The embroidery and lace work on show are enticingly exquisite

The hall in Little Flower Convent, where an exhibition of ‘Convent Embroidery and Lace' is being held, is abuzz with excitement. Nineteen young girls, embroiderers and lace makers, whose work forms part of the exquisite exhibits on display have just won State Awards for excellence in their craft! The awardees are all from Kanyakumari's Infant Jesus Technical and Educational Institute in Moolagumoodi, which is run by the ICM sisters of The Immaculate Heart of Mary.

It was in Moolagumudi that two Belgian nuns landed some 150 years ago to introduce, what is known today as, 'Convent Embroidery' to the repertoire of India's vast embroidery traditions. Long and short stitch, petit point, shadow work, cut work, French knot, as well as delicate lace making were taught to the local girls and other nuns of the newly created ICM order forming a pool of expertise, which was handed down through the generations. Till today many convents of South India train local girls from marginalised backgrounds in the craft of fine embroidery and lace making at the technical institutes run by them.

Bruges lace

The trainee girls become experts in time and produce exquisitely embroidered saris, bed linen, table cloths, towels, baby's layettes and dresses. And Bruges lace, once the pride of Belgian handcraft, is now made only at Moolagumudi where it was first taught by the Belgian nuns more than 100 years ago.

Apart from a Bruges lace sari, embellished with work as fine as cobwebs, the Convent Embroideries’ other showstopper is Caricmas embroidery - incredibly delicate and is executed only on lace. Caricmas embroidered lace patches are then transposed on saris and garments. An ethereal orange net sari, covered with a scattering of Caricmas flowers is a stunning piece.

On view is a black georgette sari with beige flowers, along with a range of soft shaded organdie saris with sprays of floral motifs.

Embroidery done in the convents of ICM sisters continues to define elegant lifestyles. Some of the finest cutwork with intricate floral motifs can be seen on scalloped table cloths, bed spreads and table linen. There are perfect gift options such as pretty white on white cut work and appliqué work runners and dressing table sets as well as sprays of delicately embroidered hand towels and napkins. The delicate lace edged handkerchiefs seem to belong to an era that epitomised elegant living.

Many of the items on display are made by visually or hearing challenged girls. Among them is 55 year old Rosario, who paints on fabric and does hand painting on napkins and tray cloths. She trains children in Thiruvananthapuram in embroidery and painting carrying forward a tradition, which with changing lifestyles has begun to languish.

The Embroidery and Lace Exhibition is on at Little Flower Convent, (School for the Blind and Deaf), G.N. Chetty Road, near Anna Flyover) till February 25.

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