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Hoop in a loop

Shailaja Tripathi | Updated on April 26, 2021

Variety fare: Commissions keep trickling in through Hasna Jasmine’s social media handles

Weaving in: Last year, Noida-based artist Ritu Jain got a commission from a family for hoops depicting their pet dog, two flamingoes, a bouquet and a name   -  RITU JAIN

Cozy art: Anupama Nandakumar’s human figures, idyllic outdoor scenes and text hoops have found several takers on e-commerce platform Etsy   -  ANUPAMA NANDAKUMAR

Hemmed in by the pandemic, many have turned hoop work into a lucrative art form

* Hoop is a circular wooden frame with a metal screw, placed on a particular portion of fabric that needs to be embroidered upon

* For the artist, it can be therapeutic; for the client, it is pleasing to the eye

* Jain is now in the process of forming a group called the Happy Stitchers’ Club, uniting people with a love for embroidery

***

Hasna Jasmine has been busy all day, stitching designs on cloth for her clients. Finally, at 8 in the evening, once she has uploaded a video of her new work on her Instagram handle, she is free for a conversation.

Jasmine is a full-time hoop embroidery artist based in Kochi. Commissions keep trickling in through her social media handles, particularly Instagram, keeping her occupied. It is almost like a regular job, she says. She doesn’t take up more than 15 orders a month so that she can do justice to her art. “It is very time consuming and can be tiring,” she says.

Hoop is a circular wooden frame with a metal screw. The frame is placed on a particular portion of fabric that needs to be embroidered upon, to keep it taut. Traditionally hoops have been part of the process of creating designs on textile but seldom seen as finished works on their own.

Today, in many homes hoops sit pretty on the walls or propped up on a shelf. Noida-based hoop embroidery artist Ritu Jain got a commission last year for six hoops that she had to ready for a villa in Bengaluru. “The hoops were for their daughter’s room and I was asked to make hoops depicting their pet dog, two flamingoes, a bouquet and a name hoop with a wreath design at the bottom,” she says.

Hoop work has emerged as an art form in the last couple of years. But it seems to have garnered popularity in the last year or so. “I think the pandemic has given us a new perspective on everything. People have started to appreciate crafts more,” Jain says.

A trained fashion designer, Jain picked up hoop embroidery in July 2020. “I was doing content writing before that and I was tired. I learnt hoop embroidery and within a week, I got seven or eight orders,” adds Jain, whose Insta handle Hazel Embroidery Designs boasts more than 20,000 followers.

Jain is now in the process of forming a group called the Happy Stitchers’ Club uniting people with a love for embroidery.

Embroidery, sewing and stitching are known to be beneficial for mental health. During the First World War, textile historian and embroiderer Louisa Pesel taught embroidery to soldiers and Belgian refugees in Bradford to help them recover from the trauma of war.

Twenty-four year old Anupama Nandakumar’s bio on her Instagram handle Hoopables announces that her custom orders are closed. The young embroider from Thrissur, with more than 11,000 followers on Insta, says she needs to finish her present commissions and take a quick break before she can open for orders again in May.

Nandakumar’s dainty human figures, idyllic outdoor scene, minimalistic name hoops or text hoops have found several takers on American e-commerce platform Etsy.

Loop embroidery, clearly, helps both the artist and the client. For the artist, it can be therapeutic; for the client, it is pleasing to the eye and can meet specific demands. Not surprisingly, what started as a hobby in 2018 for Nandakumar has become a serious affair.

“I found it very calming. I couldn’t stop doing it. I started with two hoops for my friends’ birthdays. Once people saw those, they wanted to get something similar. The response I received after I posted the pictures on my Instagram handle made me realise that I was going to be doing this for a long time,” says Nandakumar, who is pursuing an M.Phil in Geography from Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi.

The artist reveals that her clients mostly demand portraits to be recreated from photographs. “For portraits, I realised embroidering the face becomes very time consuming and expensive. So I thought of trying out painting to save time. Now I combine painting and embroidery in my hoops.”

There was a time when people were unaware of the art form. In 2018, when Jasmine put up a stall selling hoops in the flea market of Calicut, visitors appeared perplexed. “They asked me, ‘Do you teach embroidery?’ ‘What is the use of this? Why should I buy it?’ but it’s a different story today,” recalls Jasmine, a BAMS (Bachelors in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery) graduate.

Jasmine, who largely did floral hoops until last year, is now engaged with more portraits because of an increase in demand from customers and venturing into more realistic work which can be seen on her insta handle Hoop it. “I have done more than 80 portraits till now. Customers also order for name hoops such as couple names or baby names.”

Besides being a meditative act, hoop embroidery is also relatively easy to learn. “It is easy; the materials and patterns are also easily available. I attended 10 tutorials and started making hoops,” says Jasmine. “Of course, one needs to perfect the stitches, visualise the work and churn out more refined work, but that happens with practice.”

Instagram has played a major role in propagating hoops, she adds. The lockdown and work from home have also encouraged people to take up different hobbies, and embroidery is among them. “But I don't know how many people will continue with it after the pandemic.”

Thirty-four year old Pune-based Megha Mutha is an art practitioner. She merges hoop embroidery with painting and showcases them on Prism.art08 . “If it’s a baby face so I will paint it in skin colour I won't use thread there as I want to highlight the hair with a 3D effect and I would fill the hair with satin stitch or back stitch,” Mutha explains.

“We always associated embroidery with cushions, tablecloth, bed sheets but hanging embroidery on a wall is a new concept which is attracting people,” she says.

Hoop embroidery artists essentially work on hoops of three sizes — 6 inches, 8 inches and 12 inches. Depending upon design and space, artists choose from a number of stitches such as satin stitch, split back stitch, cross stitch, fishbone stitch, basketweave stitch and so on.

“People want hoops which have a contemporary feel. These days the Brazilian stitch which is done with two needles, a woven wheel stitch and the modern version of the French knot are extremely popular. Whenever I do a video featuring these stitches, I get massive viewership,” Jain says. An Instagram reel of Jain embroidering a dog’s paw using the chain stitch style got her 1.6 lakh views.

As for the fabric, the artists work on muslin, cotton casement, cotton linen blended and cotton poplin. On the demand of their followers, the artists have also started hosting workshops in addition to posting video tutorials. Since May 2020, Nandakumar has hosted eight workshops. “Right after the lockdown I started getting a lot of enquiries from people asking me if I could teach them,” she says.

The workshops are attended by a range of people — from corporate professionals and the elderly people to homemakers. It helps them unwind and learn a new skill. For some, it is an additional way of earning an income. The prices of loop works are usually in the ₹800-2,000 range.

Needlework is largely viewed as a feminine or domestic art but for several artists it is neither a gendered occupation nor a mere hobby. Artists have often used the art form to make statements. There are hoops in response to Anti-CAA protests, .the 1984 Sikh massacres and farmer protests.

Insta handle Singhleton, for instance, uses it to express dissent. A post on her handle features a hoop embroidered with a quote by BR Ambedkar: ”The World Owes Much to Rebels Who Would Dare to Argue in The Face of The Pontiff And Insist That He Is Not Infallible” in response to the arrests of activists Nodeep Kaur, Rona Wilson and ED raids on news portal NewsClick.

A work by Nandakumar also stands out in this regard. She has embroidered a young woman with her cat climbing stairs. Below the staircase are words that read: ‘Too skinny. Too fat, too young, too dark, stop asking for it. Too bossy. She will fail. She can’t to signify a woman marching ahead, crushing assumptions under her feet.

Shailaja Tripathi is a Bengaluru-based independent journalist

Published on April 26, 2021

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