Embroidery is an intricate art form that is both strenuous and elegant. Its early origins go way back to prehistoric times, and despite being an age-old tradition, it has quickly become an integral part of the contemporary world. Many artists around the world have found a way to express themselves through this art form. One among those artists is Anuradha Bhaumick, who channels her love and appreciation for everyday moments into her work, and weaves little joys of life in colourful creations. At IKKIVI Zine, we spoke to her about her love for embroidery, her approach toward her projects, the different perceptions people have toward this art, the role of sustainability in her creations, and more.
We deeply admire your beautiful and intricate work. We would love to know how your journey as an embroidery artist began and what was your inspiration behind pursuing the art form.
I was taught embroidery at the age of five by my mother. I had chickenpox and was a hyperactive kid, which is a daunting combination, especially for the guardian responsible for isolating the child. I would wait for playtime every evening. My mom did not know how to quarantine me and did what she knew best. She gave me a handkerchief and taught me running stitch, chain stitch, and lazy daisy. Little did she know that she would have to spend the next three weeks trying to wean me off of it. I had forgotten about playtime even though I had recovered fully. I found a different kind of joy in embroidery. But my mom eventually did manage to make me go out. Between swimming lessons and growing up, embroidery took a backseat for me. However, I always had embroidery stuck in the back of my head. My mother’s Kantha sarees and her salvaging old sofa upholstery, raggedy pieces of denim, and faded school uniforms into unique jackets and other types of clothing really inspired me. I pursued fashion design for my bachelor’s and once again was reunited with my love for embroidery in the course material. But between having design jobs where the design direction is set in stone by international fashion forecasting agencies, I never really got to fully explore embroidery. By November 2019, I gave my resignation and started pursuing embroidery full-time.
Most of your work portrays everyday life in a myriad of colours and details. What made you want to make this your signature style?
I find myself drawn to people living their best lives in their own safe spaces. Seeing people blossom without fear and gnawing worry of validation and criticism makes my heart twinkle. I admire and respect this feeling and want to shield it in any way I can. All my embroideries are mood boards for me. Everything I make, I aspire to be. As for colours, I draw inspiration from my garden I have grown from the ground up. The flowers, leaves, and fruits that grow in Olive’s garden are my inspiration, named after my pug, Olive. We were recommended this book called Colour Harmony when we were in design school. My mom bought it for me and reminded me repeatedly to milk every inch of it as it was pretty expensive. I only brushed through it once and felt like if you have to assign rules to colours, it steals the joy of it. Colours should represent current emotions, nostalgia, and what we want from the future. Not what someone else says is correct. That’s the wrong use of colour. And that’s pretty much my colour theory.
Could you tell us what your creative process looks like and how much time it takes to create the lovely embroideries for your clientele?
My creative process is a lot of notes on the Keep App, segregating bunches of different colours of thread together (adding and reworking my colours), mental sketches, and handwritten notes in my diary. I don’t make rough sketches. I have only made it thrice on request for clients, and it’s not something I enjoy. Once I have made up my mind, I go straight for the kill or the muslin, to be more precise. I draw with a black ball pen on muslin. And I draw with a washable marker for the parts I’m unsure about. But I only draw portions of my artwork. I always begin with the main subjects, such as people, their four-legged family members, furniture, sentimental objects, plants, and other items. I build as I go as my work is very intuitive. I can’t stick to one sketch. Even I can’t predict how my artwork will turn out until the very last hour. It takes me anywhere between 20 – 150 hours to create my pieces. The time is dependent on many factors, such as the number of details, intricacy required, type of stitch, number of colours, the number of times I would need to thread my needle depending on these variables, the size of my canvas if I need to paint or appliqué.
Is there any artwork that is special to you, and if so, can you tell us about the story behind it?
All of my artwork is precious to me, but my ongoing series ‘Comfort Collages’ is appliquéd with fabrics that people have sent me from all over the world. Some fabrics belong to a mother who passed away. I am humbled by this kind of blind trust, when people give me their heirlooms. After all, who said fabric isn’t an heirloom? To say I am grateful would still not be enough. These acts of kindness remind me I am on the right path.
Your embroideries have made it all across the world. How is your artwork perceived in India and abroad? Is there a difference between the two spaces?
There is a huge difference in my audience in India and the rest of the world. Here, to bluntly put it, embroidery is looked down on. A lot of it is rooted in misogyny and misinformation. In India, embroidery, knitting, and fibre arts are perceived as women’s work and a sign of subservience. This is preposterous because the origins of embroidery have been recorded since BC and have been used by women to record history, reinforce clothing from royal robes to the armour of warriors, and even in acts of resistance by the women of Palestine through the Tatreez. These are just a few examples I can think of at the top of my head. If one would take the time to dive deep, one would know the history of embroidery is a story founded on empowerment, emancipation, and an essential life skill. People are so used to seeing the people in their homes do needlework, knitting, and crochet as unpaid labour that they equate it to busywork. Embroidery, knitting, and all kinds of fibre arts we so often see in India require expensive tools, fabric, and other supplies. It is a beautiful art form that needs to be held with respect and power. I want to see this change in real time in India. Not only for me or my contemporaries but for all the people working in ateliers, in the corner tailor shops, in homes, everywhere.
How does sustainability play a role in your projects? Are there any particular fabrics or materials you use to encourage the same?
Sustainability is the core value of my practice. 99% of the fabrics I use for appliqué are from my mother’s kurtas. Why her kurtas, you must wonder. Because she is 4’11”, and store-bought kurtas never fit her. I have been collecting these residual fabrics for years from her tailor, post alterations. All the fabric you see in my art is from her kurtas. I have everything I need, from Jaipuri Indigo cotton to Thai silks and ikats, all from my own house. Over the past 2 years and a half of my existence on social media, I have been receiving bags of heirloom fabrics from all over the world and even deadstock fabrics from fashion brands. I am thrilled to receive these and figure out how they shape my art in the future and currently through my collection called ‘Comfort Collages’. Besides that, I believe all objects have a life of their own. Objects are treasure troves of memories, hurt, pain, nostalgia, romance, and a thousand more emotions to travel back in time. This belief dictates my work and life, and I only spend on what I know I will not be able to discard. In my opinion, Toy Story is not an urban legend but a documentary. Call me silly, but I love the things I own, and they are irreplaceable.
What advice would you like to give aspiring artists from your experience? And tell us about your plans for the future, as we are very excited to know more and support them.
From my experience, I would like to say experiment, don’t try to be neat, be messy, and emote! It is the advice I am giving to myself. I hope it’s good enough for someone else too. And most importantly, price your work well!
And I will be participating in exhibitions next year. I am dreaming up many silly embroidery dreams in my head, and if I make them, it will be mind-boggling. Unconventional embroidery placements are time-consuming, maybe which is why I am still procrastinating. If I make them, I will be very happy, and it will be a new chapter in my embroidery life or LIFE!