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Updated: September 27, 2013 20:35 IST

Nimble fingers

NAHLA NAINAR
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Usha Swaminathan with a rucksack that she made from coir using macrame technique. Photo: Nahla Nainar
The Hindu
Usha Swaminathan with a rucksack that she made from coir using macrame technique. Photo: Nahla Nainar

Craftwork has helped to banish the blues for this talented homemaker

Usha Swaminathan lays out her latest batch of crocheted projects on the divan with maternal pride. Soft-soled slippers, a frock with matching booties and hat, handbags and trinket bags … the Thillai Nagar-based homemaker is a skilled worker with needle and thread.

Crochet is Mrs. Swaminathan’s current passion, though she had always been interested in needlework as a schoolgirl. “My mother’s friend taught me the basics of embroidery and craft techniques,” she says of her childhood in Tirunelveli. An expert in beadwork and nylon wire basket weaving, she switched over to crochet to reduce eye-strain.

Her preferred medium is wool, and even Tiruchi’s hot weather has not affected this choice.

“I spend five to six hours everyday on crochet, but not at a stretch. So it’s okay for me to handle wool in this weather,” she says. “Though it’s difficult to wear woollen garments here, we can use wool to make accessories like hair ornaments and bags,” she says.

Mrs. Swaminathan shows us a macramé rucksack made with ordinary coir rope, originally a gift for her college-going niece.

That rucksack earned her not just niece’s praise, but also orders for at least three more. “Coir is actually easier to work with than macramé thread,” says Mrs. Swaminathan. “I spent around Rs. 250 on this rucksack, but the cost will easily shoot up to Rs. 2000 if I were to use macramé thread, which more slippery to work with.” Encouraged by sister-in-law to go commercial, Mrs. Usha has tried to put her products for sale online through Facebook.

The feedback so far has been more about “compliments than purchase offers,” Mrs. Swaminathan admits, but adds that she bagged a few orders as well.

“I have started selling my things in my friends’ circle, but price is a major issue. Crochet is a costly hobby. People who know the value of such things, buy them, but it’s not easy to convince everyone,” she says. “Of late people in Tiruchi have gone for embroidery in a big way. They all want to wear embroidered clothes, even though they are high maintenance, and not always culturally suitable,” she adds.

When we visit, Mrs. Swaminathan is busy crocheting a tote bag using a stitch called ‘crocodile scale’ that gives a three-dimensional effect. She is all praise for YouTube tutorials that helped her learn this advanced technique.

Her other favourite is the versatile Afghan Square, a crochet panel that can be used to assemble anything from baby quilts to large shopping bags.

Crochet, like most goal-oriented hobbies, can be therapeutic, says Mrs. Swaminathan. “I went into deep depression after my sons left for work in Chennai. I used to teach them at home until the end of their schooling. Once they shifted, our home felt like an empty nest,” she recalls. “Now crochet has given me a new diversion,” she smiles.

Already booked for the upcoming Navaratri festive week with an order for 50 crocheted tambulam bags and six macramé jute rucksacks, Mrs. Swaminathan has no time for the blues.

“I hope my daughters-in-law will know some craft work,” she says. “But the younger generation of women is losing the tradition of sewing that we learned in school because the syllabus has swapped them for computer lessons. Sewing is a must for everyone,” she says, her fingers poised to execute the next crochet stitch.

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