Dignity in design

A worker at the loom in Tasara Kozhikode. Photo: K. Ragesh   | Photo Credit: K_RAGESH;K_RAGESH -

There are no signboards in sight. Tasara, Centre for Creative Weaving, is lost in the small streets of Naduvattom near Beypore, and the lack of signage is deliberate. V. Vasudevan, its chief architect, only wants the curious and the committed to reach. Yet, in the past 25 years, a steady trickle of enthusiasts has landed here from across the world to learn and take back an aging craft woven with new colours.

The first international workshop at Tasara happened in 1989. Tell Vasudevan that makes this their 25th year surviving on creative weaving, he is blasé. Milestones do not matter. Tasara is a philosophy of life for him and family. And they are believers in quiet work. On November 1 begins a month-long residential workshop, a bi-annual feature on the centre’s calendar. “We have eight candidates coming from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa and Costa Rica. Every time there would be couple of them who are brilliant. The person from Costa Rica is a textile teacher,” says Vasudevan.

The double-decker residential complex — a large house — is readying for the workshop. Vasudevan, his brother and artist Balakrishnan - the man behind the engaging tapestries, sister Santha and a few more family and a handful of non-family members make up Tasara. The aim is a community where everyone pitches in for everything. Panchali who is scrubbing floors could be found at the loom moments later. Inside, Vasudevan shows his latest piece of work. A running spread of silvery grey coarse material is taking birth on the loom. “Carpet?” I ask. “No, sofa furnishing,” he says. Weaving with wild silk sourced from Chhattisgarh is tough, says the weaver. But it is for a customised order from Scotland, he adds.

Tasara’s biggest tapestry at 13 metres height and two-and-a-half metre width was done for The Paul Hotel, Bangalore. “It took seven of us four months to weave. But that is the only one we did for hotels .”

A slow game

At the hallway at Tasara are piles of hand-woven material. There are large tapestries , stacks of wild silk stoles, woven table mats, elaborate floor mats, yoga mats, hand-woven shirts and bed spreads — all from the loom. The space embraces art and mundane together. “Once in a while someone comes to buy. But it will all be sold slowly,” says Vasudevan.

‘Small’ is a big word here. Growing in terms of quantity is not the focus. “It is about doing things with dignity. Everything you do is part of your personality,” he says.

Remaining small and exclusive has let Tasara live. Their creations have been exhibited in Sweden, Switzerland, Holland, Germany and the United States. “I can say that there not many countries in the world that does not have a small thing of ours,” says Vasudevan.

Handloom can survive not by mass production, but by scaling down. This was a lesson Vasudevan learnt quickly. He began like many others in the 1970s of Kozhikode with Spider Weavers when weaving went bullish. “There was an enormous market for cotton crepe in the U.S. and U.K. and production was not matching up to the demand. The weaving hub was Kannur, but it spilled over to Kozhikode and many units came up.” Weaving was simple to learn and many came to make a quick buck. The bull ride though lost steam quickly.

“When crepe cotton went out, we wove satin bed sheets with viscous fibre. It went to Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai. When washing machines took over lives, these 90-inch bed spreads woven by 12 over a day and a half, was pushed out. A machine could wash only a bed spread at a time.”

Experimentation, adaptation and innovation proved the only way. There were enough reasons to shut down, few ways to survive. “Slow production is the weak point of handloom, but it has to be converted into our strength. Limited supply will always have demand.” The way forward was in being creative and creating custom-made, exclusive products. “I realised the significance of a counter experience. Handicraft would be valued only if it is exclusive. Secondly, it has to be more aesthetic. I tried to bring in the texture of a painting onto woven textiles,” says Vasudevan.

A random mention of his weaving enterprise to a German friend in Chennai led to an order for curtains at the Max Mueller Bhavan there. The weavers experimented and the order became their statement. Handloom bordered on art and drew attention. The curtains at Max Mueller led to an offer to collaborate for an exhibition by the Alliance Francaise in Chennai. It was the metamorphosis of the commercial enterprise Spider Weavers into the cultural Tasara. Collaborating with a French artist, the men and women of Tasara created tapestries what were soon given the name “woven art.”

Max Mueller Bhavan followed suit with the proposal for an international workshop. Painters came from within and beyond to create and execute ideas. Many artists have stayed and worked here — Adimoolam, Achuthan Kudallur, Jayapala Panicker, Surya Prakash and others. Ever since, international workshops have been an annual feature at Tasara. “When creative people come together something is bound to happen,” says Vasudevan.

Workshops are Tasara’s means to never stop learning. As enthusiasts come in from world over — from an IT guy to textile academicians — new techniques and ideas emerge. “At the last workshop, we were introduced to eco printing by a participant. Teaching is the best way to be updated,” says Vasudevan. They also allow an apprenticeship of six months free of cost for those interesting in weaving. Learning continues and Tasara lives. Sustenance is through workshops and small sales. “We have happily survived; importantly work does not feel like work.”

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 2:43:20 PM |

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