A couple of hundred stitches in time

June 14, 2015

They say a stitch in time can save nine but A Flower from Every Meadow throws the spotlight on numerous indigenous textile techniques that need to be savoured as well as saved

A couple of hundred stitches in time

What an absolutely magnificent display of exquisite craftsmanship, every stitch of which has originated and evolved in the sub-continent! A Flower from Every Meadow has blossomed as an eye-opening exhibit at the Mohatta Palace Museum this week, bringing attention to ancient and unfortunately dying crafts from the region, crafts that are crying for care and conservation. This isn’t your average slipshod, attention grasping activity; this exhibition permeates the six senses subliminally. Installations and exhibits have been displayed with the standard of meticulous care one associates with the V&A in London. Clean, well scripted and sensitively lit, it allows the craft an uncluttered, quiet moment in the spotlight without any noisy diversion.

Curated with love and dignity by Mohatta Palace Museum’s Director, Nasreen Askari, A Flower from Every Meadow takes you through an anthropological journey via Pakistan’s indigenous craftsmanship. Over 100 garments allow reflection upon traditions that are the very fibre of this region through the ages. Ajrak printing takes one into the dusty interiors of Sindh, rilli patchwork throws light on the intricate stitches that are crafted there. From dainty chashm-e-bulbul embroidery to phulkari and marori work, from keshte to the exotic Balochi dill-o-bitab needlework, the exhibition ties it all together. There are pieces that date as far back as the nineteenth century, heirlooms that have been curated from numerous private collectors.

While every stitch of every warp and weave of fabric leaves one breathlessly impressed, what brings the heirlooms together is the last segment in the exhibition that has been devoted to several top notch Pakistani designers: visionaries, revivalists, traditionalists and masterminds who have managed to make all this craft relevant even today. Bunto Kazmi, Faiza Samee, Nilofer Shahid, Shamaeel, Rizwan Beyg, Sonya Battla, Khaadi, Sana Safinaz and Maheen Khan…if you have never seen their works of art up close then this is not an opportunity to be missed. One would wholeheartedly urge the Mohatta Palace Trust to take this exhibition to the world and allow it to travel.

Weaving in KOYA

While the antiquities are awe-inspiring and necessary to inculcate a sense of pride amongst art, textile and fashion connoisseurs in Pakistan, it is the KOYA initiative that actually inspires to revive, re-introduce and even rehabilitate the dying craft of hand woven fabric to the burgeoning fashion industry of Pakistan. KOYA is a movement spearheaded by veteran designer Maheen Khan, in collaboration with Mr Obaid ur Rahman at Hilal Silk.

"For the last two years I’ve been in and out of the Hilal Silk Palace," Maheen Khan spoke to Instep, "in the hope of finding fabric that inspired me. But sadly that never happened. I’ve known the Rahman family since my childhood, quite like every other Pakistani girl whose mother would regularly make a pit stop at Hilal Silk Palace. I would vent my frustrations on the young Obaid ul Rahman. We started to talk and KOYA was born."

Looking into the history of the collaboration, Obaid ul Rahman’s grandfather, Muhammad Fazl ul Rahman, migrated from India on the first train to Pakistan. He settled in Karachi and decided to invest in the cloth trade; the newly formed state of Pakistan had tremendous potential and the Rahman family decided to tap into it. He approached the weavers who had settled in Orangi Town and were without work at that time. Handlooms were set up by him and eventually, after years of hard work, a structure started to emerge. It led to the foundation of Hilal Silk Palace, which is the go-to silk outlet for women in Karachi, especially those putting together wedding, trousseau or festive clothing. This industry started to die at the hands of machinery operated mega-businesses and Maheen Khan started working with these weavers, on a mission to revive the industry for hand woven fabric.

The idea is to bring the Orangi town craft to Zamzama; Hilal Silk Palace will be opening an outlet on Zamazama, which will be dedicated to KOYA. Buyers, especially designers, will be able to design, customize and order their own fabric. Not only will this elevate the standard of garments but it will also help revive a dying industry.

"I’d like to explain that I am just one face of KOYA," Maheen Khan continued when speaking of the project. "There will be others (designers), hopefully, who will take on KOYA to design and own their special bespoke fabric. That is the idea. Each designer meets Obaid at Hilal Silk and develops their own fabric which will be the property and copyright of that specific designer."

Maheen herself has completed six fabric designs (she wore a hand woven black and grey polka dot print to the exhibition) and is in the process of designing the garments. She hopes she will be able to design saris in her next collection. Coming to the practicality of it all, she asserts that KOYA fabric will not be much more expensive than the best jamavar and its richness will allow designers to construct styles rather than inundate fabric with embroidery and embellishment.

"KOYA aims to provide sustainable solutions to this group of artisans through creative consultation and pattern guidance to breathe new life into this dying craft," Maheen concludes.

Across the border,a Banaras revival

This wave of awareness to foster and promote heritage is not limited to Pakistan. Across the border, weavers in Banaras are being rehabilitated in a movement that came to the limelight merely days ago. The BJP government, under a campaign called ‘Make in India’ aims to promote Indian textiles (in this case Banarasi silk) by connecting with the weavers and incorporating these artisans’ skills in mainstream designs. Efforts are being made to promote artisans, craftsmen and weavers by providing them with support, resources and direct industry avenues to ensure sustainable growth. The Indian government has involved over 50 eminent designers including Varun Bahl, Ritu Kumar, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, Anita Dongre, Rina Dhaka and Manish Malhotra, who will incorporate the textiles in their internationally acclaimed designs. One hopes that designers in Pakistan - especially those having high street retail enterprises - will get as vigilantly involved.

A Flower from Every Meadow comes as a reminder of fashion’s cyclical nature. Economy driven consumerism is at an all time high, commercial polyester and inexpensive Chinese fabric has outnumbered hand woven silk alternatives. But skill, craft, textiles and techniques are being lost in the process. While one can appreciate the need for speed and progress, there is a desperate need to hold onto quality and revive some of the brilliance that comes at a premium but essential cost.

A couple of hundred stitches in time