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Reviving traditions: Designer gives new lease of life to age-old weaves
Through her label Terku, city-based designer Fariha Begum is turning traditional ‘jamakalam’ (carpet) fabric into contemporary accessories like bags, satchels.
Remember the striped jamakalam (carpet) from childhood days that our mothers took out for play time or when there were guests at home? These colourful old-style carpets, spread on the floors, made for comfy seating at yesteryear weddings and special occasions. With the addition of furniture to current day homes, there are no takers for these traditional carpets, leading to slow death of the intricate craft of jamakalam weaving. In a bid to support the indigenous weavers and to revive the craft, city-based designer Fariha Begum began her label Terku (meaning South) in 2017. Through the brand, she gives these traditional carpet fabrics a contemporary outlook by using them in trendy accessories like handbags, laptop sleeves and wallets.
“I started working with the jamakalam weavers from Bhavani near Erode a few years ago. It began as a class project when I was pursuing a Masters in Fine Arts from Stella Maris College, specialising in textile design. I wanted to bring a design intervention to the age-old craft. So, I started designing bags out of the jamakalam fabrics, woven by the traditional weavers in Bhavani. Since the material is thick and quite durable, we make sling bags, tote bags, satchels and wallets out of the fabrics,” explains Fariha.
The process of making the accessories begins with Fariha sourcing upcycled cotton yarns — which are made from the fabrics cut-out and left unused by the cotton T-shirt making industries in the state. “The cotton yarns are then taken to the weavers in Bhavani, where it takes them around 2-3 days to weave a metre of the fabric. The weaving uses a unique technique, wherein the weaver sits in a pit to access the handloom placed over the pit. The jamakalam style of weaving is undertaken by very few weavers in the state currently,” she elaborates.
Along with a differently-abled person who works with her, Fariha then gives the shape to these fabrics into bags, based on the prototypes she designs at her studio in the city. “As a designer I don’t want to mass manufacture the products I bring out, and hence restrict them to a maximum of 10-15 pieces per design,” she adds.
Fariha notes, “The craft of jamakalam weaving is dying because it has not been handed down to the younger generation. Many of the weavers who are into the craft are now aged between 60-80 years. With their children moving on to other professions and the weavers growing old, there is a very tiny section of jamakalam weavers left,” Fariha laments.
The designer, who currently uses the help of Instagram to showcase her products to consumers, is also seen at entrepreneur exhibitions in the city. As a one-woman army, Fariha works on all aspects of the business — from procurement of fabrics to taking the finished bags to her customers. “Many cannot believe that a woman is behind the business. Even though running the brand alone comes with quite a few challenges, working with the weavers keeps me going,”she admits.