Remembering Lake Megunticook

Last October I spent a very happy week admiring the autumn colours of coastal Maine. I will always remember the wonderfully named Lake Megunticook – a lone canoeist paddling in the early morning mist, and later the spectacular reflections of the autumn foliage in the lake water. I was naturally drawn to the Swans Island store in Camden which sold beautiful locally woven blankets and scarves, inspired by the people and landscape of Maine. I bought a skein of their hand-dyed indigo ikat ‘firefly’ merino wool, so called as once worked, the dye resist marks create patterns of scattered white stitches, reminiscent of fireflies against the night sky.

The wool handled beautifully on the loom, and I made a scarf in simple plain weave to most clearly show the beauty of the naturally dyed ikat yarn. I was so pleased with the result that when my American friend from Maine returned a few months later, I asked her to bring some extra supplies! I have now made two more scarves, adding a supplementary weft of hand dyed merino in autumn colours to bring back memories of the reflections in Lake Megunticook. Rather than fireflies, I like to think of the ikat marks being the sunlight catching the lake water.

Kutch revisited

I have just returned from an inspiring exhibition and workshop, held at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan cultural centre in West Kensington. It was wonderful to see the exquisite work of two master craftsmen, Abdulrauf Khatri (a tenth generation Ajrakh hand-block printer) and Vankar Murji Hamir, a renowned weaver from the village of Bhujodi in Kutch. I had visited the Khatri family workshop when I had travelled to Kutch in 2016, and so it brought back many memories seeing so many beautiful pieces on display. Even the warmth and sunshine of India had come to London!

The Bhuj earthquake in 2001 completely destroyed Dhamadkha, the home village of the Khatri family, forcing them to relocate to Ajrakhpur, a new village and workshop named after the craft. Working primarily with local natural dyes, intricate hand block designs are printed on both sides of the cloth, creating highly prized cotton, wool and silk materials.

It was a pleasure to meet Vankar Murji Hamir, who was also descended from a long line of master craftsmen. With the help of a local NGO, and further education at an artisan design school, he has developed skills to develop his own individual designs within the Kutch tradition, enabling him to appeal to a contemporary audience and hold his own in an increasingly competitive market. Along with two other students, I was privileged to attend a masterclass with Murji Hamirbhai, learning how to create the stripes and geometric motifs so typical of Kutch weaving. Each traditional motif has symbolic meaning, often reflecting the practical and spiritual day-to-day life of the community. We were patiently shown how each was made, before being encouraged to have a go ourselves. I have returned home, full of ideas to incorporate into my own work whilst treasuring the craftsmanship of the people of Kutch. Many thanks to Murji Hamirbhai, and to organisers Rajeswari Sengupta and Josephine Nirmala, for a wonderful day.