I’m not here to tell you that you should grow yarns & knit your clothes, but I do think you should buy from someone who does. Here’s why.
A Personal Touch
Among the most charming of the Eastern lands, known for its vivid collection of peoples, is Ceylon. Now known as Sri Lanka, this beautiful pearl in the Indian Ocean is my home.
When I was just a kid with pigtails I used to watch my grandma knit beautiful hair bands with little roses for me. I’d watch her do that for hours with a simple smile on her wrinkled face and once done she’d put one on my head, I’d hug her and run around my grandma’s house showing it to all my uncles and aunts. Looking back in time, it brings tears to my eyes, remembering the simpler times and realizing how much I was loved as a kid. Little did I know, I would never get a chance to learn how to make those hair bands.
I still feel the love and warmth she’d given me wrapped in a small hair band. Those simpler times are gone – no more grandma to knit me those. Now I buy hair bands from shops here and there, although I don’t know who made them and I don’t want to. It doesn’t feel like wearing the headband grandma would knit. They’re not soft, not irreplaceable. They have no story in it. Isn’t everything we buy now the same? We throw them away the moment feel we are done with it. But my mom still keeps the hair bands I wore when I was a kid and every single item my grandma knitted.
I’ve always cherished and loved traditional knitted garments. That’s why I had my wedding dress created by an artisan in my hometown, Galle, using Biralu (bobbin lace) as my mother suggested when I got married last September. (You can see my saree jacket in the picture.)
One of a Kind
I fell in love with this traditional way of creating new things the moment I saw it. I was stunned by the patience, spirit, and imagination it requires to craft these beautiful pieces of clothing. After my dress was done, a friend of my mother decorated it with beautiful pearls. When I finally got the finished saree, I was in tears. It was majestic, stunning, and one of a kind. I knew the people who created it and how much effort they put in to it. I could never put a price tag on it. It was priceless. There was a story in it that will stay years after I’m gone. I’m so glad I didn’t shop for a wedding dress, but got one crafted instead. Everybody loved my dress and they all agreed on one thing – that it is one of a kind!
Biralu or Pillow Lace is an ornamental openwork fabric formed by looping, interlacing, braiding, and twisting threads. Lace work was introduced in Sri Lanka by the Dutch in the mid- 17th century and has survived in the southern area of the island, Galle, where it still remains alive but as an underdeveloped cottage industry with women making lace at home.
The name biralu used for lace in Singhalese comes from the Portuguese word bilru used to describe the bobbins.
After the wedding my husband and I traveled around our beautiful island from Colombo to Kandy, to Pasikudah to Kataragama. Throughout the journey I was taken aback by the traditional handicrafts that were there in every remote village and in urban communities that were trying so hard to keep up with the modern world.
There were beautiful pieces of arts, lacquerware, metal and coconut crafts, masks, Biralu, Dumbara and Handloom weaving. I felt so guilty for being this late to appreciate these beautiful traditional crafts and for buying things without any concern. The beauty of making these is that most of the time these things are created with no (or less) harm to the environment and when we buy them we are helping out the community as well as preserving our traditions and culture.
I’m not here to tell you that you should grow your food and knit all your clothes. I’m asking you to take a deep breath and really think, do we need everything we buy? That scarf which was on display under beautiful green lights which isn’t really green? or that pair of shoes you bought last week because it was 10% off? or the handbag which claimed to be made of best leather that was on sale? Do some soul searching and I’m sure most of the time answer will be a big “NO”. The truth is, the rise of fast fashion has pushed people to buy more and discard more. It has destroyed the artisan inside us. We’ve all become “just” consumers.
This is my story I’m telling, my country’s tradition and culture I’m sharing. I know each and every country in this world has their own traditional way of crafting things. A way of doing things with less harm to the environment. This craftsmanship existed even before the new concepts and phrases of sustainability and green living.
At one time we all had a culture that was close to nature. Now it’s time to embrace those times again, to value those arts & crafts, to safeguard what’s left, to breathe life back to what’s ours by right. It’s time to save our planet and by doing so, save ourselves.