Gaining an Appreciation for Things Handmade

A year ago, Sandeep left his corporate life to join a home furnishings company, Surya. I found this hilarious. Sandeep is a minimalist and opposed every item I brought into our house.

So I found it rather curious to be in North India, accompanying him to various rug making villages. He asked me to join the business trip and serve as Hindi translator (also hilarious) and photographer. After spending a few days getting intimate with the rug making process, even Sandeep started pointing out rugs he liked.

I had a cursory understanding that handmade items are more unique and involve more care, but I didn’t appreciate the labor or skill specificity required. Save for some artwork, we own very few things that are truly handmade. As much as I remain an Ikea aficionado, I now have a better appreciation for the stories that go behind hand crafting.

The rugs are made in farming villages by artisans who supplement their agrarian income with more stable employment. Each village specializes in a task, such as weaving, cutting or washing. As with many traditional artisans, those in the Indian rug industry have learned their art from their parents and plan to pass it to their children.

The industry remains extremely traditional, with women and men performing separate tasks. Women focus on work that requires patience, like separating wool. Apparently (I was told), men have no patience. Many of these artisans are camera shy. Despite laughing together as I took pictures of the rugs, their faces sprung into somber poses when they saw the lens. Here are some faces behind handmade Indian rugs.

Once the rugs are woven, trimmed, and washed, they are laid out in the sun to dry among the village crops. As the rugs pass through various stages of production, life in the villages goes on. The cows sleep and the wheat dries.

Given how labor intensive the entire process is, it seemed out of context to see a huge truck arrive to transport the finished goods. And then we saw this, which reminded us that, no matter how modernized things get, we are still in India.

We tend to buy most things for convenience, price and design. Where we do have a few handmade items, we don’t fully appreciate the community, labor and skill behind them. Some of these rugs involve dozens of artisans and several months of work to complete. Moreover, many of these skill specific trades are dying as a new generation becomes more educated. After seeing the stories and people behind these rugs we intend to spend more of our travels getting to know similar cottage industries. Once we are back home, we hope to support such artisans by including more handmade products and the stories behind them in our home.

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