Text and photographs by: Carina S (www.manningtreearchive.com)
This year I had an influx of visitors, from abroad as well as from within India. All of them, without exception, had on their “shopping list” items made out of Banana- and Palmyra fibers, which over the years have become so very popular with the Life-style and Fashion Conscious.
To save our visitors traipsing all over Ernakulam in the heat or the Monsoon, I decided to take them each time to the Vimalayalam Welfare Centre on Chittoor Road here in Cochin, where they could browse (and shop!) to their hearts contend – and that is exactly what everybody did.
The Centre, a voluntary non-profit society, was founded in 1961 at Ernakulam as a Training-cum-Production Centre with the sole aim of helping women and girls from the lower income groups in and around Ernakulam. Over the past 51 years it has surely come a long way` A special loom, developed at this Centre and known as the “Vimala Loom” is now also used by many other Centres in India for making table mats from Palmyra fiber. This fiber can be dyed easily and therefore the Centre can deal with special colour requests. – you just stipulate your colour requirement and your mats will be dyed and woven to match your very own special dining-room colour scheme.
Those table mats are one of the favourite items to be exported to Europe and to the USA – with this years’ “must-have-colours” of aubergine, black-and-silver (to match Giorgio Armani’s candlesticks), Jaipur-pink, English-racing-green and so on. There is hardly a boundary when it comes to your design and imagination. The matching bottle holders are also always a popular gift item. And what to do with the “oh so hot straight from the ‘oven-to-table’ dishes?” Just choose matching baskets to bring them to your dining table – not only very versatile but also a joy for everybody’s eyes. And a cheerful bunch of flowers from your garden, or even a bunch of Curry-leaves or Parsley in a crystal glass or silver beaker, completes your table décor.
Another absolute hot item to take with you are the bags. Bags in all shapes and sizes – our European visitors in particular stocked up plenty to go with their summer-wardrobe (keep your leather bags for autumn and winter for a change). Again here, time permitting, colours and shapes can be chosen to match your own outfits. And all these items are available at a highly competitive price.
And now, that Kerala has joined the ever growing band of “Anti-Plastic Bags” Campaigners around the world, why not go out to the local Markets with one of those extra large palm-fiber bags from the Centre. This would serve two purposes right away – the “NO Plastic Bags” campaign as well as helping the more then deserving group of peoples at this Centre.
Their Embroidery section is a delight – Sarees and other fabrics can be embroidered to your own design – the stitching is so delicate, so feminine. And what about their beautiful tablecloths? Their delicate embroidery had the visitors, who back in England during the long, dark and miserable winter-evenings pursue the art of tapestry and embroidery, particularly in raptures.
The Centres cut-out-work is also very notable. For Mum’s (and Muthasshi’s) stepping into the Children’s Department is such a pleasure, that I have seen some of my own visitors buying Baby- and Toddler Dresses, in the hope to find somebody ‘back home’ who might be needing these in time to come. Their wonderful smock-embroidery reminded me of the time all those years ago, when my own Mother took such pleasure in dressing me in beautifully smocked dresses and overcoats. What sweet memories!