Crafting History

17 Jan


Sometimes I wonder if everything I’ve thought of, everything I’m thinking of, has been thought before.  Often, it’s in bouts of depression and my conclusion is that I’m probably useless and unoriginal.  (Yes, I am being a bit dramatic but that’s me!)

These last few months, however, when I reflect on the originality of my being (how embarrassing) I have been grateful for all the thinking that has come before me.

At 93, Nadja is still making torans. She shows me some of her original sketches in her book.

At 93, Nadja is still making torans. She shows me some of her sketches.

Millions of people, doing the best they could, have lived lives and laid the groundwork for me to do what I do.  Being immersed in the world of craft, it is starting to make more and more sense that originality isn’t highly prized.  It’s nice, but it isn’t the point.

As I’ve been learning how to make a toran (a beaded wall hanging that is strung in a doorway) it amazed me that instinctively I said I’d prefer to follow a pattern that someone has done before.  As my elders have tried to show me new techniques or ways I could change my pattern my stock answer has been “I just want to do it this way until I understand”.

Mani strings the thread needed to weave the beaded toran.

Mani strings the thread needed to weave the beaded toran.

Look at me, I'm learning!

Look at me, I’m learning!

Craft is about following knowledge, putting together history and the information that has come before you.  Piecing together meaning – understanding – through practice.  And only when one understands the story, the hows and whys, can one add a unique element to that story.


Making a toran in a traditional Parsi baugh (housing development), surrounded by people who know and appreciate the craft, who display their own torans, who have pieces of the past to complete my puzzle is a unique and vital part of learning the craft.  During the days I could wander the halls and see the different designs and aesthetics at play. I came to see what people appreciated and wanted to project in front of their homes.  People who walked by and saw me at my work recognized what I was doing and inquired about it.

My first little scallops complete!

My first little scallops complete!

Craft is not simply the creation of a product.  It is an assembly of knowledge, belief, skill, context and imagination applied and developed over time to create significant, living things.  Embedded in the process of craft are a multitude of social functions from religious practice to identity formation to relationship building to exercising power to visualizing the future.

The materials used, the process of work, the relationship of craftspeople to their community, the standing of the community within a larger society are all interconnected elements and the relationships constructed between these elements fuel the vitality and development of a craft tradition.  Craft has a soul and craft creates soul.  In order for that soul to thrive all these connections need to be maintained with dignity – human and environmental.


A young woman trains in block printing techniques at the Weaver’s Service Center in Bombay.



Hey lady, what's your story?

Hey lady, what’s your story?









For craft revivalists and preservationists, the challenge is how to hold this soul and help it do well.  Beyond the economic realm, what responsibility does the revival community have to help heal the social ruptures (oppressions) that have caused the decline and disappearance of craft traditions and the marginalization of craft workers?  How to construct a holistic view of craft revival that honors the complex social web that is at the core of craft work that goes beyond the houses of commerce?

I don’t have any answers but I am eager to follow the threads as I delve deeper into the complex and beautiful world of craft and it’s importance within all societies.


Saris getting ready for a steam which will set the color of the block prints.

Saris getting ready for a steam which will set the color of the block prints.

A block printed sari in process.

A sari laid out for block printing.


9 Responses to “Crafting History”

  1. kathleen webster January 17, 2013 at 7:14 am #

    Thanks Kayhan. I loved this. So quietly, thoughtfully smart. I love your insight into originality – so pushed in capitalism and never questioned. Of course we are all unique! How could it be otherwise. but to force that instead of the steady confidence that craft requires and then this beautiful artwork. It makes me think about the unaware class confusion in so much of societies. The work that is valued and held up – the work that isn’t. So good to read this. Love, K

  2. Robert Roth January 17, 2013 at 7:32 am #

    In talking about following the pattern that someone else had done reminds of something I heard Ralph Ellison say once on television. He said he would copy whole novels long hand of writers he admired to get deep into rythem of the language. He did this with a number of books. This is the way he taught himslef to write novels.

  3. Tamiru Mammo January 17, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    I love this post! Your writing is so good

    Impetuously sent from my iMammo, so please forgive me for any errors.

  4. Rose January 17, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    I like “follow the threads” and I love the picture of you making your toran. Great post Kayhan!

  5. janel momanyi January 17, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

    Hey Lady,

    I was thinking about you last night.

    Glad you are well.

    I miss you!!! 🙂



  6. shireen kharas January 18, 2013 at 5:19 am #

    Kayhan,i loved your blog…you are seeking to learn so much and enjoying it..keep it up!!all the best-love

  7. Annie Lazar January 18, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Kayhan — your messages always arrive right on time and tell me exactly what I need to hear. It is a gift to have you in my life.

  8. julierosier January 19, 2013 at 12:58 am #

    Kayhan, I love reading your postings. Thanks for your original gifts. Keep up the good work. ~Julie

  9. david natale January 19, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    piecing together our history-how else can we remember? Very inspiring
    thank you

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