Once and Future Fabrics

Seema Krish turns memories into textiles

Memory can be a powerful creative tool, especially when powered by affection for the remembered time or place.  If you doubt it, read Marcel Proust’s languorous word-pictures.  Or look at the textile work of Seema Krish.
 
Krish, born and raised in Bombay, has lived in the United States for 16 years.  In that time she studied at FIT, worked with legendary Japanese textile innovator Reiko Sudo at Nuno Textiles, toiled in the mainstream textile world with US companies Robert Allen and Richloom, and even commuted back and forth to India while running her own Bangalore weaving studio, Azure. 
 
International resume notwithstanding, the colors and textures of her earliest memories of India still command her imagination. “I know that India comes out in my work – especially in the saturated colors I choose, with names like Rani Pink and Mughal Blue. My materials are often the traditional Indian staples of cotton, handspun silk and flax. And the techniques are all craft based. My patterns usually begin with traditional references, but they change and transform as I work with them,” says Krish.  “I am a global person, though. And I live in the 21st-century, of course.  So the mix that infuses the work is more than memory.”
 
An essential ingredient in the mix is Krish’s knowledge of textile making, honed as a student, but also as the owner of a weaving studio. “The ‘making’ of cloth has always been at the top of my list. I enjoy the technical aspects -- from combining yarns and textures to using textile chemistry to explore the changes that can occur. Having Azure from 1997 to 2000 was amazing. I had 3 weavers working with me and we continuously explored structures and materials on three dobby looms, one Macomber and 2 Indian hand looms. My current collection, Bombay Bliss, grows out of my knowledge of fabric structure.”
 
Some of that knowledge comes from Krish’s previous work with Nuno, where an innovative end product was the absolute goal. “Nuno has shaped my ‘textile character’ on some level. Fabrics at Nuno are multi dimensional in process, even when they appear simple and minimal. There’s a lot of thought and depth that goes into the textile creation, a lot of pushing of boundaries and conventions, even though the starting point is always found in Japanese textile traditions. Traditions are pushed with experiments in folding, dissolving and shrinking fibers, burning, cutting edge chemistry, etc. Nuno taught me to push the boundaries in my own way.”
 
Richloom and Robert Allen, on the other hand, observe more corporate constraints in their process: price, customer trends, revenue and margin, for example. The change from vision to volume seems to have had its own charms, at least for a while. “I enjoyed the challenge of making a fabric that looked beautiful at $4 per yard (versus $100 and more). It’s good discipline, and we produced some good designs. But after six years I was afraid I was losing the soul of the fabric. It was time to get back to tradition and craft.”  
 
The formal launch of Krish’s lush interior fabric line is scheduled for next month, and represents over a year of development and experimentation.  But she is already selling pillows to Barney’s New York, as well as to exclusive boutiques such as Boston’s Koo de Kir.  And she’s working with top-notch interior designer and architect Peter Marino, whose ready embrace of new artisanal interiors product of the highest quality is legendary.
 
Early success is not without its challenges, however. “In spite of my extensive experience with production and my desire to be true to the craft of textile making -- and to the makers themselves -- I’ve learned the hard way that I need to approach my company as a business first. My customers need a product on a deadline. And they are themselves always looking at the bottom line. So if I produce with women’s groups embroidering at their own pace, it will not work. I have had to shift production to more organized craft-export organizations who better understand timelines and quality.  Once the company is stable, I can look to take risks with production and to re-invest proceeds in artisan well-being.” 
 
Future plans include adding new craft techniques to the handmade block print, embroidery and appliqué that make up Krish’s first line.  “With each new collection I’d like to add different crafts -- starting with the textile crafts of India (as I know this well) and then embracing others along the way. I will keep updating traditional crafts techniques, making them current to current lifestyles and sensibilities – and will try to keep them alive while providing a good livelihood for craftspeople.”
 
For more about Seema Krish, visit www.seemakrish.com.

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