Book review by Joss Graham
In 1975 Lorna Tresidder took a sabbatical from her post as Senior Lecturer in Textiles at Liverpool Polytechnic and, aged 37, took herself and 3 young children to India on her quest to study embroidery. Covering a lifetime of experiences in the Banni grasslands of Northern Kutch in the Western state of Gujarat, this book, published almost 40 years later, is an account of the adventure that started then and shows no sign of finishing.
Drawn by its rich craft traditions – particularly embroidery and quilting but also block printing, tie-dye, leatherwork and many other domestic and decorative crafts – this rural and increasingly arid area of land has attracted visitors from all over the world. The picture painted by Lorna (quite literally: the whole book is beautifully illustrated with watercolours) shows how this culture sustained an embroidery tradition without any commercial incentive. It was for pleasure and social requirements only. And although it is difficult to discern whether these social obligations to provide such lavish dowries of embroidered clothes and quilts were onerous, they were clearly a source of pride and joy achieved through effort and skill. Lorna sensitively observes the topographic and social changes to the region – the earthquake of 1819 began the process of desertification that is now irreversible – and time is a major focus of the publication.
When Lorna’s journey began in the 70s, the women of well-to-do villages, both Muslim and Hindu, would spend six to eight hours a day stitching. Life was lived in the village; there was no travel or other distractions and a key factor to the success of this was the access – through trade routes built up over the centuries – to excellent materials, dyestuffs, yarns, threads, beads, shells and other elements. Sadly these routes are now disappearing in the face of economic pressures and cheap man made fabrics, crude colours and plastics are taking over. It is clear that in another 40 years what is left now may all be gone also.
Kutch was at one time, through maritime links and by virtue of its rich biodiversity, an oasis of craft which sustained a vibrant culture that is now under threat. The book shows an affectionate and deep felt appreciation of the communities and is a hymn in praise of an enduring culture which is adapting to the world around it. Lorna Tresidder takes us on a fascinating journey detailing the memories she has gleaned as an honoured guest. We learn much more than any short stay might have provided. Time is a prism. The book is a rare achievement and, by virtue of its lack of photographs and reliance of a continuous stream of illustration, it creates a synergy with its subject.
by Lorna Tresidder, Indian Romance Publishing Ltd, 2014,