Chelna Desai is a Force of Nature
The powerhouse behind the label named after her incorporates her graphic design experience with her knowledge and love of traditional Indian textiles. The results are meditative, modern textiles. Chelna tells us what buyers can expect to see this year. “We will be presenting 100% hand woven cotton stoles from two regions of India. The first being Warp Ikats from Telangana State, South India and the other extra weft cotton stoles from Gujarat, West India.”
Buyers and collectors treasure the Ikat textiles for the softened, “blurred” lines of the design. Chelna Desai tells us more. “In this process, a range of skill sets are required at different points during the production cycle. A typical team would comprise warpers, markers, tiers, dyers, jointers, bobbin winders, weavers and checkers. Of these the most critical being the tiers, dyers and weavers.
Unlike print, in ikat, patterns are developed on the yarn prior to weaving. This is achieved by tying or blocking off areas of the warp or weft that do not require dying, while exposing open areas to dyes. Recycled rubber tyres are cut into fine strips and used as resists to block dyes from entering the yarn. The entire warp is then folded in a predetermined order and dipped into the dye bath.
For each colour the process of untying re tying and dyeing is repeated. Unlike printed fabric, in ikat, because the yarn itself is dyed, both sides front and back are identical. Post dyeing the warp is stretched and sun dried. In the case of weft ikat production, the patterned weft is wound into bobbins which carry with them a tiny part of the design.
Thread by thread patterns start appearing as the weaver matches the design line by line.
This feathered appearance is a look favoured by the customers worldwide, although in India traditionally feathering was not seen as a sign of great skill. Today feathering is in vogue.
Some weaving clusters still weave on pit looms while others have adopted metal frame looms. Materials commonly used are cotton and silk.”
The designer and entrepreneur describes the extra weft dyeing tradition form the region of Gujarat. “The extra weft technique of this region is one of the oldest and most basic forms of pit loom weaving that has survived in India till today. Traditionally nomadic shepherds would supply wool to weaversfor production of woollen shawls for the cold winters, cotton during summer months. Weaver communities scattered in different regions wove patterns specific to the needs of each community.
The patterns and motifs woven today still echo the past and continue to be re assembled in different forms and colours.
The process begins with washing and dyeing hanks of yarn in readiness for street warping. If mill spun yarn is used, direct street warping takes place. Simultaneously, yarn for weft and extra weft is dyed and wound into bobbins for weaving. Next the brushed and straightened warp is lifted, wound into a huge spool like bundle and brought to the loom. At this point the tedious time-consuming process of joining the warp threads begins. It can take a couple of days before the loom is ready for weaving.
Here, unlike dobby looms, each motif is created by counting and lifting individual warp threads manually and inserting extra threads to form the required motif. The effect is one where motifs and patterns appear to pop up from the surface of the fabric giving a beautiful relief effect. In today’s machine age the very existence of this technique is so very rare and special.”
What is Desai’s vision for her label and traditional textiles? “I envision our brand to reflect the best of contemporary design, quality and fair practice from India. To evolve new dialects rooted in different techniques and regions of India. To explore, run parallel, cross over, and transform tradition to stay relevant for future generations to love and enjoy.
Chelna Desai’s textiles will be exhibited for potential buyers at NY NOW’s Artisan Resource February 3-6 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.
For more information and to buy products, please visit: http://www.chelnadesai.com.