In 2021, textile designer Rema Kumar was approached by Madhavi Katuri (a friend who heads an NGO working with senior citizens) to upcycle a 70+ year old soft muslin saree from the pre-partition days. “It had simple scallop embroidery along its edges that was done by her mother. The saree was priceless because of the memories attached to it. We had to find the best way to breathe new life into it, and we agreed to make two dupattas,” says Rema, who is all set to bring her latest collection, Textile Tales, to Chennai after three years. Been in the works for two years, she says it has several pieces “which have handblocks and detailing done during the pandemic to engage artisans across various craft groups.”
Comprising sarees, dupattas, blouses and kurta pieces in varied weaves of cotton, chanderi, uttara, Benarasi, among others, the focus is on Rema’s surface detail techniques on “different batik, ajrakh, kalamkari, handblocks, pipli appliqué, embroidery, dori work, ariwork, zardosi, patti ka kaam, kantha, lambani embroidery”. The highlight, however, is a special presentation by the New Delhi-based designer on her endeavour, Creating New Narratives, that kickstarted in lockdown.
Aimed at reviving precious weaves, Rema explains how the words upcycle, repurpose, slow fashion, and sustainable living “took on a new meaning in the post-pandemic world”. “Though I have been doing saree makeovers over the past many years, we began reconnecting with our possessions, especially our wardrobes, during lockdown. In the process, we discovered many sarees tucked away for years – some stained, a few damaged or torn, and others that people got bored,” she says, “One by one, by way of hand blocks, embroidery and/or more detailing, hundreds of sarees have undergone unbelievable transformations thanks to this initiative. Apart from preserving precious memories and creating one-of-a-kind sarees, this has been a great step towards responsible fashion.”
As a part of the presentation, Rema will share numerous images of these different transformations, and the challenges involved in working around the problem areas such as stains and tears. “The presentation will give visitors a fair idea about the possibilities of upcycling their sarees and textiles in a similar manner,” says the designer who is encouraging visitors to bring their forgotten weaves for a saree makeover advice at the event. By way of the initiative, sarees have made their way to Rema from across the globe. She says a few have been converted to dupattas, and others into patchwork quilts. “During the lockdowns, the trend of acquiring preloved saris through different online forums gained popularity. As a result, many clients have had them shipped to me for a makeover before the sarees even reached their hands.”
But her prized project till date continues to be Madhuri’s. “We used scallop embroidery along the two long sides of one dupatta, and on the pallus of the other. Kota was the chosen fabric to retain a similar feel, then dyed to match the off-white, handblocked with pink floral block and borders, and finally finished with lace trims,” says Rema who is now gearing up to launch a home linen collection in the capital next month.
“It is the culmination of a year-long series of design intervention workshops with the Lambani artisans of Sandur, needlework and crochet artisans of SEWA Ruaab, and crewel embroidery from Kashmir,” she says, adding that another launch project slated for 2023 includes a training workshop for women artisans in Haryana. “They will create products out of fabric surplus acquired from garment manufacturing units, and surplus yarn to create limited-edition woven dhurries.”
Textile Tales will be held from November 23 to 26 at Weddings and Marigolds Studio, T Nagar, Chennai. For details, call 9840030126