A Day in Surya's Garden

by - Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Always check the ropes.
Two posts back we talked about Banjara Embroidery. We are picking up that thread again here.

It was already dark when we landed in Hubli, the closest airport to Hampi and Surya's Garden. We spent some time tying our luggage to the roof (some of it dislodged en-route, but never hit the ground, hanging, as it was, by the ropes). And we are off for a quick four or five-hour drive.

 We arrive close to midnight and eat a leisurely meal underneath the stars. Jan tells us that if we feel like an early morning walk - not to walk barefoot due to snakes. No, of course not.  And then we are off to bed-down for the night. When morning arrives we get our first good look at the place - and it is desert paradise. There are lines of palms and flowers everywhere.

We have a breakfast of coffee and idli, and before long the embroidery starts to come out. Its what they've been waiting for and its what we've been waiting for.
Red plumeria - one of Jan's interests
It is as impressive as the embroidery from Kutch and shares many of the same qualities. Strong bold designs, an emphatic use of colour and a tendency in the best work to cover every square centimetre in stitches.

With the embroidery now the main topic, we make our way from the breakfast table, through the garden, to the office. Here we will talk about costing and consider some possibilities for finishing the embroidery.

Once a group of artisans is actively producing work the next problem they encounter is how to accurately cost it. It sounds simple, yet often embroiderers don't know how much thread is used in a work. As an artisan, you work. When you need more thread, you reach for it. If you run out you ask for more. Estimates of the amount of thread that goes into a piece are often vague and inexact. 

The same is true of the backing fabric. Often someone finds a deal on some cloth that is pretty nice and it is used until it is gone. How many pieced did it provide? Which works used that fabric and how is the cost averaged over them.

What about tailoring? Sometimes the most flawless embroidery can be ruined by an inexperienced (or inexpensive) tailor. Are the tailor's wages counted into the cost of the finished piece?

 If these things are not tracked the artisan group will encounter growing disappointment. Sometimes a reactionary price hike is seen as the only solution. Then the buyer abandons the project when the prices double or triple.

A casual approach to costing may give the buyer a quick deal, but in the long run it will prove disastrous for both artisan and buyer. The artisan will loose interest in a something that is a lot of work and doesn't seem to pay enough, while the buyer will have a hard time planning future orders with unstable pricing. The end customer will be bewildered as to the seeming lack of connection between work and price.

Surya's Garden has encountered some of these problems. Can we help? It turns out that we can help quite a bit because we have something special with us on this trip.

Find out what in the next post.

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