One Cushion Cover
The air is heavy and dusty in Kolkata. We commented one night when visiting artisans homes that there were no stars to be seen. Every night was the same. Because of the extreme pollution in Kolkata, there are never any stars to be seen. Kolkata is the pollution capital of India. Life expectancy is sixty due to the severe resultant health hazards. Apart from the pollution, we loved the evening times. Walking hand in hand with the artisans from the fair trade producer group Artisans Effort, swinging our arms like little children, laughing and giggling too. We felt so privileged being invited into the artisans one room homes. In an area that is probably on an average the size of one of our small bedrooms, is the area for a whole family to live. The family can range anywhere between three to ten family members. The basic kitchen pots sit on the shelves( no toasters or blenders here!!), a small cupboard with the saris neatly folded, maybe a treadle sewing machine if the ladies are working from home, maybe another small cupboard with some precious religious and family belongings and one very large bed!! The bed is high off the ground and I presume that more items are stored under the bed. However during the monsoon season, many of these homes have water pouring through them, so there would be need to place the items higher at these times.
Space certainly lacks but definitely not the hospitality. The fizzy drinks and food came out at every home. Shaista accompanied us at all times to ensure that what we drank and ate was safe. No water apart from the bottled water was to pass our lips.
Manju Devi lives with her two daughters in one of the homes that we visited. Manju’s husband died three years previously in a truck accident. She has two beautiful daughters, both who are studying. Manju is the sole earner for the family.
Manju has been working with Artisans Effort since 2005 . Her need has become greater since she was widowed. Manju is skilled in both the textiles and weaving the recycled food packaging items. The night that we visited, the bed was covered with lots and lots of red cut out recycled material pieces. The individual different shapes and pieces of material had initially been cut out at Artisans Effort. Oh so vibrant ! Exotic textile art at its best! A red kuchi cushion cover was in the making.
The journey for the making of the red kuchi cushion cover began long before what we were seeing at Manju’s home. The material originated in the Kutch District of Gujarat, a state in Western India. The material was originally worn by different women in the traditional elaborate dress for this area called Ghagra Choli. After Siham Craftlink submits orders for the kuchi cushion covers or wall hangings, Artisans Effort purchases some of this material directly from the Kutch District and if possible also from the local market.
As we gathered in Manju’s home, she quietly picked up one of the early stage cushion covers, sat on a small wooden stool about 30 cms tall , placed the cushion cover on the cement floor and started creating and hand stitching the patchwork mosaic design . We marvelled at her adeptness. Her right foot stood firmly on the many cut out pieces on the cushion cover, keeping them firmly intact whilst with the nimbleness of an expert sewer weaved the needle and thread in and out stitching each piece into place with the dori, the multiple stranded thread bordering .
It is not until I actually saw the cushion cover being made, did I appreciate the expertise , personal love and time that went into its making. We left Manju to continue working on her unique creations. The next morning when we visited the Artisans Effort unit, several of the ladies were also working on their own creations of kuchi cushion covers. Due to its popularity, this was an item we had sold out of in Australia. The ladies were working hard to complete our order so we could bring them back in our luggage on our return trip to Australia.
After the unique “mosaic” design is completed, further skilful eyes and hands look over the completed piece to check that all is well and secure and there are no loose threads. The panels of completed kuchi patchwork are then handed over to the tailor who sews the backing of the cushion cover on with the trusty old treadle sewing machine. And not to mention that heavy iron! It almost seemed that the ladies were doing weights at the gym every time they picked up that ancient looking iron to finalize the perfection.
The cushion covers are now ready for their final journey. They add a brilliant , exotic charming ambience and personal touch to any boutique. Not to mention the home decor enthusiasts who will purchase the exquisite cushion covers and have their own little touch of beautiful India in their own home or for exotic comforting display on verandahs and decks . For me it goes beyond the cushion cover. It also includes the beautiful people, the gentle souls, the warm embraces , the happy smiles, and personal love for every artisan who helped create the cushion covers. I am so privileged that so many glorious memories remain in my heart.
Pam McGann March 2012
Pam McGann March 2012