Textile Travels and Cloth that Shines

Marilyn Murphy quite possibly has the best job ever. She gets to travel the world, collecting wonderful textiles handcrafted by talented artisans. These textiles are then sold by ClothRoads for fair-trade prices. Her work helps to improve the lives of these artisans around the world, opens new markets for their work, and helps centuries-old textile traditions, including the Indian mirror-work known as shisha embroidery, survive and thrive.  —Christina


  Rabari embroidered tote bag made by artisans of Kala Raksha
  Rabari embroidered tote bag
made by artisans of Kala Raksha

Lately, I’ve been thinking about women who inspired me early on in my weaving career—who became kindred spirits, some without them even knowing that their lives made mine veer in a certain direction. One of those women is Anita Luvera Mayer. She was a global traveler, inspired by traditional artisans’ garb, made by hand, with wondrous embellishments that added textural dimension and significance to a cloth. She inspired me in my pursuit of making handwoven clothing.

Little did I know years later, I too would become a global traveler in search of artisan textiles for ClothRoads. In fact, just last year, I met some other inspiring women artisans at Kala Raksha, the handcraft artisan center in Kutch, Gujarat, India. These women are well-versed in the fine art of embellishing, producing some of the most exquisitely hand embroidered and patchworked garments, accessories, and home furnishings made in Kutch. 

Shisha is thought to have originated with the use of naturally occurring mica found in the desert region of western India. The sparkle was seen as a protection from evil spirits but now it’s mainly used as decoration. Also, when placed on clothing, the fabric sparkles in the harsh light of the desert, making it easier to see a person from the distance.


Banni Woman Stitching  
Banni woman stitching.   

Mirror-work is now so widely used that mirror glass is specially manufactured in a variety of shapes and sizes. And if an artist doesn’t have the exact size, the glass is easily broken, the edges filed, and ready to be sewn to the cloth. The manner in which the mirrors are fixed to cloth vary, but a two-step process is needed. First a base stitch is sewn to hold the mirror on top of the fabric. Then a functional, as well as decorative top stitch, such as a buttonhole stitch or chain stitch, is made so the mirror is held in place.

Shisha mirrors are used in conjunction with a variety of other stitches for making garments, bags, and doorway hangings (torans). We visited a Banni community and the women were making quilts and torans. I loved the little shisha in their clothing too. 

If you are equally entranced by shisha embroidery and would like to learn how embellish your own cloth with these lovely little mirrors, you can learn from Anita Luvera Mayer in her video workshop Creative Cloth and get all the supplies you need to get started making your cloth shine in this new kit from Interweave. 

—Marilyn Murphy

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