Kanchana was a tailor. She had a small kadai (shop) in Indira Nagar at the Corporation Complex, perched on top of a narrow flight of stairs. There she would spend most of her life, in a chilled room surrounded by yards of fabric, tape measure in hand, and always accompanied by her best friend and business partner. Their store, Shriti’s Designer Wear, wasn’t the only tailoring unit on the second floor - let alone the complex - but it was the most special. Customers would trickle in with stories of coming to Kanchana for every event from “Daughter’s Wedding Blouses” to “Fabric gifted by my neighbour,” and it was impossible to leave that store without a smile on your face. Kanchana spent her life from 8 in the morning to 6 in the evening at that small store and her nights being an archetypical daughter-in-law; pampering her husband, caring for her 90-year-old mother-in-law, and spoiling her grandchildren, but threads and patterns never left her mind.
Perhaps my most cherished memory with her is when we went to Nalli Silks and picked fabric to make a ghagra for my sister’s birthday when I was 10 years old. A faintly striped skirt in a most inauspicious black (in Kanchana’s words), and a cream-coloured blouse with gold teardrops. Not a shabby design choice for a 10-year-old to make, but the real show-stopper of the outfit was its finish. I remember leaving the store and catching a glimpse of some red material and exclaiming “this has to be an Anarkali!” and of course, Kanchana obliged. That’s just the kind of person she was.
Kachima, as we called her, left us about 5 years ago. She passed having never taught me to embroider, as she promised, but she passed having left her impact on our lives. Ironically, in 19 years of knowing her, I feel closer to her than ever when she was with us. Before she was simply my mother’s mother - a grandmother as it were - but now, I feel as though I am her peer, maybe even her disciple.
I discovered Shuttles & Needles on a random Saturday of internet scrolling and dragged my mother to the store straight from work. We were greeted with a smile and very graciously helped to free a shuttle I had tangled into its warp when attempting to weave on a Rigid Heddle loom. I settled on a weaving frame instead and was lost in a sea of yarn soon after, selecting a dark green, an orange, a light blue, and a peach ball of yarn. My mother and I left the store exchanging knowing smiles.
“If only she was here.”
“She would have gone crazy.”
Three months from that initial foray into Shuttles & Needles, I’m the proud owner of an Ashford SampleIt loom. My first project was a scarf with a blue-green warp and weft with streaks of black cutting through. Sportweight cotton yarn was a good starting point for me and my newly purchased loom package, as it took me about 2 days to complete the scarf.
My second project was a bit more advanced, mercerised cotton in a reflective orange and red weft clasp together to form a pattern reminiscent of the gopurams of Kanjivaram saree fame. Sitting at my loom, guiding a thread of red around the shuttled orange, tugging to make the shape neat, I could only think of Kanchima. “My loom and her sewing machine would have been friends” I chuckled to myself.
I never considered myself to be particularly artistic, but Shuttles & Needles has become a refuge from the chaos of life. Sitting in a chilled room surrounded by meters of yarn, shuttle in hand, I felt like my grandmother was still a part of me. Having learned the terms “warp” and “weft” a mere 5 months ago, the guidance from the whole team at S&N has been nothing if not the pinnacle of support. Guiding me through the decisions of yarn thickness, material, and density, respecting my ideas as if they were theirs, and teaching me every step from warping the loom, to removing the fabric.
My latest project is a cotton linen piece, a deep maroon warp, with two bands of brown to its left side. This is my first foray into more experimental materials, silk and cashmere are just a few weeks away! I can only hope these are my first steps into the world of textile arts and I know Shuttles & Needles will always be there to support me.
Here, I can explore and create in a way that few other outlets provide. Besides, how many “creative outlets” can say that they’re around the corner from the original location of the famous Shriti’s Designer Wear?
Adithya Krishnamoorthy is a Chennai-based Homesteader, Mental Health Advocate, and Culinary Fanatic. You can find him at @the_trufflepig on Instagram.