She has no background in design or fashion. Yet her carefully crafted brand of artisanal jewellery, Maya, speaks volumes for her sound, skillful engineering. Meet trailblazer Rosalind Periera, who has been shaping the lives of thousands of underprivileged artisans through her initiative while reviving the traditional, dying art of hand-knotting.
“I feel an aesthetic is not learnt in a design school. Instead, it is developed by opening up your mind to the design influences that thrive all around you,” says Rosalind as we chat at Baro, the furniture and art store in Mumbai where she is showcasing her definitive pieces in a collection called Timeless Classics. “Every piece is a virtual artwork, and is a summation of a rigorous process of research and development, where we look at balancing design durability with sustainability and overall comfort. The process is often a collaborative effort between the designer and the maker.”
Rosalind has been working for over two decades with the patwas (karigars), hailing mainly from north India, and living as migrant labourers in Mumbai, to revive the painstaking hand-knotting techniques of aari and charakkam. What has resulted from this patient effort is a riveting collection of necklaces and bracelets made from vegetable-dyed silk, cotton yarn and metal. While aari involves bringing in the sparkling threads into the knots, charakkam is a technique of hand-knotting associated with Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
“It includes complicated knots and using them to weave different designs,” explains Rosalind. “The knots are used to encrust metal motifs like our individually hand-casted brass pendants, semi-precious stones (like amethyst, jasper, labrodrite, coral and pearl) and crocheted motifs into the finished product. The yarn for these knots is specially made on spinning wheels called charak (lending the craft its name) and is coloured, mostly with organic dyes.” Maya has been making use of these treasured techniques to create organic, utilitarian pieces of jewellery.
From the preparation of the yarn to the hand-casting of pendants in a necklace or the actual process of working the yarn into charakkam knots or crochet designs, creating every element of the jewellery charts its own creative trajectory. It is this pouring in of passion-driven aesthetics that makes Maya’s craft-intensive jewellery authentic, unique and long-lasting. “And as we are a small-batch artisanal outfit, each piece is unique. It cannot be duplicated, even by the same artisan—the signature of a limited edition,” she shares.
Inspirations flow in aplenty, from pebbles on a river, “or even corn cobs hanging in a shop in a dusty village somewhere in Africa,” laughs Rosalind. “It could be the window frames in a city I visited in Uzbekistan or the jharokhas in a Rajasthani fort or a carpet of Ngorongoro flowers on the Serengeti in Africa. Nothing limits your imagination.”
Shaping the jewellery takes days, and sometimes months. “Each of our pieces have multiple elements, produced all across the country which take months to be developed and produced. Our principle element, yarn, has a mind of its own—it has be to coerced and cajoled to behave like you want it to. It’s actually quite a fascinating process. I simply love it,” she says.
But in the wake of both Indian and foreign jewellery brands thronging the accessories market, where does Rosalind see Maya making a mark? “I feel that sustainable fashion is mostly focused on textiles but there is a rich tradition of woven accessories and those stories must also be told. Maya is one among a handful doing just that. Craft-based products are a huge space to grow into, and mostly unexplored till now. So in terms of growth, there is only one way to look—forward and upward.”