door Debjani Paul
Textiles have woven their way into my life from an early age. At 18, I lived in the village of Sarnath, just outside the city of Varanasi (Benares), famous for being a place of deeply spiritual significance and renowned for its weaving industry. I have read that when the Buddha died, his body was wrapped in wild silk and cotton cloths of Varanasi, owing to its softness and fine texture.
I taught in a primary school and volunteered in an ashram for those who had suffered and recovered from Leprosy. On my days off from teaching, I took rickshaws into the city and visited weavers and basked in shimmering pleasure at being shown silk saris with gold brocade, cotton cut work and hand loom cloth. And so my appreciation of cloth was enriched.
I have worked as a Print and Textile Designer within the fashion industry for 11 years and currently work as a freelance designer. After graduating from a degree in Textiles, I was torn between working within historic textiles – to preserve them or to create them? I had volunteered as an Assistant in the Fashion and Textiles Dept at the Victoria & Albert Museum during my degree and later as a Researcher for the exhibition of Quilts 1700-2010: Hidden Histories, Untold Stories. But as I missed designing, I decided to set up a small studio in the porch of my parents house, where I worked on a textile print collection, which lead me to being offered a full time position at Paul Smith, London in the design studio.
It was my job to design print artworks for the menswear collections. Each season I saved the strike off’s and samples and carefully stored them. Four years later I moved here to Amsterdam, to design the print and graphics for Calvin Klein Menswear, working from the Rokin at first, then to the Stadhouderskade.
I saved fabric samples, not only for my portfolio but because they seemed too precious to be thrown away. My boxes contained pieces of wool suiting, cotton shirting, silk blankets -which are used to select weaving patterns for ties, prints of clouds, tidal patterns of the North Sea, polka dots, hand painted florals and wild brushstrokes to name a few. Quite literally a patterned history of my career in textiles.
In November, my father, who was an abstract painter, passed away. I spent a few months at home in the UK and returned back to Amsterdam in early Spring to start up again and focus back on work but soon discovered that Covid-19 was starting to creep in and everything began to grind to a halt – the interviews I was excited about and meetings were canceled. Fashion companies began to delay their collections and factories were facing enormous difficulties with canceled orders and surplus stock. So in need of a project, with no work and desperate for a distraction from the unraveling crisis, I found solace in textiles.
I unpacked the collections and to my surprise, found a piece of blue and white Laura Ashley printed cotton left over from a quilt made by my Grandmother, a painter. The day before the libraries closed I happened to borrow a book from OBA on The Quilts of Gees Bend. So I embarked on making a patchwork.
Designing for menswear has of course meant that the colours navy, black and grey have been mainstays, so I added a contrast of coral red linen and silk. It is in no means a conventional quilt, more like a collage in cloth, each square a different composition.
I am embroidering the initials of great friends lost and those who I have thought about during this time. I miss my family. One of the squares is dedicated to my father – it has a stripe of red, the sky line at dusk and his initials stitched into the corner, as well as my 96 year old cousin who lives on his own.
I am at the stage now where I have the main squares sewn and a central medallion composed but have a little way to go to transform it into a quilt. The season has transformed since I started on this project and so has the city. I watch the newly arrived Swifts, which circle each morning and notice with a little sadness that the cow parsley is almost over here in the Rembrandt Park and still have no paid work. It has been a most fitting time for a project of both creation and preservation.
May 2020, Amsterdam
by Lydia Beanland