The Story of the Susie Skirt

Last year I was asked by a friend, Hema of Amba Weave, to work with her on a block printing project. I finally met up with her again last week, wow, nearly 10 months since we worked together, and got to see the finished 'Susie Skirt' as dear Hema called our final project

Hema started this project to help out Padmini at Tharangini, a block printing workshop in Bangalore. Padmini and her team worked with students at the Asha school for kids with autism and taught them block printing as a form of therapy for their autism. The project began as a quest to find some way to keep the children busy, to cover the costs of the materials in their workshop and to help fund Asha. Fiona, a friend in Bangalore who writes the best guide books to India wanted to use some of the profits from her books to fund any new blocks that needed to be made.

Hema asked me to help her to design a garment that could be made from the finished printed fabric, using scraps as trimming. The product needed to be a design where imperfections in the printing wouldn't matter and where a lot of fabric was used to give all of the kids a chance to work on the fabric. We decided on a full, gathered skirt on a yoke (to reduce the bulk around the hips). We looked at all the printing blocks and settled on a multi directional spotty one. This meant that it wouldn't matter which way up the kids printed. We got them to randomly scatter the pattern, using darker and darker tones as they overlapped the print towards the hem of the skirt. The dot block chosen proved to be too heavy for the children's hands so Padmini designed a new more ergonomic block with a handle that was easier for them to use.

Here are my designs for the order of printing.

We used scraps from Hema's other products to make a band around the hem and waist and to make some little danglies on the ends of the drawstring. I learnt that the drawstring is called a dhori and the little danglies are called jumkhis.

The first fabric came through and lessons were learnt. It was interesting to find that some of the children didn't like the random printing and overlapping the pattern. It upset them to print onto fabric that had already been done. In later printing the children were divided into two groups, those who were happy printing wildly and another group that really needed to place the block in exact spaces. 

When the first bolts of printed fabric came through Hema and I worked with her tailor to make up the first sample of the skirt. when we were happy with it he went into production. 

Hema has since had several events where the skirt was for sale and it has been really popular and raised a huge amount of money for Asha school. She has since done a reprint using another multi directional block as the first lot of skirts sold out. 

The students are now waiting for the next order which Hema will give them soon in a different colour range. And then it will be onto the next outfit.