Crafts, handiworks and handmade goodies, all bring the delightful waft of yesteryears as we remember stories from our grandmothers and mothers. When we think about handmade dresses, gifts and items, we think about the ethnic creations of East and envy it from afar. Perhaps, we even pay an extra buck for the exquisite products sold to support a charity or NGO. In fact, it is safe to say that skills like hand embroidery only remain as emblems of rural life and pre-digital days. But why are handiworks only a remembrance of grandmothers, rural areas and a novelty from the past?
I have grown up listening to stories of my mother’s summer vacations as a child and they were filled with hours creating home goods with beautiful patterns. In fact, like my mother and I bonded over story books over the years, her mother and she must have bonded over embroidery and quilting lessons. Hearing those stories and even seeing pieces of her creations from two decades ago left pangs of yearning in me to learn a skill like this. But I would always find a fine art or digital photography class while hand embroidery, sewing and such classes remained limited to vocational training centers for the underprivileged. I moved on with books, laptop, cellphones and tech savvy vacations until my mother herself offered to teach me hand embroidery this year.
It was an absolute delight, but soon turned out to be a moment of truth. Together, we lurked in markets around Karachi to find embroidery thread of Anchor company- famed worldwide for its sheen and quality, and found it only in Bohri bazaar and Tariq Road. This is in comparison to such supplies being readily available in every area’s stitching supply stores according to my mother. The replacement of handicrafts with machine embroidery has also contributed to the lack of demand for these supplies as machines are imported from China and offer an inexpensive alternative. The alternative is good for practical use and businesses but undermines our tradition and values, which is to be kept alive by me, you and our households.
Our next step was to look for some literature on the subject and surf the Internet for patterns. A simple click on Google and Pinterest flooded a file in my laptop with beautiful vintage Victorian patterns and handy tutorials from all over the world. (My favorite is a channel called Shagufta Fyms, with lessons in Urdu). It dawned upon me that what we consider a wilting art is quite alive and kicking in most parts of the worlds especially, colonies enriched with traditions of Britain. Although new bookstores did not have embroidery books, some used-books stores had stashes of magazines from Australia that carried patterns and stitching guides opening a whole world of creativity for enthusiasts.
Similarly, their corresponding websites and Facebook pages showed unions of embroiderers who kept the tradition alive in places like Britain, Canada, Australia etc as a mindful hobby and creative practice. To my surprise, a Google search of “hand embroidery classes Pakistan” showed results from London Embroidery School and Royal School of Embroidery offering courses in Pakistani Ari work. Whereas, results from Pakistan only showed NGOs offering vocational training for the underprivileged. The comparison is not to undermine the importance of handicrafts as a means for earning livelihood but it is to detach the stereotype associated with crafts that it is only for those who don’t have other means of livelihood. Something that our ancestors did with pride as a job and hobby both can be pursued by us as enthusiastically.
Somehow we have pushed craft skills to only a section of the society to earn money whereas this was a productive activity for the masses, rich and poor all alike back in the day. But why? Especially, when there is a dire need for productive hobbies for young people who are lamented by parents to have been trapped by Facebook. In this case, our so called benchmark of modernity from the West cannot be the reason because our traditions are being pursued by them more enthusiastically than us. In fact handicrafts are most in line with technology and the 21st century due to the wealth of resources online at our fingertips. However, our standards of modernity have limited ‘silai kadhai’ as a means for getting rishtas and for girls waiting to get married.
It is noteworthy that the importance of handicrafts as a hobby is not limited to keeping alive traditions but also keeping you healthy and happy. At a time when not a single day goes without troubling news blasting from the television, the health benefits of having a creative hobby are stressed upon in the world of wellness. And what’s better for the purpose than learning it from our elders and creating something you can cherish for life and share with loved ones!
I look forward to a time when we have embroiderers’ association with Pakistani women and girls sharing their love for art. It should be a platform for people to bond over creativity even if it is for pleasure and passing time. Perhaps, this may also alleviate the stereotype associated with women who do actually pursue these skills for their bread and butter. Today, you do not even have to enroll in a class. Visit Youtube and start learning from basics of hand embroidery to creating beautiful roses of your choices.
Here are some helpful videos for beginners: