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The story of our handwoven kitchen towels is one that shows how working with artisan workshops is true collaboration. Years ago through a mutual friend, we were introduced to Nidhi Garg Allen, founder of Marasim. Marasim is a creative craft studio based in NYC founded by Nidhi. Marasim specializes in textile research and product development for luxury market. Marasim’s research and manufacturing is primarily based in Nidhi’s home country India. After meeting Nidhi, I was inspired to design a textile product that we could work with Marasim to produce in India. At the time, I was weaving one-off kitchen towels anytime there was left over warp on the loom after a commissioned piece. I designed a group of four towels, and wove the prototypes in my Yucca Valley studio. After sending them to Nidhi to review, she proposed sending them to a group of rug weavers in Northern India to see how they would interpret the woven towels. The rug weavers were experienced in weaving dhurrie rugs, a thick, flat-weave rug.
The samples were noticeably heavier than the original prototypes, but we liked the colors and the quality of the textile - so overall we thought they looked great and approved them. We knew these textiles were kitchen towels, because that was our intention, however they were not like any kitchen towel material we had ever seen. They were heavy, and sometimes almost stiff. After testing the towels in our own kitchen, laundering them normal with the rest of our laundry, the towels got softer and softer, and quickly became super absorbent when being used in the kitchen. We felt comfortable proceeding to a production order.
Once the towels started to make their way into the homes of our customers, we started to receive feedback that the towels really are amazing (it wasn't just us who thought that, very reassuring!) I was so happy that a simple item, such as a humble kitchen towel, could not only bring joy by injecting color in your kitchen, but could also actually work as a heavy duty, utilitarian tool. The most received feedback is "They really do get more absorbent with use!” (Yay!)
We are so proud that our towels have become one of best selling items since we started selling them in 2019. Our collaboration with Nidhi, the weavers and the master dyers resulted in a textile that we could not could have come up with in our own studio. Working with artisan workshops really is a collaborative partnership, we need each other. I am so grateful and humbled to be able to work with the incredibly talented craftspeople that we work with. Read a little Q&A with Nidhi, and watch the process video below about the making of our popular super kitchen towels.
Where are the artisans located that weave our kitchen towels?
Bhadoi district in Mirzapur, located in the state of Uttar Pradesh in Northern India.
You have told us this area is known for woven rugs, both dhurrie style and carpets. Can you explain the difference?
Dhurries are flat-weave rugs, and carpets are pile-weave rugs. Both types of rugs have wide varieties according to their weaving style, patterns, type of loom, and material used for weaving.
Are there other crafts produced in this town? If yes, what kind?
Yes, Mirzapur is also known for its copper utensils - copper kitchenware. Earlier, it had a big handmade blanket industry which died due to competition with machines.
Can you take us through a brief explanation of how the kitchen towel is created? Do they make the yarns or order them? Dye the yarns to match our colors? Set up the loom? Etc? And then the finishing process?
For making tea towels, first, we acquire the cotton threads from mills. The cotton must be of RF spin. Once we get the threads, they are sent to dyers for dyeing. We use a VAT dyeing process for our threads which is much more eco-friendly. All the dyeing process is done in cold water, but climate plays a significant role in the color effects. Once dyeing is done, we start preparing our looms for weaving. Threads are filled in cones manually, and warping is done from these cones. After warping is done, we transfer the warp to looms and start setting the looms according to the product we have to make, like selecting and installing the required reed, balancing all the threads, etc. Once the loom setup is complete, we start the weaving.
Looms are assigned to different weavers for weaving. Piece-by-piece tea towels are woven and inspected for their design, size, and quality. When the towel's weaving and inspection are complete, we send them for washing. Washed and dried towels are again inspected for size since they tend to shrink on the first wash.
After sizes are checked, we start knotting the fringes. Next, we iron the towels for their measurement and shape. The finishing process begins, i.e., removing thread knots, repairing the broken threads, and trimming the fringes. Once all of this process is done, the final ironing of towels is done. Then towels are ready for final inspection and packing. Piece by piece, we check every towel and send them for labeling.
How long does it take to dye the yarns?
One to two weeks
How long does it take to set up the loom?
It takes three to four weeks.
How many people are involved in the entire production process of our towels?
Are the kitchen towels woven in a central workshop or various weaver’s homes?
Our production combines the central workshop and weaver's home loom units. For towels, we use both types of production.
Is there any difference between men's and women’s work in weaving/dying? IE - do both men and women do all parts of the process?
Men and women are involved in different processes based on their skill sets. Usually, it is a 50-50 ratio of men and women for all the processes.