Telling Textile Tales with Toys

A Project by Artisan Connect

Weaving Tradition for a Contemporary Market

Our initiatives under Artisan Connect are born out of the desire to highlight the rich legacy of Indian crafts and the diverse talented artisans who often go unrecognised. Our commitment is to strike the best balance between natural and eco-friendly materials, artisans who know their craft, and an increasingly responsible global market.

India’s traditional handicrafts have weathered many challenges over the decades, while also adapting to the changes in their production and consumption. Around the world, more and more people are recognising the natural beauty of textile and markets are embracing the opportunities that textile products offer.

When we conceptualised handcrafted toys made entirely of fabric, we did not imagine it would become one of our largest projects so far. What pushed us towards this seed of a thought were our interactions with the women folk of Gujarat. We realised there were plenty of women who knew how to stitch and sew, but lacked a product or article to create and sell. They also needed something that would require minimum financial investment or external resources. If they could be trained to make certain products that had market value, they could sustain themselves in the future.

This is our attempt to translate a traditional form of craft into a modern, contemporary product that’s hand made with love.

Crafting Colourful and Happy Animals

After much brainstorming, we chose to go ahead with animal toys. We created mood boards themed around India and the animals that are local to us. These mood boards were fun, colourful, and diverse. We wanted to make something that was inherently Indian at heart and would appeal to children and adults alike.

For the pilot of the textile toy making project, Artisan Connect collaborated with the talented team of Tisser.

A well thought-out design process was followed. Based on the mood boards, we arrived at the segmentation of animals as well as colours. Animals were categorized in two groups: according to size (Small/Medium/Large) and according to where they lived (Land/Air/Water). Happy hues of colours were chosen and matched the themes of the 3 categories of Air, Land and Water.

From here, we moved on to making rough sketches with measurements to scale. Once the sketches met our satisfaction, we replicated it using fabric. We experimented with different patterns before narrowing down to checks and solids. This was also done keeping in mind ease of adaptability for the local artisans: it’s more probable to find chequered or single coloured fabric than printed fabric. Toys machine stitched and then were stuffed with polyfil.

Handcrafting for Uniqueness

The details are not the details. They make the design.

CHARLES EAMES

The uniqueness of our textile toys lies in that fact that there’s no external or artificial element used, like buttons or hooks or tassels. Every embellishment was hand-created with thread or cloth (example, the eyes or tail). This was also done to simplify the model such that artisans do not have to reach out for other materials besides the fabric that is available.

Once the basic shape of the sample toys was done, fabric manipulation techniques were adopted for finer detailing. These include running stitch, quilting, pleating, gathers, embroidery (French knot), fringe, and frayed edge. Such detailing was kept consistent across the toys, so they belonged to the same collection.

Next Steps: Training Workshop

To further test this on the ground with actual artisans in Mahuva, Toy Making Training was held in two phases at the Triveni Kalyan Foundation (TKF) in Kalsar. The objective was (1) to provide the skill set of making fabric toys to a group of women who had knowledge of sewing; and (2) to collect feedback on the implementation of the training in this particular cluster, in order to organise similar sessions and small productions in other local clusters.

Phase 1 workshop took place over 7 days in August 2018. It was an introduction to the concept of fabric toys and everything that goes into it. The toys for this workshop were selected based on animals that the trainees observe in their daily lives, something that they would associate with and visualise more easily. 32 female participants were taught to handcraft Sparrow, Fish, Beetle, Mouse, Goat, Cow, Elephant, Crocodile, and Crow.

Phase 2 was a 5-day workshop in September 2018 with the same group of participants. The skill level and complexity of design were raised from earlier. Toys taught this time were Dragonfly, Octopus, Turtle, Horse, Parrot, Starfish and Jellyfish. Participants were taken through the step-by-step process for each toy, thus giving them the confidence of being able to do this independently in the future.

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