THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: White or off white cotton clothes with red and black stitches, though simple, looks elegant. The distinct Toda embroidery work is practised by the Toda community of Nilgiri Hills. N Saroja and Shelly, members of the Kotagiri Women’s Co-Operative Cottage Industrial Society Ltd, have displayed the unique embroidery work on a variety of fabrics at the Santhigiri Fest.
Also known as ‘Pugur’, which means ‘flower’ in the native language of the tribe, the embroidery is done by the women. Toda work is stitched on coarse cotton fabric either white or off white in colour. “Very rarely, we use blue coloured cloth instead of white,” says Saroja. At the stall, the duo has only exhibited works done on white cotton cloth. The visitors at the stall seemed keen to purchase the ‘yoke’, a neck piece, which can be stitched on to salwar materials of any colour. The work comes in different patterns and cost `225 each.
The embroidery has characteristic red and black bands that are six inches long and running across the length of the fabric. The embroidery, which has a rich embossed effect, is an elaborate form of needle work done on both handloom and powerloom cloth. The beauty of the handwork lies in the precision of counting the threads used on the fabric.
“Embroidery is done from the other side of the fabric using a long darning needle. Generally, a variety of floral patterns are found on these works. But, here we have exhibited only a few patterns,” says Shelly. This work, which was traditionally done on shawls worn by men, is now stitched on other fabric and home linen.
“In our community, the girls wear a traditional dress called ‘Puthukuli’ during marriage. It looks similar to a robe and the entire cloth will be worked with toda embroidery. In the market, a piece of the fabric would cost around `2500”, she says.
A pouch stitched with toda work can be bought from the stall at `50 and shawls cost around `1000 and upwards. To customers who complain of the pocket-burning price tags, the women reply, “It needs great concentration and involves a lot of strain for our eyes. Besides, the intricate needle work is time-consuming as well.”
At the Tribes India pavilion at Santhigiri fest, one can also shop for T oda embroidered bed spreads, two-sided shawls, pouches and table clothes.
The exhibition is being organised as part of Cottage Industrial Society’s efforts to save the dying indigenous art.