Thanks to two of these acquaintances, and to the support of the foundation, in early 2016 I flew to New Delhi for ten days, days that were filled with discoveries and intense study. Many of the details were organised prior to my departure by my kind and thoughtful fellow adventurers: Abbas Khan, a student at past ‘Analysis’ and ‘Figured Fabric Design’ courses and an aficionado of the precious fabrics of his native land, India; and Barbara S. Pickett, a colleague and friend I have known for at least two decades, a scholar of velvet techniques and the life of a study programme for U.S. students who travel to Florence to learn the jacquard weaving methods.
In the adjoining room, a showcase of completed works: saris marvellously decorated with embroideries in contrasting colours in designs with a contemporary graphics flair. And thus, I learned of the ‘rebirth’ of the sari in India and of the fashion among India’s urbanised, cosmopolitan young women of including these ultra-traditional garments in their wardrobes.
The next day was devoted to a lengthy visit to the Crafts Museum: the textile section is full of surprises and includes a perfectly assembled and warped, fully-operational drawloom! The museum is sited in a large garden, isolated from the incessant noise of traffic: another non-negligible reason for visiting.
The following day, I went to see the hushed, elegant Kashmir Looms showroom, where I viewed many works in precious hand-spun and hand-woven pashmina, of a quality decidedly higher than any of the many products sold everywhere under this name.
My first days in Delhi were over. A short flight, just over two hours, would have taken me to Varanasi, to the places I was most looking forward to visiting and where I was to meet Barbara and the small group of textile artists who had flown in from the States. A dense fog delayed my flight for quite a few hours; thus, instead of reconnoitring the famous sacred city of Buddhism and Hinduism, I remained ‘parked’ for most of the day in the capital’s modern, impersonal airport. Fortunately, I was able to finally join the group, just in time for dinner. The Hotel Ganges View, where we stayed, was once a private home and is truly charming.
Not that the work is easy, or even rapid. Four workers were busy at the loom – essentially, the entire family. The elderly father saw after the creel, mounted in a manner very different from ours but threaded for three colours with hundreds of hanging bobbins.
The head of the family wove and his brother’s task was to select the heddle loops; his wife, instead, saw to cleaning the shed and to the movements of the selvedges .
It was Sunday, and we had missed our chance to visit the market to buy the beautiful buffalo-horn shuttles, but we decided to go the next day. So we returned to our hotel to rest and think over all we had seen and learned. On the bus on the way back that’s all we talked about – and even before and during dinner, all our attention was still focused on velvets, saris and looms.
Before dinner I had occasion to visit a small Khadi shop I had seen along the road. The shop sold fabrics woven by hand at the associated cooperatives: local silks (‘non-violent’; that is, from cocoons from which the larvae have already emerged as moths) and kashmir and ultrafine cottons. There were also hand-woven cotton handkerchiefs. I bought a few, for 100 rupees each, an unbelievable price. When I returned from this short discovery trip I showed off my ‘treasures’ – and the rest of the group decided to visit the shop as well.