How I started…
Growing up in a mofussil town has its advantages. The languid lifestyle – devoid of all distractions – helps you discover your latent faculties, widening your creative horizons in ways a metropolis can only aspire to.
As a teenager, I loved sticking my finger into every hobby pie… from sewing, crocheting, macrame & carpet weaving to typing, singing, painting and even playing the guitar.
Many a lazy winter afternoon when my mom and her friends squatted on rickety charpoys soaking in the bright sunshine as they seamlessly knitted laughter, color, gossip, and yarn into captivating mufflers and sweaters, I would plonk myself amidst the flock, pestering them to share their craft with me. Although they made no bones about their chagrin at my intrusion into their jamboree, my transparent enthusiasm and adamant pleas would eventually win them over.
The Pupating Stage…
My salad days spanned a romance with ‘stitch enablers’ galore: the reed-thin sewing needle, the rotund embroidery needle, the fat ass knitting needle, the swan-necked latch needle…all kinds except perhaps the doctors!
I spent the entire 70s doing rotten embroidery: 5 bizarre bedspreads, 8 tedious table covers, 3 ridiculous rugs … et al. Most of my initial creations were obnoxious, to say the least, and kitsch at best. I still cringe at some gems of this grotesquery collected by my mom with the zeal of a hoarder and proudly displayed in our ancestral home. Nobody dared remove these for fear of offending her for she believed they were reminiscent of our congenital connect during the years spent on the peephole-studded charpoy.
The Butterfly emerges…
Learning hiccups over, the 80s saw me cruising along the now-familiar handicraft waters. I was ideating in prolific proportions, creating quaint handicraft pieces that were expeditiously lapped up by friends and relatives for posterity. Meanwhile, a family posting to a small town in Punjab gave me more time at hand. I used my vacant hours to visit a neighborhood library that was studded with some amazing books on hobbies such as crochet and petit point. I devoured every single article/catalog to get an in-depth understanding of these crafts and their nuances. I also developed humungous stamina to practice my hobby for hours at length…sometimes even overnight!
Soon after my first baby happened, I shifted base to Delhi. Here I started crocheting sweaters for toddlers at a pace so frenetic… I could churn out one sweater a day! Within one year I had created enough stock to hold my first exhibition. This exhibition – a complete sellout – proved to be a huge morale booster for me. The next logical step was to go commercial with my hobby. So I set up a mini-enterprise, which comprised a network of women adept at crochet and embroidery. My handmade kiddy sweaters were soon rubbing shoulders with some of the leading brands in the business.
However, once I relocated to Chandigarh, I weaned away from my knitting business and got involved as a ‘creative stepney’ in the family’s advertising business. My passion for embroidery was once again relegated to the status of a hobby. All the same, in my spare time I voraciously embroidered every ‘painted canvas’ I could lay my hands on.
The Eureka Moment…
Sometime in the early 90s, my regular wool supplier’s massive consignment fell victim to a short-circuit. In a flash, seamless yards of yarn were reduced to 2 ft long shreds singed at both ends. The dejected shopkeeper implored me to get the albatross off his back. As they say, one man’s garbage is another’s treasure. The sight of a whole shop pregnant with colorful scrap turned out to be my eureka moment. It inspired me to switch from the cumbersome cross-stitch using multiple skeins, to the time saving petit point using a single strand of wool.
I also realized that the prosaic painted canvas depicting mundane horses and slovenly sceneries wasn’t tickling my pituitary gland anymore. I started itching to do something more intricate and complex. It was clear that if I had to take my hobby to the next level, I’d have to revisit my style of embroidery.. maybe paint my own canvas.
So I started exploring various media for subjects that would fire my imagination. Portraits of rural Rajasthani/afghani men with their expressive eyes and strong jawlines challenged my creative muscles the most. Making use of my professional exposure to designing software, I started scanning random portraits, digitally modifying their colors/backdrops to suit my decor. Adding my own design elements here and there, I drew a grid on the final design before printing it on paper. Next, drawing a similar grid on plain canvas, I sketched and then replicated my print using fabric paints. This way I created my original painted canvas.
Soon I was embroidering complex portraits of Rajasthani men & women, besides those by well-known Indian artists. Laboring over minute details and working endlessly to get the expressions right, creating these embroidered paintings not only fulfilled my creative urges, but it also got me oodles of compliments from friends.
Today I have a gallimaufry of over a hundred-odd embroidered paintings, each of which is steeped in nostalgia for me. And now, I’d like to imagine, my house looks closer to an art gallery than a grotesquery!