Had met Swati Kalsi, an immensely talented fashion and textile designer at the Nayaab exhibition late last year. And my first question to her was…. what’s the difference between Sujani and Kantha? Sujani, she explained is a mix of running, chain and filler or Bharua stitches while Kantha is predominantly running. Common to both Bihar and Bengal (neighbouring states of india), these traditional crafts are aesthetically layered and sewn together out of old, worn pieces of cloth.
In India the best embroiderers were the men, but since sujani is a skill passed on from mother to daughter its the women folk who create distinctive works of art for their homes and families.
Born in Delhi, Swati graduated from NIFT, New Delhi in 2002, after doing Fashion Design and Information Technology. Felicitated with awards like ‘Best use of textiles in fashion’ and ‘Best overall performance’, she has even won a scholarship for Masters in Domus Academy, Italy, during an international Design Competition.
Her journey with sujani began while working on the World Bank funded project – JIYO–to create livelihoods and innovate products. This tradition of needle-craft has seen several amalgamations since the last two decades. For example, under the guidance of organizations like Adithi, unique narrative elements were incorporated in sujani. Women stitched their experiences of sorrows and realities onto the fabric, transforming a mundane quilt into a testimony of their lives….. this is what she learnt about the craft’s history while working with Jiyo!
On that project for 4 yrs, her mentor Rajeev Sethi (noted Indian designer, scenographer and art curator), helped to arrive at the sublime by pushing limits and using one’s skills to the utmost. Realizing better wages helped the artisan women become more confident while taking family’s important decisions, her motive became building sustainable livelihoods for them through their traditional crafts; with contemporary relevance to the time honoured handcrafted textiles.
Through creative processes, she is happy to bring out the artist in them, treading precariously on the edge of design, craft and art. Interestingly, from this interaction emerges a unique design vocabulary that denotes timelessness, while highlighting its quirks and anomalies.
Acknowledging, the big role embroideries have played, while panning out her life’s journey is her eponymous label – Swati Kalsi. She has been deriving pleasure through wearable art for both men and women, since 2011. Noticing, every lady’s handiwork being different, her consistencies are radiant textures, inspired by nature.
Having given nearly a decade to sujani, the designer feels it’s ripe enough to speak for itself in the luxury market, now. But, at the same time, laments about innovation and high skill – a combination which is difficult to get by. So is looking forward to designing products with a purpose; brought to life with craft, fashion or art.
Typically all her inspirations come from local arts, crafts and silhouettes………….