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Eri Silk With Khneng Embroidery: A story from Meghalaya

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on September 12, 2015 at 05:03 PM

Showcasing the lesser known Eri silk of Meghalaya, that along with Khneng embroidery tells the stories of the communities that create these pieces. The distinctive Eri silk fabric comes from the Ri-Bhoi district and Khneng embroidery, traditionally done on Eri silk, is an art form unique to Mustoh and the Shella region, Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya. Though Khneng embroidery is in danger of disappearing due to the lack of demand and the consequent lack of knowledge and skills transfer, Eri silk is slowly coming into the mainstream - thanks to the efforts of some local fashion designers from the North East, who have taken it upon themselves to contemporize the use of the fabric for a broader market.

© Courtesy of Internet Sources

Introduction

Silk, known as “The Queen of Textiles”, has been providing livelihood opportunities for millions all over the world. Meghalaya produces three out of the four varieties of silk available in the world. They are – Eri (locally known as Ryndia from the castor plants the silkworms feed on), Muga and Mulberry. The Ri –Bhoi District is one of the main regions of Meghalaya where Eri-culture and Handloom Weaving is still practiced. It has a long tradition and is part of the culture and heritage of the community. In fact, all the materials involved in the process are sourced from the district itself.

Eri Silk

It is the combination of the traditional loom and the handspun yarn is what gives Eri fabric its distinctive aesthetic. The qualities of Eri are a combination of the visual appearance of handspun cotton or wool, with a muted sheen of silk, and it has unique thermal properties of being cool in summers and warm in winters.

 

Khneng Embroidery

Eri-culture and weaving are also important activities for generating supplementary income and providing a much needed opportunity for women to contribute further to the family, especially for the elderly and the young mothers who are not able to go out to the fields. Unlike other parts of India, where much of the spinning and weaving is in the hands of men, in Meghalaya it is the exclusivity of women and her family.

North East Slow Food & Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS) began work on preservation of Eri-silk weaving in early 2014 with the visit of Carol Cassidy of Lao Textiles, who is an expert in the field of regeneration of weaving techniques in South East Asia. After product analysis & a small test order under Ms. Cassidy’s design direction, the Eri was showcased at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) Conference in February 2015, under the brand name Mei-Ramew Weaves.  After receiving a very encouraging response, the project has now developed to look into various aspects of quality control, training, supply chain, product design & branding.

Khneng embroidery, traditionally done on eri silk, is an art form unique to Mustoh and the Shella region, Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya. The embroidery is traditionally done on an eri silk shawl, adding aesthetic and economic value through intricate designs applied as a border. The patterns are unique and are used to embellish the traditional red-and-yellow square chequered fabric.

This embroidery technique is an expression of local cultural identity, and an important physical illustration of historic trading routes in the state of Meghalaya. The eri base cloth has traditionally been woven in Ri-Bhoi and sold to embroiderers in Mustoh through traders moving between the two districts. 

North East Slow Food & Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS)

The skills revival project of Khneng Embroidery began formally in January 2015, after research and discussions with Special Purpose Vehicle Society and NESFAS in December 2014. The visit of NESFAS craft preservation consultants confirmed that there was an urgent need to initiate the program, and a proposal was drawn up for the implementation of the work.

NESFAS is currently working with weavers with the support of Craft Preservation experts to produce high quality silk products that will be showcased during the Indigenous Terra Madre 2015 (or as it locally known as – the International Mei-Ramew). This event, to be held in Meghalaya between 3rd & 7th November 2015, will celebrate the wonderful cultural and biological diversity of indigenous communities as primarily expressed through food, but also their songs, dance and dress that have evolved through generations of close interaction with nature.

The aim of the revival project is to facilitate the transfer of skills through workshops for new trainees, to research the history of Mustoh and launch an awareness campaign to address the lack of demand. In 2014, there were only 3 women who were trained and actively using the special Khneng embroidery technique. The aim of the training programme was to increase the number of women practicing the craft. The initial batch was of 9 trainees, with intention of conducting further training in later months. The November Exhibition will contribute to the effort to raise the profile of this handicraft, and the urgent need to revive the skills of the artisans. The training sessions have received much appreciation, from the participants, the villagers and from the wider audience.

Though Khneng embroidery is in danger of disappearing due to the lack of demand and the consequent lack of knowledge and skills transfer, Eri silk is more popular and is slowly coming into the mainstream thanks to the efforts of some local fashion designers from the North East, who have taken it upon themselves to contemporize the use of the fabric for a broader market.

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