- 07 Dec 2017
Textile Tales exhibition on December 8
A master of surface detailing in works such as Ajrakh, Batik, handblocks, kalamkari, and Shibori; designer Rema Kumar will showcase her latest works, titled ‘Textile Tales’ in Kochi on December 8. We asked her about what goes into her creations.
What are the kind of fabrics and works you use and specialise in?
As a textile lover, I love it in every form, and I feel extremely fortunate that I was born in a country so rich in its textile heritage. The Uttara saris has been one of my success stories. A group of women weavers in Ukhimath, close to Kedarnath in Uttarakhand had been weaving tussar and wool stoles and shawls for me. When they wanted more orders to be placed, I started thinking on ways to initiate them into weaving saris. Thus began a journey of trial and error, introducing different counts of cotton yarns, and finally arriving at a count that really worked. And 'Uttara' was born. The beauty of this fabric is the weave - the typical weaves one sees in woollen shawls and tussar silks - different twills, herringbone, honeycomb, diamond lend it a fabulous drape. It’s been an association of almost ten years with this group, and we are now trying to incorporate slightly tougher weaves into the sari. The dyes used are natural dyes and azo dyes for the bright colours. Currently, I am going through a phase where I am strongly drawn towards prints especially Ajrakh, Batik and Geometric handblocks.
Who are your designs mainly aimed at?
My designs are aimed at women who appreciate and value our rich Indian textile traditions, understand the effort that goes into each collection, have an innate sense of style and are confident enough to differentiate between elegant, timeless classics, and contemporary fashion trends.
What is special this time in ‘Textile Tales’?
This collection explores India’s diverse and celebrated surface detail techniques on different weaves – Ajrakh, Batik, Handblocks, Kalamkari, Shibori, Zardosi, and Ariwork. The appliqué work of Pipli (Odisha) and Patti Ka Kaam (Aligarh) take a contemporary twist in the vibrant stoles, dupattas, and saris. As has always been part of my repertoire, my collections for Kochi this year is a happy fusion and coming together of different weaves and detailing, each creation speaking a narrative that is so unique and compelling to the viewer.
The handwoven saris in Kota, Linen, Cottons, Uttara, Maheshwari, Chanderi, Tussars come in all hues – creams, pastels, monochromes, indigos, earth, and the vibrant multicoloured joyous shades; something for everyone. A limited edition of mix and match blouses with Batik, Kalamkari and embroidery could liven up any sari and elevate its style quotient. The same goes for tastefully designed Ajrakh and Batik soft tussar silk stoles and vibrant silk dupattas. The Patachitra stoles, Pipliwork embellished textiles and the pristine cream Gamcha dupattas highlighted with multicoloured pallas, mayurpakhis and prajapatis are part of the Odisha Manthan Collection. I am hoping that these would appeal to the discerning women of Kochi.
What inspired you to take up designing as a profession?
I have always had a creative leaning towards drawing and painting since childhood. I was inspired by seeing my mother stitching clothes for my sister and me, and so I took to sewing while still in school. I had made up my mind back then that if I could not procure a seat in MBBS (my doctor mom being my role model), I would definitely take up something that connected me to designing. After completing my Masters in Textiles and Clothing, I began my career designing home-linen/furnishings for an export house in Chennai, eventually launching my store and label after moving to Delhi.
What do you think sets your designs apart from the rest of the designers?
I revel in creating fusions out of different weaves and craft techniques that result in one of a kind creations and that might be one way of describing my signature style amongst the sea of other immensely talented designers across the country. I just follow my heart and creative instincts while designing and most often just go with the flow. I do not follow any colour forecast, fashion forecast or follow the seasons as I design cotton and silk throughout the year. There are times when I think I am more of an artist and not a designer.
Since I do not restrict myself to any one state/region, I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with a large cross section of weavers from all over the country over the last 20 years. I add surface detailing to some of my collections from time to time by incorporating various Indian craft-techniques like Kalamkari, Pattiwork from Aligarh, Kantha from Murshidabad, Soof embroidery from Bikaner, Bandini, Shibori, Ajrakh, Kutch work and Batik prints from Bhuj, Cutwork from Gujarat, Kashmiri needle and ari work and so on.
Do you think the women today are shifting back to Indian clothes from Western wear?
In this fast paced world, most women have neglected the handlooms and saris for a more convenient, ready-to-wear garment which needs absolutely no/low maintenance, unless their office-wear demanded it. As a result, the subsequent generations grew up with an indifferent attitude towards handlooms. With a revival of interest in the saris and handlooms, as I can see from my own sales figures, let us hope that we would see an upsurge in the sense of pride for them, thus creating and sustaining their demand, which would eventually percolate down to that humble weaver in his village, still questioning himself whether he should abandon his craft or hang in there a little bit longer.
Text and Images: Rema Kumar