Vimor, a textile brand founded in 1974, in Bangalore, India, collaborates with textile artisans to recreate the beauty of antique and vintage traditional handwoven Indian textiles. The Vimor Museum of Living Textiles is a homely space to see and enjoy the beauty of traditional Indian textiles. Pavithra Muddaya, Founder, Vimor Handloom Foundation and Vimor Museum of Living Textiles, shares her thoughts on their work and the museum. She says Vimor has always kept in mind that India’s handloom legacy belongs to every Indian and their effort has always been to include the weaver and wearer in their endeavours.
Text: Brinda Gill
Photographs Courtesy: Pavithra Muddaya
Brinda Gill: Please tell us about the beginnings of Vimor
Pavithra Muddaya: Way back in the 1958, my mother Chimy Nanjappa was the first manager at Cauvery, the Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation Ltd emporium that markets the state’s crafts, arts and textiles (under the brand name Cauvery). She was very knowledgeable about local textiles and crafts. She was asked by Mrs Pupul Jayakar, a legend in the field of Indian crafts and culture, to manage the handwoven textile section at the World Fair in New York and Montreal in the late 1960s.
Image: The entrance to the Vimor Museum of Living Textiles. Image above: A spinning wheel at the Vimor Museum of Living Textiles.
After my father unexpectedly passed away in 1974, my mother and I registered a home store by name Vimor - that means `pure’ in Indonesian language- in the same year, as a source of income. I was just sixteen and studying pre-university in Chennai (formerly Madras) in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. I started assisting my mother with having saris block-printed, during the weekends, by artisans, on spun silk sent from her and sent back to Bangalore to sell. This was my first foray into “design”. As they say -necessity is the mother of innovation – and the same was true in my case. Mrs Pupul Jayakar and Mrs Kamaladevi Chattopadyay asked me to train at the Weavers Service Centre and Design Centre in Chennai and this gave me technical knowledge of weaving and shaped my design sensibility. The two of India’s iconic women being part of our journey was a great blessing.
Vimor started small; as a home-based store selling old temple saris. These were saris that were offered by devotees to deities at temples and were sold in temple auctions. Premraj Bhandari, a textile trader, would purchase them from these auctions; and bring us the bundles, which we bought. The good pieces were sold to the Calico Museum in Ahmedabad, Central Cottage Industries in Delhi, and other eminent people through Mrs Pupul Jayakar which was Godsend.
Some saris were stained or damaged. Recycling and reconstructing them by dyeing and printing allowed me to be creative as we needed to liquidate them to earn and sell them. These saris were very beautiful and their numbers decreased over time. Slowly we started working with weavers to recreate them. We felt confident about marketing them, something we have only done by word of mouth till date that is almost fifty years! We still have a few of the old temple saris among many others at Vimor Museum of Living Textiles. Vimor, the commercial store, continues to cater to customers with a discerning eye for tradition and aesthetics.
Image: Pavithra Muddaya sharing details of vintage textiles kept in a drawer at the Vimor Museum of Living Textiles.
BG: Please tell us about the work of Vimor
PM: With my mother’s knowledge and aesthetics of handwoven textiles and interactions with weavers, we could connect with them with empathy to have authentic handwoven saris created for urban use and aesthetics. This approach has continued over fifty years! We encourage weavers to study old textiles that we show them and guide them in a step by step process to recreate old sari designs. Mrs Pupul Jaykar’s advice to me -that one does not need to copy the original, but to retain its essence and see that there is something of your own- has always guided us.
Our approach has always been to give weavers an advance for weaving and assure them buy back. This allows them to work in a risk free environment and after a year odd I give them my revived /original design free .Besides I have encouraged them to try the last piece according to their sensibility at my cost. This I believe has paved the way to innovate after following my design productions.
With this approach, the weavers are at peace and give their best to weaving. We have allowed them to grow, sell their work to others and have financial security. We believe in knowledge sharing. If someone has an heirloom sari that they would like replicated, we try to do it as close to the original, but always keeping the weavers ability and financials in mind. We make necessary changes because we believe it is the only way the craft can move allowing the present designer/weavers to infuse his aesthetics.
In 2004, we established the Vimor Handloom Foundation with an aim to conserve our rich textile heritage of India and empower weavers. The focus of Vimor and its initiatives have always been guiding, mentoring and supporting weavers and textile artisans. In 2019, we founded the Vimor Museum of Living Textiles on the floor above our home in Victoria Layout in Bangalore.
BG: How did you decide to establish a museum
PM: I had this dream of having a textile museum for years as I realised the positive impact of sharing textiles with our weavers. I wanted them to acknowledge that they were repositories of age old textile knowledge which they could use to grow, instead of being looked at as wage workers.
We thought it was important to conserve and preserve traditional textiles, to display saris and textiles we have collected from different parts of India and those that have generously been gifted by patrons. The museum is a compact space and we exhibit a representative selection of Indian textiles with interesting stories. The main focus is on non-royal textiles, basically our grandmothers saris, which I felt did not feature in any museum. The museum is open to weavers, students, designers and textile lovers. Each person can experience and take away a different aspect of handmade textiles besides adding to our knowledge.
BG: What is the span of textiles exhibited
PM: We have about sixty textiles displayed in glass cabinets and wooden drawers at the museum. There are about 500 textiles in storage that can be accessed with prior intimation. The museum has antique hand woven textiles as well as a few new textiles related to our on-going projects with weavers and textile artisans. All of the textiles are handwoven; some are hand embroidered and a few are painted. The focus throughout is on the handmade.
The old antique temple saris go back to the 19th century. They bear the name of the devotee-donor embroidered in Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit language on the side corner. These saris reflect the design trends present during different times in our countries history. The antique temple saris have a great inspiration for weavers who have seen and studied them, and woven similar saris. We also brought in innovations such as kasuti embroidery on these saris thus bringing two regional textile techniques on one sari.
Image: A charming vintage sari woven with motifs of gramophones, cars and biplanes.
There are different sari styles showcasing techniques, colours (synthetic and some natural dyed); cotton yarns in various counts, and silks .In India there are so many varieties of regional fibres which allows for creative adaption without adversely impacting our earth. The design vocabulary varies across the country but our handmade textiles use nature and their environment to inspire creativity as seen in motifs such as like a sparrow’s feet, tiger’s claw, a mat or cooking vessel. There are antique brocade saris will beautiful motifs woven with real gold yarn, embroidered textiles and a large Navalgund durrie.
BG: Please tell us about some of the unique saris and textiles in the collection
PM: There are many unique saris. A hundred years ago, girls from the age of five years to pre-puberty also wore saris. This created the need for saris of a shorter length and width. Further, these saris were woven with two pallus (end panels), so that in case one pallu gets worn out, the sari could be worn with the other pallu showing and the worn out pallu tucked in to save cost.
There is a sari, dated to ninety-seven years, with motifs of cranes, swans, fountains and streams with fish swimming. These motifs have been woven with lurex, that is a metal yarn coated with plastic with a glittery effect. It was probably regarded as a novelty when it first entered the market. There is a `Middle East sari’ that has buildings of Islamic architecture, date palms, dhows on the sea with a rising sun and date fruit in a basket.
There is another vintage sari with motifs of a grapes, scallops and flower baskets that speaks of a Western inspiration. I believe these motifs are about assimilation of cultural objects from across the globe. One sari has an end-panel with a row of large asymmetrical motifs composed of floral details. One wonders why the weaver took the additional effort to create an asymmetrical motif when a symmetrical motif would have been easier to weave. Another sari has playing cards. There is a sari woven with a typical Cambodia weave pattern. One wonders this pattern reached a weaver in South India, and how the weaver was inspired to recreate it on a sari.
One of the most unusual and charming saris is a sari with woven motifs of a gramophone and bi-plane! The weaver had probably heard about these inventions and seen their pictures, and then went on to replicate them on textiles. There is a kasuti embroidery sampler that has over 250 traditional motifs. And there are many more fascinating textiles!
Image: this checked Pooja is a silk reinterpretation by Pavithra of the antique Pooja sari design. It has been woven in different natural fibre yarns and been in production for almost 47 years.
BG: Do some sari motifs have symbolism.
PM: Sari motifs are decorative as well as a subtle way of incorporating sentiments in the textile. Many saris tell a story that the weaver incorporates or the customer commissions that is akin to today customisation. Symbolism works as a very subtle way of conveying the importance of all living and non-living things that society sees. Sacred motifs such as the lotus were woven, printed, painted or embroidered to infuse sanctity in the textile. A sari gifted to a bride had its own sentiments. For instance, a sari with motifs of elephant, hamsa (swan), fish, conveyed a wish that may she –the bride- have the intelligence of an elephant, grace of a swan and eyes of the sinuous shape of a fish.
BG: Has the museum been a springboard for projects
PM: Yes, we have worked on different projects from the museum under the Hands to Empower initiative. One is The Kambli Project. The kambli is a thick, black rough blanket, traditionally woven on a basic makeshift looms and used by the pastoral Kuruba community that inhabits northern areas of Karnataka state. The wool is sheared from the sheep they herd. It is thick black Deccani wool. The yarn is thigh-reeled by the women of the community. I travelled to Karagaon in Belagavi district and met the pastoralists. We discussed the weaving and brought in changes in the design by incorporating recycled silk waste and locally available cotton yarns .The changes make them contemporary with softer texture. Bags for the urban market were also created with these textiles. The works were appreciated and bought, thus bringing the weavers an additional source of income.
Another initiative is The Embroidery Project where we trained unemployed women in hand embroidery using unsold fabrics from weavers to create articles such as cushion covers, runners, and face masks for the urban market in pastel colours with subtle embroidery .We have enrolled them in fair trade workshops and constantly pass orders for them to execute independent of the foundation.
Image: Pavithra Muddaya with a basket of yarns.
BG: Having seen thousands of textiles, how would you define design in the modern context
PM: Over the past fifty years Vimor has worked with artisans in the states of Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. We have created over a thousand designs and the work has encompassed over five million employment days.
Design to me is problem solving through aesthetics based on an inspiration .It is about creating beautiful textiles with given materials while keeping costs down so that the entire activity is beneficial for all (weavers, designer and entrepreneur).One can create the effect of an original, by following an authentic technique, yet by minimizing or removing what is not required such as elaborate motifs in the inner section of the sari which is not seen or by rearranging motifs, changing the yarn count and construction details or just combining or playing around the techniques to create the best visuals for the wearer. This is very important to me. The drape and ease of maintenance is also something I always consider while designing This is important to reduce the investment that will help the weaver function without financial dependency on me and to grow independently.
In many cases, where textiles have motifs or techniques that are common between regions, I always bring this to the notice of the visitors. One example is the badam/ambi motif known internationally as the paisley motif. In some places the same motif is designed in the form of a gulab dani (rose water sprinkler) and goes by that name. This commonality across regions I believe is necessary to understand our interconnected world. I feel it is important to see what a designer, weaver or student can draw from the particular textile rather than getting stuck with its identification as most textiles that did not belong to or commissioned for royalty were not documented. We believe in being inspired by beautiful antique textiles to go forward and create ones’ own. This is inclusive of respecting the senior weavers/ community knowledge and having gratitude to be part of this textile legacy.
Image: Visitors to Vimor Museum of Living Textiles can learn the basics of weaving at a small loom.
BG: Which activities are held at the museum
PM: Apart from welcoming visitors and guiding them through the museum, we hold talks and workshops at the museum. These are for textile artisans as well as students, designers and textile lovers and children. We have conducted workshops for international textile groups. Textiles span a large variety of subjects like maths, science, botany, birds, social and gender issues. So depending on the interest group we tailor make the workshops.
There is a small loom at the museum for learning weaving, trying out different yarns and designs for beginners as well as a large loom for weavers to weave textiles of regular dimensions. We hold workshops in hand-spinning, weaving, embroidery, natural dyeing. I feel story telling is an important part of knowing textiles. I am happiest sharing stories about the weavers and motifs on these beautiful textiles! We acknowledge every memory that visitors relate to on seeing our textile exhibits and this adds to our collective oral histories. We are marking fifty years this November and it has been a wonderful creative journey for us. I believe the goodwill and blessings from my weavers have made us do impactful work.
BG: Please tell us your future plans
PM: Most of my weavers have been very successful and I am part of their family. I celebrate their success. Our philosophy is that if I win, they (weavers) too should win. Today many of them can buy me out. I also enjoy challenging young textile students to be responsible and empathic to the rural weavers who are custodians of our textile legacy. In short I believe that I will support our handloom legacy in my own small way as it is my destiny.
Image: The Vimor Museum of Living Textiles.
My mother passed away in 2012. Today, my daughter Vipra and son Arup are part of Vimor which continues to function in the same premises. We aim to continue to be rooted in our beliefs; to innovate handloom designs; to work with artisans who have been with us over generations; to work with new artisans and different textile techniques; and welcome more visitors to the museum.
The Selvedge Textile Tour of India will be visiting Vimor. Find out more about the tour and register your interest with Polly Leonard, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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