Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Kantha Embroidery

While in Delhi, earlier this year, we managed to meet up with our friends Khama and Mondal, Kantha style embroiderers from the Shantiniketan area of West Bengal.

Kantha embroidery is one of the many jewels in India's crown.

Here are some examples of their work.
If you want to see more please go to :

Monday, February 14, 2011

Colors in White

How strange it is that a week that brought us our first madder dye bath, so full of colors, ideas and possibilities, was enveloped by two remarkable snow storms. The first blanket melted within a day or two, but the second one forced us back indoors putting a temporary halt on our experiments in color. 

This is how it all started, a bit hesitant at first:

But the deeper we looked into the root of madder, the whiter it got. White was all around. White which is not really a color (or is it?), as we looked for it in vain on the color wheel, only to find it at one extreme of the gray scale, was taking over. It's presence was overwhelming, and we were forced to step back and admit, that there is more to this color business than meets the eye.

After all, it was white that brought us here in the first place. It was our search for pure cashmere wool in Ladakh that brought us through Manali four years ago. It is then that we fell in love with this beautiful valley and met the people who are such integral part of our life today, and it was also then that we decided to spin a life out of fiber. Back then, of course, we did not know that 80% of Ladakhi cashmere is of course white.

So while we keep on looking for the rainbow at the bottom of the dye pot, white, I hope the purity of white will always be with us to serve as a reminder to step back and admire the elements we are working with......

I leave you with a few more pictures of the glorious white:

Good night my colors....and sweet dreams of spring under a blanket of snow..............

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Year of the White Rabbit

Maybe it is because of the year of the rabbit, maybe it is the constant cold, but here is my second posting within a matter of days on angora, one of warmest of fibers.

Towards the end of last year we discovered that we had a serious angora supply problem. Due to past pricing schemes and not a small amount of manipulation and abuse most small farmers gave up their rabbits. We found some temporary solutions that will hold us over for a few months, but as small incertitudes persisted we gave in to Dominique's insistence that we try to establish a dedicated source for our angora wool yarns.

I will take this opportunity to introduce two other members of our group.

This is Dominique, animal lover and wife extraordinaire...

....and here is Vishavanth, whose vision of weaving, fibers, and life in general is completely aligned with ours...

Our logical next step was to visit the Kullu Valley branch of the Indian Wool and Sheep Research Institute.

As usual, finding it turned out to be a bit tricky and we had to make numerous stops to ask for directions...

....'it's just over there'.....

....and 10 minutes later....'it's just over there'.....

....and 20 minutes later, it was still...'just over there'.....

But even here in India, where time and space can be stretched to ridiculous proportions and test our nervous systems to the extreme, we arrived at that end of the road and found the Institute, located in a quiet and peaceful valley.

India is blessed with numerous research and educational institutes scattered throughout the country. They can often be of a great resource to local farmers, artisans, etc....One of the specialties of the Kullu district station is its involvement in local angora production. They conduct research, educate the local farmers, promote the raising of rabbits and provide a few breeds of angora bunnies.

Vishvanath and the self-help group he guides will take on the responsibility of raising the rabbits and processing the wool. He is not new to the profession, since his family used to raise the rabbits till market conditions made it impossible to continue. Dominique with her knowledge, experience and love of animals, will not be an idle observer either.

Dr. Sharma, at the Institute, turned out to be extremely helpful with our inquiries and totally consumed by his profession. He was kind enough to answer every question I have ever had about angora and digress to the subject of spinning, Indian sheep and local wools. Vishvanath and the self-help group will follow a week long training program and hopefully start raising their rabbits in a month or two. I hope to have more posts on their progress soon...

I know that Dominique is extremely happy with what she was able to instigate and accomplish today, but have a feeling that her mind is already on a different flock of geese, and those are pictured below:

Unfortunately the year of the goat is not till 2015, I for one hope that Dominique's vision materializes before...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Just for Fun.....

The weather is finally a bit warmer. This means that we started mordanting our yarns for this spring's knits and weaves.

We also took the time to do some spring cleaning (before it freezes again) and organize our dye stock, which includes things we found at the markets and picked locally during the last few weeks. This gave us the following idea.....

In appreciation to our supportive group of followers we have decided to hold a little contest. Pictured below you will find some of the substances we will be working with during the next few months. Can you identify them?

The highest score will win one of our checkered handspun, cashmere top scarfs, second price is a fawn colored, hand-dehaired, hand-spun cashmere scarf and third is about 100 grams of our hand-spun, white, angora-merino blend yarn, from the farm pictured a few days back.

Here are the pictures. Please consult the rules and links to the prizes below.












1. Only subscribers to the blog can participate and win.
2. The winner will be announced here on the 28th. of February.
3. 3 prizes will be awarded. In case of a tie (or ties), Dominique will draw the names out of a hand spun, hand knitted, naturally dyed hat.
4. In some cases I only know the Latin name, in others only the Hindi or English. In case there are doubts, or lingering questions, the proof is in the dye-pot and the behavior of each dye will be pictured with 3 or 4 different mordants and on plain wool.
5. Any blog foller can participate, with the exception of those who have visited our Manali stiudio in 2011.
6. There are no other rules so far.

Please have fun and participate, you might know more than you think. Even if you do not win, it will be a fun experience.

And finally, here are the prizes......

1. Scarf made of hand-spun, Ladakhi cashmere top, very soft and fine
2. Scarf made of hand-dehaired and hand-spun Ladakhi cashmere wool. This is more of a traditional piece that can be found in areas Tibet or Ladakh, it has a higher hair content and a  bit of scratch (not much), but is pure cashmere nevertheless. The piece pictured is top, but the hand-cleaned ones look exactly the same.
3. 100 grams of our white angora-merino two-or-three-ply hand-spun yarn. Leave it natural or dye it yourself please. No pictures yet, but the rabbits were pictured last week and the wool is getting carded. Promise it will be spun and plied before the end of the month.

Please enjoy!!!!!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


One of most beautiful things about spending time in Asia is the immediate contact that one establishes with the raw materials. Silk in Assam, sandalwood in Karnataka, spices in Kerala, or the fish markets of Sri Lanka, they enter you through all the senses, nothing is hidden, packaged or transformed, things are pure and unforgettable.

But now we are in wool country, the weather is still very cold; without central heating our bodies are screaming for angora.

Himachal used to be (and might still be) India's largest angora producer, a few years back prices dropped to some ridiculously low levels and many farmers were forced to close shop. Some of the farmers that held on to their rabbits, started cutting their fibers every 8 weeks in order to keep up with the feed bills. Needless to say, even here, it is sometimes hard to find good quality fiber.

We encountered a few minor problems (the next bridge was actually not that far away, but my vain self could not resist this picture) on our way to Mr. Lal's farm. He has been raising German angora rabbits for the past 15 years, which makes him one of the oldest angora breeders in the area. He will supply the angora for our modest spinning projects, and wait 90 days between shearings. For our part, we will support him any way we can.

I have been to a few angora farms in my life, but have never seen one as clean and idyllic as this one. Congratulations sir!

His rabbits............. on this farm.... the beautiful, but steep Lag Valley....Please enjoy, a few pictures of this secluded piece of heaven....