Individual designers have been travelling to traditional craft communities for decades in order to develop product using the skills they so admire. But as more rural villagers move to the city, there is a fear that these skills will vanish. However, there are signs that they are re-appearing in urban workshops and factories. Sara Thorn is a Melbourne-based designer who has discovered ways of working with these new urban-based artisans.
Sara had previously worked with traditional artisans in a number of countries, including Vietnam, Sawarak and India. In 1980s, she established the popular Abyss Studio and Funkessentials labels and Galaxy retail store in Melbourne. In the late 1990s she moved to Paris, where she designed textiles for Christian Lacroix and Michiko Koshino, and Bella Freud in London. Sara was awarded the Winston Churchill Fellowship in 2001 to study jacquard silk weaving at the Lisio Foundation in Italy. As part of the project, Rubelli wove her fabrics. She was Curator of Design at Museum Victoria during 2004. Sara exhibits regularly and her work is held in the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria and the Powerhouse Museum, Australia.
Sara has recently teamed up with architect Piero Paolo Gesualdi to create the new WorldWeave enterprise. WorldWeave embraces the fusion of Ancient and Modern—honouring age old traditions and skills and working with new technologies pioneered by Indian ingenuity to extend traditions in a contemporary way.
Their first collection includes hand embroidered cushions, hand screen printed jute rugs, Australian Merino Virgin wool throws and scarves—all produced in India. Sara took artwork to India, specifically the North of India, Delhi and Amritsar in the Punjab and researched finding makers to work with and execute the ideas. Initially the idea was to focus on hand weaving. However, on spending several months in India researching potential makers, Sara was surprised to find businesses which had merged the lines between artisanal and contemporary traditions. They allowed her to create designs which honour hand traditions but also use state of the art international textile technology. Generally these were small textile, home furnishing businesses already exporting internationally.
Whilst developing the new collection within India’s contemporary textile industry Sara discovered a complex state of affairs where hand skills, new interpretations of traditions, ingenuity and an undying passion for and knowledge of textile production prevailed side by side. This encouraged Sara to work with techniques that were challenging and innovative which allowed her ideas to take forms beyond her original concepts.
Consequently the pieces in the exhibition are products of this ancient modern fusion.
The Acrobat cushion and Mermaid cushion-Ari embroidery on wool feltSara’s designs for these cushions were influenced by Egyptian circus tattoos and Indonesian tattoos. Sara was inspired to translate body decoration into the format of textile that could decorate a space and be useful as well as decorative.
These cushions were embroidered in Delhi by a Kashmir company who have adapted the hand Ari embroidery technique to a machine Ari embroidery stitch done on a sewing machine. Technically the embroidery is neither hand nor automated machine, as each piece is guided by hand and interpreted by the embroiderer through the machine, ensuring each piece is different.
The Acrobat hand silk screen printed jute rugThis rug extends the Acrobat design into a rug format. Again it combines a combination of hand skills and technology. In the first instance the design was created in Photoshop, blown up and hand silk screen printed onto computer loomed natural jute. The company is based in Delhi, the Indian business centre but the actual rug is produced in the South of India utilising the rug making traditions of the South.
Taken crudely, Sara’s work in India evokes the way factories in China have been used to outsource textile manufacture. Yet for Sara, the conditions in the Indian factories are sympathetic to the handmade that she so values. Are the new urban craft factories able to sustain the handmade traditions that might otherwise whither when isolated in villages? Can we admire the traditional craft skills even when the designs are foreign?
Sara Thorn’s new WorldWeave collection puts her once again at the frontier of world craft design.
Thanks to Sara Thorn for the text and images.