Circular Podcast with Ekta Kaul
Can mending and repair be used as self care? How can the traditions we’ve studied impact our current actions towards sustainability? Are we too disconnected from our past? What drives the culture of mending?
On today’s episode, I’m talking to Ekta Kaul, an award-winning London based artist. Her artistic practice is focused on creating narrative maps that explore places, history and belonging through stitch. A pared back aesthetic coupled with a considered use of graphic marks and lines form the core elements of her work. These are underpinned by a thoughtful approach to making with meaning, a deep interest in heritage and a firm commitment to sustainability.
Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.
I’m Katie Treggiden and this is circular. A podcast exploring the intersections of craft design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the thinkers, doers, and makers of the circular economy. These are the people who are challenging the linear take, make-waste model of production and consumption and working towards something better in this series. We’re talking about repair. And I think repair and mending is a part of us that needs healing.
I think it’s, it invites us into this whole conversation of what can I do to make a difference, even if it is a very, very small and what can I do to make a connection to the wisdom of the past that I think we have lost a little bit, especially here in the west and to creativity. You know, I feel just that the fact that you’ve added something of your own to a preexisting straight off the shelf thing is already giving us creative agency in making a difference.
So I think for all of these reasons, things are shifting and things are changing and it makes me optimistic. Ekta is an award-winning London based artist. Her practice is focused on creating narrative maps that explore places, history, and belonging through stitching a pad back aesthetic, coupled with a considered use of graphic marks and lines for the core elements of her work.
These are underpinned by a thoughtful approach to making with meaning a deep interest in heritage and a firm commitment to sustainability. She has appeared on BBC radio fours, front row one, the cockpit arts textile prize, and has work in the collections of the crafts council, Liberty, London, the gunner spring museum, and private collectors. Excellent. Thank you so much for joining me.
I’m so excited to talk to you about all things, mending and repair and specifically cancer, which I know you’re an expert in, but we will come on to that. I would like to start by asking you the question. I usually start these interviews with, which is how mending and repair show up in your childhood and early life. Hi, Katie, it’s just lovely to be here and to be talking about repair and mending with you and Kantha and all things textiles. I’m really, really excited. And what a great question to begin with going back to the roots. Hey, so I grew up in India and my childhood was steeped in academia, both my parents’ entomologists. Hang on, what’s an entomologist? So, They are scientists that study insects.
Oh, wow. I didn’t know. So between going to manta and slab, which I remember distinctly was lined with, you know, specimens draws upon draws of insect specimens and things get in the whiles of alcohol and my mother’s microscope and visits to the library. So it was very much sort of entrenched in that and, you know, research papers being published,
but rebound mending was still very much a way of life. You know, it was quite ingrained. I think for me, very much into the DNA of the Indian way of life, which meant that, you know, there is a huge amount of respect for materials or resources being frugal is part of it. But also there’s something more to it, you know? So my mother inculcated this deep respect for food, for clothing, for resources in, in us, my brother and I, we were not allowed to just Chuck anything away and not only that, but I saw it all around me. You know, the default is to mend and it’s to repair rather than throw away. So for instance, you know, like your bike broke, for example, so you can go down to the neighbourhood cobbler and get it fixed. Or if your heel came off, you could do that. And like the life of a sari, for instance, it would start from being worn multiple times. And then, you know, if it, then it became too fragile.
So clothes would be made out of it. And when the clothes kind of fell apart, then strips of fabrics that could be salvaged were gathered and turned into quilts. And when the quills fell apart, then they become dishes, cloths and dusters. Then one day, you know, it’s just fibers left and then is kind off, is allowed to return to the, so,
You know, that way of life was very much all I saw. And it was only when I came to the UK, when, you know, I heard things like slow cooking or seasonal eating, I discovered, and I have often felt and reflected that there seems to be a disconnect that, you know, these, these sorts of wisdoms this way of life was everywhere.
We were all living this way of life till something happened. My understanding is that the industrial revolution happened and then suddenly there was a big disconnect between traditional wisdom that was handed down generations and then something that was taught to you as being the new and the cool. And therefore we had to adopt that. If you don’t ask if you don’t mind me asking this actor and tell me if you do, but if your parents were both academics, it doesn’t sound like you were a poor family. It sounds like you had resources. So this culture of mending wasn’t coming from a lack of alternatives, you know, your parents could have chosen to, to buy new things. So what was driving that, that culture of mending in that case? I think it was, it was very much a connection to land. It was very much a connection to the resources. So for instance, you know, the foods that we ate and my parents always kind of emphasize the fact how it came from the land and my ancestors were farmers. So, you know, my, my dad would always say, somebody has worked really hard for this.
And there was this notion of respecting the food and respecting the land and somebody is labeled that has gone into rather than, you know, kind of tossing it in the bin, the leftovers, for instance. So my mom would, you know, the, the next day invent something and I often think, could it be like, you know, this idea of the circularity of life and rebirth, which is so familiar and entrenched in India, so could it be that it’s manifesting into this culture of recycling as well? So you’re almost creating new avatars of the same thing, but the expression is different. And also recycling is incentivized, hugely incentivized in India. So for example, there’s, like a whole economy that exists around the idea of recycling.
So you’re all newspapers and magazines. Somebody like the newspaper collector would come and buy them from you. So when I came here in the west, it’s like, I have to pay money to my council, take that off my hands. So those, those old newspapers that were bought off from you in India are then converted into newspaper bags or, you know,
like in small grocery shops, when you, when you go, so you, you would be given all your goods into a small bag that has been made using all newspapers. So there’s that economy that exists already, or, and you don’t every winter, for example, you, you wouldn’t go and buy new quilts. You would just send them to your local quilt maker who would take out all the,
the warding and give them a good beating. So the air kind of was introduced into it, and then they would come back looking pristine. They would re-stitch them back also. So at the start of winter, you would see these beautiful quilts laid out on the, on the side of the street, just drying and like soaking in the sun and getting ready for people to use them for the next season.
I know the idea of kind of soaking in all the sun from the summer and then using them to keep you warm in the winter. Yeah. Yeah. And also, you know, like this whole idea of undoing and redoing. So all the stitches were taken apart. And often, I mean, when I would see these artisans just working, they would save those lengths of threads and retract back into the middle and use the same things.
So you’re not like using a whole new set of tracks. You’re not. So that was really, really cool. And my mother, apart from being a brilliant scientist, was also, you know, a prolific Needlewoman. She was, she would knit and she would, she would sew and she would embroider. And unlike you said, you know, they could have easily afforded a new set of jumpers every winter, but they didn’t choose to do that. I don’t remember. My mother would actually, you know when we outgrew jumpers as they became the smallest for us, she would unravel them and steam that it began nice and stuffy and almost new again. And then she would read them and, you know, she was, I think that God is all recycled. Yeah. So all of this learning was happening when I was growing up. And, you know, you don’t even question it, you think this is a way of life, but having left that context and here to the UK, you know, you start valuing that and reflecting that in new ways and the things that actually, you know, mending, as we know it today has to be an old pervasive.
It can’t be just mending. Our lovely expensive jumper has to be something more than that. Yeah. We need to, we need a sort of cultural shift, don’t we? on the west back towards the idea that repair is just the obvious thing to do for something that’s broken. So tell me about this tacit learning that you mentioned. What, what did you sort of learn from your,
your mother and your grandmother and how did that learning take place when it comes to sort of mending and repair? So, as I mentioned, you know, my, my mother would constantly be knitting something or embroidering something. And at the time I used to ask questions like, how are you finding time to do this? But now looking back, I think that was her way of accessing another part of her brain, you know, tactility and comfort and creativity, and kind of from the rigors of academia. So you took time off and then used stitching as a way of expressing her own creativity and making something for her family members for her loved ones. My grandmother who lived with us until she passed away was also one of my early influences. And she had this huge bag.
I still remember it was, it was blue and she had embroidered some flowers on it. And that was her salvage bike. So whenever there were scraps of fabric or things that, as I said, you know, they were being recycled or parts of salaries that she wanted to save. She would always keep adding them into that bag. And then when it filled up, when it was like, nice and round the straps, she would then start making clothes. And in the north, in Delaware, I grew up there, but it’s a similar tradition that exists in many, many states in India. They’re called by different names. And Kantha has also a similar one where you’re kind of using the standard fabric and layering them up without awarding between the layers and stitching the layers as a quilt.
So she used to make those and, and I was often a helper, so I would help her lay the pieces down. And then she would stitch these multiple pieces and kind of like a patchwork quilt that I think was the early introduction. And at the time, you know, when your mom is doing it and you think it’s so uncool. It’s like, oh, but eventually, when I began my studies at NID, the national Institute of design and I took off apparel and textile design, it sort of came full circle for me. And then my mother would often, you know, say that this was something that you didn’t really look at you now. It was, you know, those kantha textiles that I saw, my mother’s Kantha studies and many others that she collected from my Gran Granny’s quilts. It was sort of an early window into what textiles could be. And it was once I went to design school, it was like a whole world of textiles. And suddenly I learned about textile traditions from India, but also from other cultures, you know, like borrow and Japanese textiles.
And I was completely seduced by the Japanese. And this is such a wonderful overlap between them. I feel. So you studied at the National Institute of Design in India, and then what’s in fashion for a number of years. What happened then? Well, I, I think the way that I had understood clothing or appreciated clothing, a richness of story emotion in it,
and the longevity in it, for instance, you know, my grandmother’s diaries were passed onto my mother, which were handed down to me. I mean, that sort of longevity that is built into textiles was somehow lacking in this idea of fashion. So when I started working in the industry, I realized that actually there are a number of collections to be produced every so often.
You know, like it was crazy amounts of just churning out new revenue or revenue or clothes. And somehow I felt there was such a disconnect between how I had grown up understanding clothes to how I was being asked to function within, within the fashion industry. And although working in India, there was this wonderful thing of, you know, being able to work with artisans and craft clusters and, and kind of carrying forward these wonderful traditions that have existed for thousands of years yet, I felt that it wasn’t my calling and I, I was drawn more to textiles and was drawn more to the idea of storytelling and how I could really make that my, my central focus rather than producing ever more silhouettes and ever more clothes. So I, I sort of took a step away from that.
And I think that was the best decision I ever made. And so I came to the UK to do a master’s in textiles, and it was really here that I, I kind of, was able to explore all the ideas that I had been thinking about. In fact, in my Emmy, I explored the beauty of damage and DK in textiles.
So I did like lots of rust dying and deconstructing textiles and putting them back together again. And at the time, I didn’t know what I was doing was repair in a sense, but, you know, upon reflection, you feel that, oh, I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe what I was after, but I think that was a very important idea that I was pursuing at the time.
So, yeah, That is interesting. How many of the people I have interviewed about repair are actually fascinated by damage and it reminds me, it reminds me of something that Renee Brown says, and, you know, I’m a big fan of Renee Browns When she asks people about love. They tell her about heartbreak when she asks people about connection, they tell her about loneliness and it’s just occurring to me now that I’m asking all these people about repair and we keep ending up talking about that much, which in some ways it’s really obvious in other ways, I think is kind of, you sort of imagined that repairs to fix the damage. Whereas actually, I guess in some ways it’s in dialogue with the damage and that’s a slightly different thing. Yeah. I agree with you. And it’s also acknowledging what has broken down or what is disappearing. And,
and then trying to, you know, also this, this idea of beauty that happens when metal gains a certain patina, I’m fascinated with that. And my last dynamics in Miami was just all that. Yeah. I agree with you certainly in dialogue rather than this idea of fixing. Yeah. That’s really interesting. So you mentioned cancer very briefly and excitingly, you have a book about Kantha coming out in spring-summer 2023.
So we’ve got a little while to wait, we’ve got a little while to wait for that one first, maybe just explain a little bit more about what comfort is for anybody. Who’s not familiar with that time. You’ve touched on it a little bit, but just to make sure everybody’s clear and then tell us about the book and tell us about why can’t there be something that you’re so drawn to.
Okay. So lots of questions in there. So let’s unpack that. Let’s unpack that slowly. What is, it’s a quilted textile that is made using discarded layers of fabric, which comes from the Bengal region in the continent. What that is, is a westbound Goa in India and Bangladesh, which is kind of present-day Bangladesh. That used to be a part of India before partition.
So that is the region where this particular technique was practiced and still is, and there are references. It kind of goes back hundreds and hundreds, hundreds of years, what gets me excited about content is a few different elements. So the first one is that these textiles are sustained. I mean, it is this idea of taking, you know, fabrics that are not in a stage to be worn or used, but making something new from them, upcycling them as we today call it. But, you know, green design, which I think, you know, only now is becoming part of the mainstream conversation. But what I get so excited about is that women in rural Bengal have been practicing this for hundreds of years.
And that is so cool. The second aspect is that this is one of the very few embroidery techniques that was done entirely by women. So being, I feel that, you know, this is something that we have done and we had this language we have created, and it’s a very feminine gait, you know, you’re looking at the world and you’re telling stories about the world,
and you’re talking very much about the things that you care about. So there are two kinds of Kanthas. One is the sort of pictorial narrative ones, which are called nakshi Kanthas, that’s a fact. I suppose, more familiar with, you know, there are those human figures and floral motifs and scenes from daily lives or folktales or religious mythology. All of this is kind of put and embroidered onto the textile, but there’s another one which is more graphic, which is geometric. A lot of people, perhaps, don’t associate with Carta. And that’s the one I have really, really drawn to. So yeah, for me, there are all of these elements. And then the fact that it, it’s a very simple running stitch, which is a primary stitch that is used in Kantha textile and allows the simplicity of it.
I love the fact that with one stitch you can have these multiple variations and then it all in the end comes down to a stitch that can be aligned. I mean, if you just did a single line, or if you did multiple of them, you could have a texture, you could have a pattern. And then with the same stage, you could actually stitch three or four or five layers of textiles. And then it starts to become a quilt and it starts to become a sculpture. Almost the stitches give it that sort of three-dimensionality don’t they? So they’re often pulled a little bit tight. Yeah. So you get these sorts of bubbles, that trap air and not bubbles is the wrong word,
bumps that sort of trap air. Ridges! That’s the word, Very, very characteristic of context as to have those lovely textured ridges through it. And normally we understand embroidery as something often embellishment. So it’s something that you added on to a preexisting fabric cloth, but I get really excited with Kanthas that, you know, this is one of the few stitches that can actually, it’s changing the structure of the, you know, making it more sculptural. It’s more making it more tactile, almost, you know. You look at it and you almost feel drawn into I’m making it warmer, right. Because it’s catching air and the, In the, in the layers. Yes. So Kanthas were traditionally made as gifts of love. And they’ve passed on as you kind of markers of rites of passage.
So, a new baby born in the house or a daughter being married off would be given, but also as, as a way of, you know, almost telling your story. So women chose to embroider wishes or blessings in those Kanthas and they were meant to be functional objects. So, you know, something like wrapping for say, religious books, or for keeping your jewellery or they were seat covers or rather they were placed on the floor for honoured guests, but even as decoration. So, you know, I feel that it spans the entire gamut of what a text I could be when a baby is wrapped in it. And I also love the idea that, you know, it’s in a sense if it’s your connection to two different generations.
So, you know, if a grandmother’s sari is being used to make a Kantha for the grandchild, has the embolic, is that, you know, so the baby is wrapped, is literally being wrapped in the grannies lap. So I love the emotional aspects of the textile. Yeah, that’s really, and I, I think that’s,
I think repairing something is an act of love, isn’t it? And that’s something that’s come up quite a lot with the people I’ve interviewed across the podcast . It’s an act of care for that object, of course, but it’s often an act of love for the person that object belongs to. And I think that’s so really beautiful, a beautiful part of repair.
I agree, but also I feel that it is also an act of emotional repair. I think, you know, sewing is so much related to Catholicism and this idea of emotional repair. And for me, particularly within my own practice, this is something that I have come to realize. And I, I’m kind of reflecting more and more on this that when I am working with stitch, I’m instantly connected to my mother and I’m instantly connected to my grandmother. And although they are not here in this world, it just feels that I’m sort of honouring that presence, what they handed down to me. And I think because Craft is hand knowledge, isn’t it? You can’t, I mean, you, of course, you can learn it from a book or from, you know, watching YouTube videos or whatever. There’s something about the sorts of passing of skill from one set of hands to another that as you say, because you know, you’ve watched your grandmother’s hands work, you’ve watched her mother’s hands work. They’ve no doubts, sort of corrected you and touched your hands in the passing on of those skills. Best skills are in your hands.
Aren’t they, which is a really lovely way to think about it. I’m trying to see different ways of supporting the podcast this time around. So we’ll be back after a short break and thank you so much to everybody. They do help to make this season happen. And this series of the podcast I’m experimenting with, you might have noticed that some of the episodes carry paid-for ads on some I’ve donated to charity.
And this one I’m asking you to buy me a coffee, not literally, I’ve signed up to something called KOFI a model that allows listeners to thank podcasters by buying them a virtual coffee and the best bit, instead of me ending up overly caffeinated, all your donations, get reinvested into making more great content like this, more podcast episodes, the links in the show notes,
or you can find me @ko.fi.com/katietreggiden. Mine’s a decaf cappuccino. Thank you. Now you mentioned how women who would have done Kantha over the years would have sort of embroidered their stories and their wishes into those pieces. And that’s something you do in your work in a slightly different way. So maps show up a lot, particularly in your artwork. And I love you to talk to us a little bit more about why maps are such an interesting device. And perhaps particularly you could tell us about your portraits of places, projects. Yeah. I’d love to, well, maps are such fascinating objects, you know, not simply because of what they look like. I mean, they’re beautiful in their own right, but also so beautiful because of the stories they can tell. And I was drawn to them to map-making for these two reasons because it’s sort of allowed me to tell stories of place, of belonging, of history, of identities so easily, and in such a lovely way, sort of became portals to different places, not just physical locations, but also almost lives, you know, stories of lights. So I began making maps in 2010, I think it was. And it grew from a very classic place for me. My mom at the time was quite ill. So I was kind of flying between London and Delhi and really questioning my home. What is home to me? And how do I define the I, this idea of, and somewhere in, in that year, I, I started making these maps, one of London and one Delhi, which is where my parents were living at the time and, and making that it was so easy, right. I had these multiple memories that I could access easily. And even when I was drawing the maps and then embroidering the Delhi map, it was like, oh, I was sort of reliving all of those and which was beautiful. So when it came to doing the map of London I initially thought, well, there’s not a lot there. I haven’t lived a significant part of my life in the city. And it’s only sort of recently that I had started my life. Maybe it had been like a couple of years since moving or not even that, but I found that through this idea, through this act of making and drawing, I could claim the city as my own. You know, I actually discovered that I had, you know, the places that very much where my, like the, for example, my studio or where I was teaching or where my friends lived or where I lived.
And this, this city where I thought was, you know, kind of a recent acquaintance became very much where I felt at home. So that was the starting of the journey with mark. And it has been denuded for the last decade, more than a decade now. So much so that, you know, slowly, all the other elements have settled out and it’s kind of just become the main focus.
And so the second part of your question was a portrait of a place, which is a fabulous, fabulous commission from a local museum in west London called Dennis Redpath museum. And the condition was to celebrate the local community and the local area that the museum serves and really make a piece to commemorate that. So the obvious response to me was to create a map,
but we worked with, it was a public participatory project and we worked with two different community groups, one in Ealing, and one in Hounslow. And these fantastic groups of women, one group was women who were deaf and hard to hear. So how to hear it. And the other group was an intergenerational group where, you know, people who were school-going kids do those who had retired.
There was this wonderful confluence of community members and hands that came together to make this peace. And I asked people to choose locations that they thought were important and represented this area. And each of those was embroidered by a community member and myself and the Mac now hangs in the permanent collection of the museum. And I also embroidered everybody’s names, whoever took part, even if they came for a day or they came for the entirety of the project so that everyone can draw a sense of ownership from it. Like, you know, that, that’s their hands and their work has been celebrated. And it’s now part of a museum collection. So that gave me so much joy. And every year I make it a point to work on community-led projects, because I, I really believe that art should not be elitist. It should be for everyone, you know, as much for the next person as somebody who’s a regular gallery visitor and a collector of art. So yeah, I try to balance it with my conditions for collectors, with community-led projects. And I think that brings me a lot of joy to be able to do that.
And there’s something you’ve just made me think of. I think the first time we met was when you invited me to, I can’t remember the details, but I remember sitting with a group of women and we were all embroidering onto the same piece of fabric. And it was just such a wonderful experience to feel part of this collective creation. Remind me the details of that,
of that event, because that was wonderful. Oh, well done for remembering that, because that was a few years ago. It was at Made London, which is a contemporary craft fair in London. And I was really playing with this idea of how we can, you know, almost create events or rather gatherings of people where we all come together and make something together.
Even if it is just adding a few stitches, it doesn’t matter, but there’s this, it’s just holding space for those conversations that happen sitting next to someone you’ve never met. And this idea of imbuing our energies, our love of making into a single piece. And I like you, I invited several others and it was so lucky. It has been such a fulfilling part of, you know, projects that I have done. I love this act of collecting the collective making, which I think was very much part of cultures across the world. That connection is broken that I think we need to bring it by. So whether it is, you know, doing more of such events or doing collective community arts projects, somehow we have to reignite that.
Yeah, absolutely. And I can remember I’d been herring around London. I live in Caldwell. So I would have been trying to cram a month’s worth of meetings into two days. No doubt. And I can just remember arriving, being so stressed. My pulse was racing, you know, I was kind of hyper and an hour later, I felt as calm as I’d felt in months, it was transformative. And actually, I have been, I haven’t stopped sewing since, so thank you for that. But you’ve been running what you call soothing stitch workshops during lockdown, a couple of which I’ve been lucky enough to, to take part. In what role do you think that mending and repair can play in sort of looking after our mental health and sort of engaging in self-care? Firstly, thanks so much for that feedback that was lovely to hear, you know, how you were stressed out and then you felt really calm and meditative. That is lovely. That is exactly what I would have, would have hoped for what happened. And over the years, multiple people have come back to me, remembering events, such as that, where they felt this amazing connection with material and themselves and with their own sort of flow state.
So soothing stitch, we started on a whim during lockdown last year, back in March when we all went into lockdown and it suddenly seemed like all connections were broken, right. I wasn’t able to go to the studio. I wasn’t able to make the work that I would’ve wanted to make because all my suppliers were closed. My, I remember that point within one week of the lockdown being declared my inbox was just filled with cancellations and it was like the entire year’s worth of whatever I had committed to whether they were exhibitions or teaching commitments or workshops or speaking invitations, everything was cancelled. So just as a response to that, you know, I said, well, I’m an artist. I still have my hands. I still have my laptop. What can I do with this? And really, it just sprang from that place that I needed to be doing something for the community, for, you know, a desire to do some good, rather than being kind of defeated by the circumstances. So I just put out a note on Instagram asking people to come and join me on a zoom gathering. And it really took off from there. You know, it sort of exploded really. It became a fixture for Friday evening. And to me it was an absolute delight to be able to sort of,
you know, facilitate that and invite people who have never held a needle. And it wasn’t just the men. They were men also who joined and not just from the UK, but from all over the world. So I’ve continued doing them. They came to an end when the lockdown opened and then we started them again in January into another lockdown.
So it felt really empowering to be able to do that. And I think it also created a space where people felt welcomed and they connected with other humans, which they may not have been speaking to in real life. We were all kind of locked up in our homes. So for me, that idea was also powerful. I ended up, I think that we welcomed over a thousand people or I know it’s just,
oh, I draw so much joy. And from all over, all over the place. Yeah. From Europe, from North America, from Australia, from India, from Japan. And I felt that you know, these threads that have connected us in, in, in such a beautiful way, I ended up speaking on BBC four, I was invited to do, I was like, you never know where things lead you. Right. And recently, since starting these sessions again in the new year, I asked, I thought, you know, if we can create some tangible good other than, you know, all of us gathering. So I, I, together with all the participants did a fundraising campaign for the crafts council let’s, let’s play campaign.
So basically what that does is buys craft packs, which children in need in England. So I thought what could be more beautiful than being able to help children be creative, especially in this time. And I was amazed, I was bowled over by the generosity of people. And only last week I had an update from the cross council and we’ve managed to buy 54 tax.
So I thought that it’s 50, 50, whose life we’ve made a small difference in. I’m sort of passing those skills on to the next generation as well, which is really lovely. I know. And I’ve had such an amazing response from people and having finished the current sort of iteration of them that I had like a flood of private messages and emails saying what’s happening to the community.
So, we have to find a way of bringing everybody back together. So I have recently launched a membership, a way of, you know, bringing everyone back together and, and holding a space for people to be creative and convivial. So there is, there is definitely a celebration of connection and community and creativity going on. That’s wonderful. How can people find out more about the membership?
They can go on my website and look under membership and find out Perfect. We’ll make sure that we put the URL in the show notes. So people can find that you mentioned that some of the people who’ve joined these workshops have never picked up a needle before. And I know from experience that you have a lovely, gentle, nonjudgmental approach to teaching, which I was very grateful for because I don’t think I’d picked up a needle since school.
Lots of advice. Would you give it to someone who’s listening at home and perhaps thinking about picking up a needle and thread and doing some mending, but lacks confidence in their creative skills. The first thing I’d like to say to everyone, whether they have picked up a needle or ever, or they haven’t, you know, it’s not about perfection and this is the idea that we sort of somehow have.
It’s the received wisdom, right? That if your stitches need to be perfect and your handwriting needs to be a certain way, but, but I feel that for me, and this is what I like to teach my students as well. That stitching is about self-expression, you know, it is about finding joy and creativity. It is about finding that space, a meditative space where all your worries begin to melt away. And you’re just focused on the journey that your needle is taking on the clock. And really, I feel the stitching makes meditation so accessible. You know, this, this idea that sitting down for 20 minutes and listening to an app or focusing on our breathing, I know I do it. And I find it so hard as do many people, but I feel that, you know, the, the, the class, the intimacy of it, like there’s something about that. And, and this, this act of holding a needle and making a very simple line can help us access that state so very easily. And also, I mean, it has a tremendous impact on our sense of wellbeing. This stage of having done something that our hands with, you know, we do less and less of other than typing. You know, it’s not the best thing for wellbeing anyway. So I think that creative confidence is something that we just have to kind of disregard that idea of perfection. Actually, that’s so boring. And then raise the idea that it’s like a voice it’s like nobody else’s and the way usage versus the way I stitch has to be different.
And I think it goes back to perhaps, you know, the 18 years or so that they were trying to standardize things that this thing was inculcated that, you know, one worker left and the next one joined, you should not be able to tell the difference, but we are not doing that anymore. We really want to celebrate different voices, the diversity of voices and all sorts of different market-making.
So I think to anyone who’s never picked up the needle before to do it today, it’s a companionship, it’s a friendship that you, you will begin and you know, it just more and more and more you do it. Yeah, absolutely. I love that. You’ve described yourself as having a creative voice, which is rooted in the non-binary. I would love you to unpack that a little bit for us.
Okay. I think it really stems from the idea of being comfortable with multiplicity and drawing up in India. This very idea was all-pervasive. It was, you know, multiple languages. There are 27 official languages that are spoken in India, and that’s just the official ones. Then their dialects and regional languages. So then there are clothing, different styles of clothing. There are gods, I mean, in Hindu is of itself there are like more than so I grew up feeling very comfortable with the idea of there being multiple influences and there being multiple voices and going to design school, which was rooted in Bauhaus principles and, you know, very much about learning by doing, and the sorts of tutors that were invited to teach were international.
So right from somebody, a traditional artisan who was practicing the trade for generations and working in a very small village in Gujarat to, you know, professors that were teaching at the Royal College of Art or Rhode Island School of design for all over the world. So there was this amazing confluence of different influences that went into the making of what my creative voice is today and then coming and living in the UK.
So I studied in Scotland and then I started my practice in India and I’ve lived in, in the Scottish borders and Edinburgh and now London. So I feel that I am a product of all of these places, you know, so if there was a portrait of me, all of these places would need to be mentioned and celebrated. So therefore I feel that, you know, I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea of a person being this or that, you know, Eastern or Western or black or white, or I just find those stereotypes. Like they box people in unnecessarily. And at any given time we are multiple identities, right? I am an artist, I’m a mother, I am a, I’m a daughter, I’m a friend and you and I are having this conversation. So I feel that we have to honour that and not really define ourselves in these prescribed boxes.
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