Sari Weaving- Tamil Nadu, India
In February 2018 we traveled to Tamil Nadu, India to research traditional sari weaving. In the village of Kanadukathan, a place where majestic Chettinad mansions with ornate, opulent architecture are now either turned into boutique hotels or are falling apart due to lack of maintenance, we happened upon this handloom weaving workshop. As we arrived, ladies were preparing a long (sari-length, which can be anywhere from 6-9 feet long) warp on the street. Later they brought it inside to dress the loom and start weaving.
Shibori/ Tie-dye/ Bandhani/ Leheriya
During an artist Residency Sheena Sood explored shibori techniques using indigo dye, building upon the natural indigo dye research she had done in Indonesia. Shibori is a Japanese resist dye technique to produce patterns on fabric. There are an infinite number of ways to bind, stitch, fold, twist, or compress cloth for shibori, and each way results in a different pattern. Multiple techniques can be used in conjunction with one another to achieve more elaborate results. Japanese shibori and Indian resist dye techniques such as Bandhani and Leheriya have much in common. Bandhani, derived from the Sanskrit verbal ‘Bandh’ (to tie or to tie) dates back to as early as 4000 BC, and is a highly skilled art which involves dyeing fabric which is tied tightly with a thread at several points to produce a variety of patterns. Leheriya gets its name from the Rajasthani word for wave; wave patterns result from fanlike folds made on the fabric before dyeing.
Resist-dyeing of threads before weaving is known as ikat, a process historically associated with indigo dye in many cultures (South America and Asia). Ikat woven textiles have a slightly off-centered or scratchy effect on the pattern, since weaving is done after the pattern is created on the warp. In our collections, we have sourced and used traditional cotton ikat fabrics from Guatemala and India, and are currently collaborating with ikat weavers and dyers in Sumba, Indonesia on a fine art piece. Sumbanese ikats are created with very fine threads, 3 natural dye colors (morinda red, indigo blue, and cream), and is an extremely time consuming art. The video above shows the natural dyeing and ikat weaving processes traditional to Sumba.
Mashru Weaving- Gujarat, India
In 2014 we traveled to Bhuj, Gujarat to research and source traditional handloom textiles, and ended up falling in love with mashru, a satin weave fabric that has a beautiful silky sheen; Mashru consists of cotton on the inside, and silk threads on the outside. Mashru is not just a luxurious textile, it also has a very practical utility. While the silk on the outer surface has a beautiful, glossy appearance, the cotton yarns in the back soak up sweat and keep the wearer cool in the hot climate of the deserts. This type of weaving has been done for ages and was traded to Arabian countries. Mashru means “permitted” in Arabic and it is believed that this textile got it’s name when Muslim men, who were not allowed to wear silk, started wearing this fabric. Since the body is only in contact with cotton, and silk is only on the exterior, they got approval to wear mashru. Slowly, it became liked by Hindus also and nowadays Kutchi nomads can be seen wearing it.
Rajasthani and Kutchi Embroideries
It was after a trip through Rajasthan, India in 2012, with time spent exploring and collecting vintage textiles, that Sheena Sood returned to NYC with a suitcase full of embroideries and a sketchbook full of color and inspiration, and began making the first abacaxi capsule collection. Each dress and blouse in the capsule had a unique, vintage embroidery patch on the back (pictured above). Later, abacaxi partnered with Shrujan, a not-for-profit organization working with craftswomen in Kutch to revitalize the ancient craft of hand embroidery, to create custom embroideries for our clothing. Hand embroidery has been practiced by women in Kutch (and throughout India) as a form of personal expression and used as a symbol of community identity for centuries. There are hundreds of different techniques, and styles vary from village to village. The astonishing diversity of crafts found in the relatively small region of Kutch is perhaps unmatched anywhere in the world. Apart from being diverse in both cultures and eco-systems, the region is known for it’s strength in weaving, block printing, tie-dye, discharge printing, batik, woodwork, silver work, metal work, lacquer work, mud work, painting, pottery, and embroidery.
Kantha, meaning patched cloth, is an embroidery stitch technique from the Bengal region of South Asia. Around 500 centuries ago Kantha was created to keep warm, as it is a straight running stitch used to patch pieces of cloth together. We used hand-embroidered kantha silk fabrics in the inaugural abacaxi collection in 2013, pictured above.
Phulkari embroidery is done with floss silk thread on coarse hand woven cotton fabric. Literally meaning flower (phul) work (kari), this technique comes from the Punjab region of South Asia. Often done in geometric patterns that are floral-inspired, traditionally phulkari was made by hand for personal and family use and was not typically found in a market. We made a hand-embroidered phulkari dickie in 2014 pictured above.
Batik, or wax resist on cloth, originated in India long ago; the Javanese developed the finer version that is now famous there. Javanese batiks are so intricately detailed and are brimming with life. After visiting various batik workshops and witnessing the process with its many layers and precise steps, we really began to feel the life in the textiles because of the many hands and painstaking hand-work that goes into making each piece. The video above shows some of our batik research in Java.
Prior to 1950, batik was done only for the royal family; it became popular throughout Indonesia only after that. Traditionally, only the royal houses created the batiks, and certain motifs were reserved for the royal family only. The king would go into periods of deep meditation and then come up with the new motif and meaning. The king himself would draw the main areas of the design onto cloth with wax, and let the artisans finish the intricate fill-ins and details. In south central Java, Yogyakarta and Solo, where the royal palaces are, batiks are more traditional with these Javanese motifs, and 3 colors of natural dye- cream, brown, and black. But on the north central coast of Java, in Pekalongan, there is a much wider variety of designs in many bright colors, there was always a lot of experimentation there in the batik designs, with influences from China, India, the Dutch, Japan, and royal Java.
The Javanese batik motifs all have some symbolism and deeper meaning. The typical Javanese ‘parang’ symbol seen on my most typical royal cloth, is inspired by a wave on a beach, and symbolizes overcoming problems. The philosophy behind it is, if we can face our problems, we then become a better person, and the parang cloth is the highest or most royal pattern in Java. Parang cloth is never used in weddings as it is believed to destroy the marriage of the couple if so. The smaller parang symbol is meant for women, and is a symbol of gentle patience, as it is very tedious to make that small patterned cloth. The butterfly symbolizes luck for guests or hospitality, and is often displayed on the wall. There are motifs for every event, a cloth for an engagement ceremony, a cloth that is given to a baby as their first batik. With the traditional batiks that use natural dyes from southern Java, the darker the colors, the more dips it took to dye, and the more royal or precious the cloth is considered.