Interview with Margaret Zinyu of India based Woven Threads
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got your start in textiles?
As a young textile designer I have walked the corridor, dabbled in many design industries beginning with my student graduation project in an export house – a project on weaving, freelanced in print design for traditional block prints and the paper industry. Got my first job in a garment retail start-up responsible for prints and surface embellishments. My enthusiasm for colour and design trends started with the auto manufacturing industry as a CMF designer (colour material finish) focused in design research and forecasting.
However, I have always wanted to venture into starting on my own, never sure as when to begin. Time came when our father got unwell and that’s when I started making many trips home and also had to take long official breaks which was not very easy in a corporate set up. That somehow gave me an opportunity to reset my plans and focus on what was next on career mapping.
Craft of course was close to my heart and to be working with women and a young generation of artisans in the sustainable lifestyle –– was it. This prompted me to start connecting with local entrepreneurs and hunting for weavers in and around Kohima. It started off with a group of weaver friends and later getting connected to other clusters, from a single source. Our team is strategized and rationalized with regular work flow, the weavers must attain a certain skill set under 2 categories: highly skilled and semi-skilled and also willing to learn and improve. The highly skilled consists of younger weavers and are responsible for complex patterns while semi skilled and older weavers are responsible for simple weaves and artisanal stitching. As of today we are a team of 20+ are working in 3 districts, Kohima, Phek and Noklak district.
2. You work with traditional weavers in Nagaland, India –– can you tell us about the women who weave for Woven Threads and how you decided to work with one another?
The hunt as I remember wasn’t that easy to begin with since I had no family who were actually into weaving so I had to really look out from my comfort zone every opportunity and that was a bit crazy. If I met a stranger and learned that she was a weaver, I would ask her availability and if she would like to take part and it was all unsuccessful.
Thankfully, I made some of my family and friends keep a lookout through word of mouth, I was eventually introduced to an unorganized group, a bunch of women weavers who are friends and that kick started our first ever Woven Threads collection.
3. What makes this a sustainable practice, and why is this important?
We at Studio Predilection abide by the traditional ethos of fabric making that our foremothers have practiced through the ages. All of our products are hand woven and are also hand seamed. The fabric used is off the loom, with minimal or zero wastage. Three words that best describe our products are contemporary, minimal and stylish.
Our label Woven Threads celebrates the Loin loom technique using all Natural fibers (cotton, Eri silk, nettle & orange rhea plant), vegetable dyes + azo free dye. Hence, we do no harm to the environment while preserving the heritage and livelihood matters.
4. What type of looms, materials, and techniques are used –– and how old are these methods?
Traditionally it has always been the loin loom/blackstrap loom which is an indigenous tool especially in the Southeast Asian countries and it’s also one of the most ancient tools in fabric making and always relied on natural fibers such as cotton and bast fibers, nettle and orange rhea plant. Cotton and silk were once traded while wool was never used in the region. A small percentage of cotton was grown locally along with bast fibers which are meticulously hand spun for self-consumption. Nagas have many techniques that we practice in our traditional textiles; vocabulary such as supplementary weft, inlay weave, interlacement weave, painted textile, warping manipulation, and artisanal stitches with aesthetically placed elements, a very sensible use of colour, accents, and balance. The finishing of the products are always hand seamed with tassels to complete the weave.
5. Are the patterns on the textiles also traditional or modernized? Are they symbolic in nature?
Woven Threads is an uptake of the traditional Naga technique which is very rich in nature and hence we are mere borrowers from our rich cultural heritage. Keeping the leap of inspiration, Woven Threads celebrates a particular style and technique and finds new ways of interpretation and celebration with design at its core.
As far as symbolisms are concerned, traditional Naga textiles are very rich as each tribe owns a plethora of textile wealth. However, we do not mimic motifs which have a rich significance, because we believe it’s good to let a few things as is without further dilution. The sky ultimately is the limit as far as explorations and concepts are concerned, so as far as our collections go, each of our collections has a story build-up with techniques which are tactfully designed and thought through –– keeping the essence of the original source.
6. Is this style specific to Nagaland? What are the unique elements to this region’s textile art?
So far what Woven Threads has been doing per se is specific to Nagaland. Some of the unique features are that, the textile is warped faced fabric where the warp or the ends (vertical yarns) are kept dense, the weft yarn which passes horizontally is almost invisible. When a supplementary weft is added, the motif is visible only on the front side and not on the back cloth. Another must mention is, interlacement with weaving on the warp, warp - weft manipulation, and not to forget; the beautiful hand seams with many variations.
7. How has this atypical time changed the landscape of textiles and farms?
At this juncture and testing time, some of our clusters are very much self-sufficient as far as farming and food securities are concerned, especially the rural clusters. Whereas, the towns were a bit more challenged with work, logistics and pattern of thrift consumption. However, we made sure that we kept the looms busy, so that there is a consistent earning keeping the mind healed through weaving as a means.
8. Are there any other makers and designers in India that you would currently like us to know about?
10. Outside of Woven Threads, what are other activities which work to ground or inspire you currently?
As a designer I do take up craft related activities in a different region, interacting with other entrepreneurs from different networks, online learning and focusing on what should be next…