Running the stitches of life
French beauty Anais Basu got all lovingly entangled in the threads of Bengal’s kantha embroidery, finds Bhumika K.
It’s almost hypnotic, the effect of looking at the orange cushion cover, embroidered intricately in concentric circles in delicate running kantha stitches. Anais Basu, on her first trip to India, fell in love with this stitch that at once appealed to her because of its “simplicity and humility”.
That she also fell in love with the man she would marry on this visit, is also part of her India story. “I first came to India six years ago to work on embroideries for an export house that was catering to the European market. I landed in Calcutta,” smiles Anais, who was recently in Bangalore to show her hand-embroidered collection of home linen and accessories at craft connoisseur Chandra Jain’s house. Cushion covers, table linen, runners, throws, games on floor cushions, and a small range of clothing were being scooped up like hotcakes.
Anais’ branded her range Tia Pakhi, the Bengali name for the green parakeets that surround the villages where the kantha work of her collection is done. “The technique of kantha is simple but it takes time to realise the vision. It’s amazing how something as simple as a running stitch adds such texture and dimension to fabric,” she smiles, her face lighting up, the little spot of sindoor on her forehead adding to it all.
“I have about 150 crafts-women in a village around Kolkata who embroider for me. I have a co-ordinator who works with them, comes and collects designs and gets the work done, because it’s difficult for me to constantly be in touch with so many of them,” she smiles. But she has woven her way into their lives, learning to speakBengali over the last two years. It’s been three years since she’s called India her home after marriage.
“The women are still shy with me…it’s a long process, building relationships with them. But I confidently speak in Bengali with them, though I still make mistakes. It’s only because of these craftspersons that I’ve learnt the language, in order to communicate with them about design, and stitching, and get my ideas across, without the need for an interpreter.”
“Kantha has largely been seen as a rural art. I wanted to make it appealing to people in urban areas. Traditionally kantha work is done on old saris and it’s never really well-matched. I use new Mangalgiri cotton fabric, completely hand-woven. I use quality threads and it’s such a pleasure and joy to play with colours. In terms of motifs too, I’ve moved away from the trees and birds to use large scaled-up geometric patterns…I’m almost using kantha as a paint brush,” she explains her contribution to the traditional embroidery form.
One look at the intricate patterns she’s managed on the cushion covers, and you’re curious how it’s done. Anais explains how she gives the artisans the designs and colour combinations, drawing out the entire design on tracing paper. The artisans then use needles and make holes in that paper, and use powder to transfer the design on to cloth, embroidering over it. “I’m also particular that one woman does one piece, because each has a unique hand and there must be some uniformity in the work. I even tell them the direction in which the stitches must run!”
She recently took her collection for private showing in Rome and Paris and people have been very appreciative of the work, she says. “Even people who don’t like ethnic styles have taken to it.”
Anais, all of 28, is trained in fashion and textile design at LISAA in Paris and then did a postgraduate degree in management, specialising in the textile and clothing industry from the ESIV institute. “While I studied, I was working on printing designs. I had worked on the theme of games on cushions, inspired by my travel around the world. I had used games from Norway, Africa and India and used appliqué work to make throw cushions.” Some of that influence can be seen even in this collection of hers. Right from her student days, Anais says she had a strong taste for home furnishing rather than clothing design. “With home furnishings you can do bold designs. Even in the few garments I make, my identity can be applied to it — there’s no trend, style or fashion reference.”
Her impeccable English, should be credited to her first six years in Scotland where she was born, says Anais. Her parents are from Mauritius and all through her life she’s had multicultural influences, and India was constantly with her, she says. “When I came to India I was able to blend in easily because it’s been in me already!”
You can know more about Anais Basu and her work on www.tiapakhi.com