.

Does she know that today
We celebrate valentine’s day?
Can she read from my face
That I saw love in an unexpected place!?

So as the ages pass
And time moves on so fast
We keep on discovering
Love always around us is hovering.

Cyclones & Curtains

We have a cyclone brewing on the coast. Far away enough for us to just be feeling the winds gently. So far atleast. Perhaps it’ll get worse soon. I hope those in the eye of the storm will able to get to safety. So as the winds get stronger & blow my curtains up and out – here’s the story of how these beautiful curtains came to be…

Curtains have this wonderful ability to turn an empty room into a cozy home. For the last decade or so, I’ve been using ‘export reject’ curtains, which come by the dozen to safina plaza. Because the lengths are not exactly the same, or the tabs are different, or some small error has been made at the factories around Tirupur, they are considered unfit for export to foreign markets, and are sent to urban India instead. The fabrics, colours and styles are beautiful and the prices incomparable. But Bangalore is too far away to be able to curtain shop, so in BC, I turned instead to the internet for DIY and recycling ideas. That’s how I met some fascinating new words: upscycling & repurposing (we have really come a long way from the 3R’s).

Long story short, I decided to upcycle a whole bunch of my mothers and grandmothers bright cotton sarees into curtains. I modified ideas from blogs like these and with SK didi’s expertise, we had great fun turning these beautiful sarees into curtains. I must admit they are closer to voiles. But since our part of the country is relatively sparsely populated and privacy isn’t really an issue, they work perfectly.

You need: fabric, scissors, a roll of ribbon, pins, measuring tape or ruler, a sewing machine (you could do it by hand, but a sewing machine makes it painlessly fast!), windows or doors with a curtain rod to hang up the curtains when you’re done

Step 1: Get your material together, in my case, old cotton sarees. You could use sheets, dupattas, any fabric that catches your eye. Measure your window or door and decided how big each curtain should be.


Step 2: Cut up into desired curtain lengths. With the sarees it was easy – divide by three to get three curtains per sari. The saree breadth is just perfect.

Step 3: Get out the ribbon for making the tabs. I used white satin ribbon but any will do. Plan your tabs – 1 had 7 per curtain. The more tabs, the more pretty pleat folds you get. Then cut up the ribbon into strips that are an inch longer than the tab length. This extra inch is so that you can reinforce both the top and bottom of each tab as seen in the Steps 5 & 6. (You could also do this with fabric strips, but you’d have to hem so many many edges. Ribbon is much easier, neater and prettier option. Others have used self-adhesive strips & hot glue guns, but as far as I know, we don’t get those in rural India).

Step 4: Using what we call ‘bell’ pins here, fold the top and bottom of each tab and pin in place. Get all the tabs pinned and ready to place onto the curtain.

Step 5: Arrange the tabs on your curtain, leaving a top margin of a few inches  (this will stick out above your curtain rod) and pin them in place. The idea is to reinforce the tabs by double stitching on either side of each pin. Remember not to make them too tight, as the curtain rod has to fit through each tab. If possible, do a trial run and hang the curtain up to see how it looks. Re-adjust the pins and tabs if needed. (I had planned ten tabs per curtain, but after a dry run, realised that 7 would be more than enough.)

Step 6: Get out your sewing machine and stitch a line on top of the pins, and another under the pins (that’s 4 lines in total). Pull the pins out, and hem the sides of the curtain if needed. If using sarees, only the top or bottom needs to be hemmed.


And there you have it – beautiful curtains to turn your room into a home! Get cracking!!


A Woolly Kathri

Kathri is the hottest part of the summer season – and it started yesterday! Despite the sun reigning supreme, and the heat conquering all, I have been tempting fate by dealing in wool. It all started because two friends are having babies soon. One lives in London and the other in Kuwait, so fortunately, neither will have to face Kathri. And of course, that’s my excuse for a woolly kathri here!

Actually, to go back a little further, it all started a year and a half ago, when Aditi, my godchild, was born. I wanted to make her something special and settled on knitting booties for her! Knitting has never been a part of my south Indian life at all. Only mad dogs and godmom’s would even think of knitting in Kathri. Its hot for most of the year, and even when it isnt hot, woolies come out for a few weeks in December at most. So I have no fond memories of the click-clack of knitting needles or untangling large skeins of wool or seeing sleeves and sweaters magically emerge from a ball of thick thread. That changed a little bit when I moved upward in altitude – Uttaranchal, briefly, and then the Nilgiris. It was cold and rainy more than hot. Woolies were a vital part of life for about half the year. And so, getting back to the story, before Aditi was born, I learned to knit. Durga taught me patiently, and I was thrilled with Aditi’s pair of cute soft light blue booties. Blue is a favoured colour with her family, since certain members are die-hard Everton fans, and I also enjoyed breaking the stereotype by knitting blue socks for a little girl! However, since Durga kindly did all the hard bits for me, if you’d ask me to knit another pair of anythings, I would be pretty stuck. And it took Kathri and the hottest summer possible to remedy this! Thanks to various people scattered across the globe, I braved Kathri, delved into the world of knitting and produced two sets of babies things

Baby Jane booties for Priya & Sandeep’s little girl

Manju & Manoj: boy or girl!?!

The pen in the picture is to give you an idea of the scale of things. Or to show off some of the knitting parlance I’ve picked up, the Gauge! I learnt this from Tarsh, on the Wildlife Census at Gudalur last year. Of course, in that case, it was something completely different that we were trying to gauge the size of! For some people, tiger scat can be romantic too I guess.

All of this would have been impossible, but for a whole bunch of different people:

Durga – basic knit & purl

Aditi – cute little feet

Sosa – provider of needles

Gayathri – I come bearing gifts. Much wool!

Durga, who taught me the basic knit and purl (which until then I thought was pearl, how was I to know?!). Aditi, who was my reason for learning in the first place. Gayathri (and her grandmom and grandfather) who bought me soft baby yellow wool from Bangalore (only 400g’s of it, and I think I’ll still be using it when Gayu has kids!). Sosamama who gave me her needles and other knitting paraphernalia (and made endless fun of me for knitting in summer – just looking at the wool made her feel all hot and bothered!). Three people whose patterns I used from the wonderful worldwide: Emma from Algerian Action, Katie from Cyberseams and Linda from Redheart. Learning to knit and to read knitting patterns is like learning a new language. Once you’ve got a hang of the lingo and jargon, it gets easy. And of course, practice makes perfect, so the more you use it, the better you get! However, a good teacher can always help – and I had an ”ah ha” moment watching tutorial for 2 by 2 ribbing by a gingerly4it.

And of course, the yet-to-be-born little squirming babies, still floating around in amniotic fluid  who I hope to meet sometime sometime in the future. May the spirit of Kathri keep you toasty, warm and cosy in your cold climes!

Ps. I’ve been uploading the chronicles of my mother’s trip to Liberia – take a look!

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