Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
Anyone who knows Gujarati or Hindi knows that Mochi means a cobbler. So when I first heard my dealer say that a category of very fine embroidery is known as mochi work it surprised me.
As always, my first reaction to believe that maybe my knowledge is incomplete or wrong – and so I wondered whether the word ‘mochi’ as I understood it had some other roots. Because the finesse of the stitch seemed to be antithetic to the stitch of cobblers.
In fact our sowing teacher in school (Grade 5), Mrs. Lobo, would reprimand us for untidy embroidery saying that we were stitching like cobblers. [those were the good old days when teachers & parents did scold children and the children and society were all better off]
Cobblers were meant to be using large needles and their stitches were meant to be large too – to suit the medium they worked on. And on that basis, the idea that they produced only rough work took root.
In those days when people were content in their own lives and travel was neither easy nor was it the stylish thing to do, it is quite likely that Mrs. Lobo, a resident of Bombay but hailing from Goa or Mangalore, had not been to the remote areas of Gujarat or the Kutch. And therefore it is likely that she had no exposure to the fine embroidery of the mochi community executed on silk.
And so unbeknownst to her, she was bestowing compliments on us noobs instead of the caustic corrective words that she intended.
[The opposite just occurred to me: Maybe she DID know of mochi embroidery and maybe my work was really so good!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 Possible but improbable.]
The mistake in my thinking was that I defined the work of cobblers by the idea of large stitches. What one needed to focus on was the challenge of working on the tougher medium of leather. The fact that generations working on the same craft meant that learnings and experiences would have been passed down to create a larger deeper collective understanding – somewhat like the ‘Big Data Analytics’ we see today.
This is what probably resulted in an innovation – the use of the hook – that further resulted in the evolution of the craft.
Here is an enlightening note on the technique written in 1957 by John Irwin and Babette Hanish published in the “Needle and Bobbin Bulletin” [wow! there is such a bulletin!!! – the world is so full of surprises!!]
Some photos of Mochi work from my visit to the museums in Bhuj in 2007.
And a beautiful beautiful piece that went under the hammer in 2014 for nearly US$10,000 at Bonhams.
Am marveling at the mochi embroidery depicted within this mochi embrodiery!
Mochi embroidery is now an extinct art – am not sure though but this is what dealers have told me.
I can only hope that someone will come along and tell me that I am wrong!