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Yarn, a tactile balm: meet Knitsanyasini’s Priyamvada who knits natural-dyed fabric

Wed, 24 Nov 2021 00:31:00

For Priyamvada, knitting handcrafted tea- and marigold-dyed fabric is more than just craft — she says it helps her get through life’s uncertainties

These days, Priyamvada spends most of her time experimenting in the kitchen. Before you ask, it is not the recent lockdown obsessions of baking bread or preparing sourdough starters. Instead, watched over suspiciously by her cats, she brings to boil various concoctions of pomegranate, beetroot, turmeric, tea, and coffee. They are patiently stirred, each taken to a different level, all to create natural, beautiful hues for her sustainable hand-crafted knitwear range, Knitsanyasini.

For the 26-year-old, the brand is a culmination of a journey that began when she was seven. “Growing up, I’ve seen my mother, grandmother and aunt knit. My mother would always experiment with knits, and my first experience with the needle was in third grade when she taught me how to hand-knit a scarf for a school project using the rib knit,” says the Pune-based artiste, who went on to pursue a degree in Knitwear Design from NIFT Chennai in 2013.

The upcycled collector

On graduating, she collected and then upcycled all the excess yarn from her family’s earlier knitting projects and her NIFT course. “My aunt and mother would knit winter sweaters and collected leftover yarns over the years. I took these along with the yarns that I had saved during my degree [primarily cotton, wool, acrylic, bamboo and linen blends] and started knitting.” In 2019, she kickstarted Knitsanyasini with hand-knit tube tops, camisoles and turtleneck sweaters. Her range now includes headbands, cardigans and pullovers crafted in relaxed, free flowing silhouettes using ethically-sourced organic wool and cotton, in addition to upcycled yarn.

Bucking tropes

In literature and in art, knitting is often associated with elderly women in rockers or practical housewives. Jo March of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women describes it as something only a “poky old woman” would do. But it is a trope far removed from reality given how everyone from teens to those in their 30s have taken to the art form over the years. For instance, when the cameras zoomed in on British diver Tom Daley at the Tokyo Olympics this year, he was almost always knitting.

His hobby made headlines, especially when he admitted how it helped him manage his anxiety. For Priyamvada — whose work was also featured on The Woolmark Company’s Instagram last year — knitting has become a mode of expression. She has come across many youngsters learning the art form from their elders. “But since it’s a slow process which involves creating the fabric and shaping the garment simultaneously as compared to the quick cutting and stitching method, there are few professional knitters,” she says.

Only by hand

Explaining her process, she says she uses vegetables, fruits, leaves and roots for the dyes — something she picked up through her explorations in knitting. “It is inspired by traditional Indian fabric colouring techniques that leave no harmful by-products.” She likens the process of experimenting to ‘walking in the dark and finding colourful jewels along the way’ as it takes months of trial and error. Each natural ingredient is prepared according to its individual properties — for instance, marigold flowers and pomegranate skins would need to boil for varying durations so their optimal colour can be extracted. After the dye is prepared, the raw material (hand washed cotton and merino wool yarn hank) is dipped into the container, where it is left to sit anywhere between 12 to 48 hours or more depending on the type of colour source. It is then washed several times to reduce colour bleeding and left to dry.

“The process of washing, drying, rolling and winding the yarn is done by hand. The only tools involved are basic kitchen utensils and my knitting needles,” says Priyamvada, adding that it takes anywhere between two weeks to a month to create a sweater. Open to custom orders, she has clients in India, New Zealand, New Jersey, Spain, and California.

Referring to the last two years, she says the craft was a tactile balm to deal with all the uncertainty of multiple lockdowns. “It was a way to escape and find solace in my thoughts.”

₹5,000 onwards on @knitsanyasini on Instagram.

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