Grass Craft

Kotton Basketry

Kottan – Palm Leaf Basketry of Tamilnadu

Palm leaf Basketry is one among the well-known crafts of Tamil Nadu State. Palm tree also known as Palmyra tree is one of the important trees in Tamil Nadu, whose basketry is the major source of income for the rural communities. Palm leaf baskets are made of very intricate designs, which have a special attraction. The products are mainly used for local or daily activities. The palm leaf basketry is locally called “Kottan” in Tamil Nadu. The experienced and skilled artisans develop new varieties of designs according to the taste of the local people and market.

This craft originated with the Nadar community near the Keelayapatti village in Karaikudi, who used to climb the Toddy Palmyra trees to tap toddy.

The craft was perfected by the ancestors of ‘Nagarathars’ who used palmyra leaves for writing, drawing, crafting artistic items and making utility products. The Kottans had wide and varied uses in their daily life, most importantly during marriages. The ‘Aachis’ of Chettinad used to make varieties of baskets out of tender palmyra leaves and leaf stems, which are called ‘Kottans’ and ‘Koodais’ respectively.

Tools and Raw Material

Palm leaf basketry making is craft practiced from many generations and has been a culture and tradition in Chettinad. The tools and raw materials used for making the products are easily available in the local market. Palm trees are abundantly available in Karaikudi as well as nearby villages. Artisans use long knives to harvest the leaves and small sized knives to separate the mid rib from the leaves. The strips are dyed with vibrant colors to make the products more attractive. Leaf strips are dyed in different colours.Sathagam (Knife)
This knife is used to cut the midrib of the palm leaf.

Needle (Posi) and thread
Needle and thread are used to stitch the outer rim of the basket to give it strength

Ole machine
Ole is a cutting machine used to cut the leaves into equal strips.

Colors
Colors are used to dye the leaves.

Colorful beads
Beads are used to decorate the baskets.

Alum
Alum is added in the color for dying process, helps to strengthen the color richness.

Making Process

Mainly women artisans are engaged in making these baskets in a traditional way. The pliable, tender Palmyra leaf has good structural strength, so it is used to make decorative Olai (leaf) baskets. The midrib of the leaf is removed with the help of sathagam (knife) and the leaf is cut into strips of required size with the help of a cutting machine locally called Ole machine. These strips are then taken for dying process. For plain baskets the leaf strips are dipped in boiling water and kept to dry; for colored basket the strips are dipped in colored water. Before weaving, the basket water is sprinkled on the strips to keep them moist and avoid breakages while weaving.

Based on the required size of the basket the palm strips are arranged vertically and horizontally interlocking each other. A wooden slab is placed on it and held with hands and feet for support. Once the base has been woven, the strips are bent and the sidewalls of the baskets are interlaced and woven. At the end, the midrib of the leaf is used as a rim and is woven at the mouth of the basket with a thread for strength and for enhancing the look of the product. Palm leaf baskets are double-layered and reinforced at the rim with a stronger material.

Products

Varieties of products are made using the palm leaf – baskets, fruit baskets, mats, pen stands, flower vases and gift boxes. The baskets are used as storage containers as well as decorative items.

Earlier, kottan baskets were mainly used during marriages for packaging gifts and for containers filled with offerings to give at family functions and rituals.

The art and craft is being revived with design, process and marketing interventions and many articles of modern utlity are now being made.

Palm lef
Sabai Grass and Bamboo
Weaving of West Bengal

Sabai Grass & Bamboo Weaving of West Bengal

Sabai Grass grows extensively in the districts of Midnapore, West Bengal and Mayurbhanj, Orissa. The Sabai grass industry is associated with various activities of raising production of grass and processing of consumer goods such as ropes, mats, carpets, sofa sets, wall hangings and other sophisticated fashionable articles.
Sabai grass ropes are the main product of 85% artisans in the industry.

Bamboo, is the other raw material of great versatility and forms an integral part of the lifestyle and economy of West Bengal. The women make the bamboo basketry in West Midnapore, West Bengal. The menfolk from other tribes make Bamboo ply boards and other wood accessories in East Midnapore.

Tools and Raw Materials

Sabai is a hardy grass and thrives best in regions with an annual rainfall of 30 to 60 inches. This grass that used to grow wild is now harvested every 3 months, peak season being November to January. Since its thin long leaves possess high quality fiber, it is used as a major raw material for basketry. Because of flexibility and strength it is utilized for making ropes and other rope based utility items. Sabai rope is woven and coiled over specific frames to give a finishing shape to any utility item.

Bamboo-is a fast growing timber and grass! The craftsmen of Purva Mednipur in West Bengal work with this versatile material to create many products. The essential tools required for bamboo craft consists of a bill-hook, a knife and a ‘v’ shaped wooden frame.

Making Process

Sabai grass is washed by boiling in water and then coloured by boiling with dyes. It is then washed again in clear water and dried in the Sun.
Natural dyes as well as lead free chemical dyes which are skin and environment friendly are used to dye the products. The coloured Sabai grass is dried by spreading on the road. Only finer grass is used for handicrafts. The dyed grass is plaited or converted into ropes by twisting it. The plait is hand stitched line by line using strong cotton threads. The wall of the basket being built by stitching.

Splitting of Bamboo is generally done by a small bill hook, which is fixed on a ‘v’ shaped wooden frame. Then the soft portion of such bamboo split is removed with a bill hook, whereupon the flat flexible bamboo strips are obtained for manufacturing mats. In weaving bamboo mats, the twilled pattern is generally followed wherein three slips are taken at a time and woven breadth wise one after another. As soon as weaving is complete, all the four sides of the mat are twisted a little and tied with a long bamboo slip in order to frame the outer edges which keeps the woven slips compact.

Products

Sabai grass and Bamboo strips are very versatile materials which can be easily converted into interesting and beautiful products.
Products are made by weaving ropes of dried Sabai Grass and Bamboo strips usually made by rural women folk of West Bengal.
Varieties of products are made using the Sabai Grass and Bamboo such as multipurpose baskets, fruit baskets, mats, serve-ware and gift boxes. An array of utility picks like trays and candle-stands are also made from bamboo. In addition, there are different knick-knacks like bamboo paper clips, bookmarks. Bamboo and Sabai craft is being revived with modern design and process improvements.
Consumers get a range of home décor and utility products made from a sustainable material.

Sikki Grass Weaving of Bihar

Sikki Grass Weaving of Bihar

The women of Mithila region of North Bihar are known for their impressive craft skills. From the early centuries they have been making beautiful Sikki Craft apart from the very famous Mithila Painting, Godna Painting, Papier mache, Sujani Embroidery, Appliqué works etc. Sikki is a type of grass of golden colour which is grown in the wet and marshy area around rivers and ponds in Mithila region of North Bihar. The main areas where the Sikki work is still carried out at a large scale are Madhubani, Darbhanga and Sitamarhi in Bihar.

Some years ago when there were not so many sources of entertainment in the villages in North Bihar, women used to make different artistic crafts and paintings for their entertainment as well as to make some valuable utility products for their household uses. The sikki is characterized by its wonderful beautiful golden colour, so it is also called Golden Grass. It is also colored into different shades of colours e.g. red, yellow, green, deep blue, purple, and pink, etc. with the natural golden colour to make the final product more attractive.

Tools and Raw Materials

Sikki grass is grown in the wet and marshy area around the rivers and pounds in North Bihar. It is grown in the area of heavy rainfall. This golden grass is usually collected by Harijans in the rainy season. The dry grass is then sold by them at the Haat or local market by the foot. The munj (another grass) and khar are other important raw materials for the making of sikki grass products. Munj is much cheaper and more abundant, so it is used to give basic shape and strength in sikki products. At first munj is coiled and then it is covered with sikki grass. Other raw materials are colours for dyeing of sikki grass. These colours are easily available in the local market.The last and most valuable raw material is water, which is used to soak the sikki grass and make it more pliable as it is coiled around the munj.

The main tool used by the Maithili women is a 5-6 inches long needle-shaped iron object with a rounded head for grip is called Takua. They also use a very thin knife (choori) for splitting and scissors (kaichi) for cutting the sikki. At times they also use their teeth for splitting sikki grass. Although Maithili women have been making beautiful utility products from centuries, now they are aware of the choice of the customers and are trying to make different products according to the demand of the market with respect to the design and shapes.

Making Process

To make the sikki grass usable, it is first cut from its base and then dried for some days. Since the flowering part of the stem of sikki is not used for crafts making, it is discarded and the remaining portion of the sikki is sliced and shaved with the help of a knife or by teeth.

Before use, sikki is soaked in water to make it more pliable as it is coiled around the munj. The colouring is achieved by boiling sikki in different colours. Now the main form is shaped with munj to provide the basic shape and additional strength to the sikki product. Due to its abundance, generally munj is used for coiling purpose in Maithili region of Bihar.

Then the munj is completely coiled over and covered with sikki so that it is not visible through the encasing. Then the main tool, takua is used carefully because it can also cut sikki if the artisan doesn’t use it carefully. The product being made is held firmly with the left hand while the right hand is completely free to wield the takua. Maithili women make different designs and patterns in the sikki product by combining dyed sikki with natural golden colour sikki to give it a more artistic and attractive look. It requires not only skill but lots of creativity, concentration and patience.

Products

Initially women of Mithila used to make utilitarian products (baskets and containers), 2D-3D figures of Gods, Goddesses and animals and birds. But now they are making different variety of utilitarian as well as decorative products according to the demand of the present market.

They make different types of traditional containers and boxes for their household purpose e.g. 1. Jhappa- Big containers with caps to store food grains, spices, sweets, etc. 2. Mauni- Trays for fresh fruits, betel leaf and nuts, flowers, etc. 3. Pauti- Beautiful small boxes with caps to keep jewelry, Dry fruits, and other costly items. 4. Gumla- Bowl like containers for various uses. 5. Saji- Flower Baskets.

These days artisan of sikki craft artisans are making a variety of decorative products also to get a good place in the national as well as the international market.