When this blog was started in 2006, I was volunteering with WLC, in Varanasi, India. I was first there for 3 months and worked with the children painting murals and such, and also with the women in the sewing program. I began designing placemats that they could make, inspired by the ripples on the Ganga, that were subsequently sold at fundraising events in Toronto.
I then went back to volunteer for six months with the Social Enterprise program with WLC, as part of a Canadian International Development Agency youth internship, where I designed products for the women in the sewing program to make, using tradition techniques from that area but with contemporary designs, with the hope that they could start their own shop with a sustainable income.
Savitaji and Mayaji headed the sewing program
I was lucky to see the Indo Gangetic river dolphin which is an endangered species of fresh water river dolphins that are fast disappearing due to pollution, dams and fishing nets. So I designed some stuffed toys that the women who were just learning to sew could make. They were wonderful.
I realised that I hadn't put up any of these images on my blog, that was such an inspiring time of my life. Working with enterprising, hard working, creative women in the villages was a brilliant experience for me that taught me much.
Most of the products used a running stitch or kanta stitch which is used a lot in that area.
I designed products that were inspired by my surroundings.
Working on the quilts were fantastic. I would often see grandmothers sitting out on their front porch sewing their old soft sarees together to make quilts for their grandchildren. So I got the women to make some of these.
I would wander into the market to buy gorgeous old cotton sarees that were so soft and worn, to make my samples. This one of the moon and stars was one of my first samples.
I finally put together a showroom to display the products that the women had made, that we called Tulsi boutique.
A year later when I illustrated the children's book 'Birdi Num Num', we got the women to make little toys from the characters in the book to put into the package of that limited edition book. Little birdi and the Gandhi mouse came out of that!