Karina and Samantha Seljak
We boarded the train from Guwahati not knowing what to expect of The Fabric Social's weaving facility in Upper Assam, where we were headed. As part of our journey through the north of India exploring weaving and textiles we were motivated to include a visit to The Fabric Social's Indian headquarters. Karina has a textiles and manufacturing background and Sam had experience in Indigenous relations, and The Fabric Social attracted us as a unique and inspiring combination of our respective fields.
The train ride set the scene for what was to come. Unlike other train journeys, we were welcomed by our cabin mates with Indian snacks, and the glee with which they watched us eat showed just how foreign we were in those lands. One man mentioned he'd not seen white women off television before.
We stood at the train doors and let the warm, sticky air rush through our hair and waved at the locals who were awestruck at our presence. The jungle villages, in between rice paddies and tea fields, sported brightly saried women, boys on push bikes and majestic water buffalo.
Between China, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh, the North East States have very unique identities and a rich textiles culture of their own, which we were very keen to explore.
Four days of observing the weaving process and helping where we could (we really weren't very useful - spin a bobbin here, tease out some raw silk there) gave us an insight into the local industry, and the resilience despite the armed struggle.
We had been to a lot of different hand loom centres across India, and were impressed with the organisation of the facility and the natural light and air-flow the high ceilings allowed. The technical support and ongoing learning provided for the weavers was particularly special. We heard about the progress of the weavers and saw first hand their dedication to each weft thread applied.
We explored the colour and quality of The Fabric Social's textiles. We watched Sharna negotiate the working opportunities for the wife of a master weaver. The prospective worker's time in completing the set task was approved, her tension was consistent, and like that, The Fabric Social welcomed a new local lady to their team.
Tea breaks happened at 11am each morning, and lunch at 1:30pm and it was at these times we were able to interact best with the weavers (otherwise we were observing their skill at the loom). We would trade somosas for local bananas containing big popping seeds, fried muga silk worms (great protein!) and homemade sweets.
On our last day, a visit from a busful of weavers from a town six hours away showed us how the weaving community maintains solidarity even in a world where machine looms are pushing hand loom products out of the market. These weavers were just as curious about us, as the techniques and silks they viewed at the facility. We found ourselves answering questions about our own ideas for the textile industry. A lot of the conversation was in Assamese but the smiling and nodding of the group indicated they were impressed by the quality of the fabric they saw.
We pulled out of the driveway for the last time sorry to leave. Every weaver in the building had come to the front facing windows to wave goodbye. We were left feeling a shared sense of excitement with the weavers; that there was so much more learning to do and local silk to be celebrated.
Karina and Sam are travelling across India to explore Indian craft techniques and manufacturing processes in weaving, wool and recycled plastics. A love of Australian wool and Indian culture prompted them to think about the potential of Indian craft and manufacturing to produce pieces for which Australia does not have the expertise or equipment. Their goal is to see production and consumption moving in a more circular model, with waste used as a resource, and a matured attitude in consumers to seek longevity in their garments, food and things. They are making their way across Rajasthan, Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and the North Eastern states, and came to visit The Fabric Social in June 2015.