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Monday, October 24, 2016


Indian pandal (marriage canopy)
Susan Oleksiw writes the Anita Ray series, set in South India, and the Chief Joe Silva/Mellingham series, set in a coastal New England town. Her stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies. Learn more about Susan and her books at her website. 

One of the pleasures of setting stories in India is thinking about the artwork and the crafts. I have always enjoyed handwork, and India has some of the finest examples of this in terms of fabric and embroidery. A common item is the pandal (shown above), or marriage canopy under which the ceremony is conducted. The canopy is decorated with various images in crewel stitching, and one piece can be both hand-stitched and machine stitched. My example is from Rajasthan.
Sozni (satin) stitching
My grandmother gave me a small scarf, really a shoulder scarf, to be worn under a jacket. This is pure Kashmiri wool with a pattern embroidered on one side. This kind of stitching is called sozni, or satin stitch. My grandmother gave me this when I was in college, and I've carried it with me over the years. I have rarely worn it because I recognized when I received it that it was already an antique. It's now probably 140 years old. This stitch is most often found on shawls today sold throughout India and for export.

At one time royal families would commission an entire dress or outfit to be covered in this stitch. The project could take years, and an artisan often made only one in his lifetime. I read years ago that the British were so disturbed that these artisans ended up blind from the close work that they prohibited the making of these outfits. I've seen them on display during textile exhibits in museums, and the stitches are tiny and the patterns intricate, covering every inch of fabric.
Dorukha style stitching 
I treasure another item passed down to me from my grandmother. This Kashmiri shawl is embroidered in the dorukha style, which means the embroidered pattern is double sided. The same pattern appears on both sides in the same or different colored threads. One side is done in red and pink, and the reverse is done in blue. This work is done by hand; it is not woven into the fabric. Embroidering something like this can take a year, and covering an entire shawl in this style can take three years and cost the same as a car. Not many artisans remain who are willing and able to do the work, and few can find younger people to train. This is a dying art, unfortunately.
Test of a true pashmina shawl
One of my first discoveries in India was about pashmina wool. Today I see ads for pashmina wool shawls, but I know they're fake, though even the sellers may not know that. When I wanted to buy a light shawl in Delhi, the seller brought out several but he said I should buy a real pashmina shawl while I had the chance. Did I know how to identify a real pashmina shawl? I did not. So he showed me. A real pashmina shawl will slide through a wedding ring, and the one he offered me did just that. I bought it. It's the only plain shawl I own, but I treasure it. It's as light as a summer breeze.

Anita Ray, the Indian-American photographer in my mystery series, wears cotton dupattas, or long stoles that go with the salwar khameez sets that she wears. She can drape them over her head on a sunny day to block out the sun, or over her shoulders in a cool evening breeze.

When Krishna Calls
An Anita Ray Mystery

In the glorious beauty of a tropical night, a young woman abandons her daughter in the Hotel Delite compound and flees into the darkness. In the morning Anita Ray recognizes the child as the daughter of an employee, but before she can track her down, the police arrive at the hotel looking for her. She is the main suspect in the stabbing death of her husband. This seems impossible to Anita, but so does the discovery that Nisha and her husband were involved with unscrupulous moneylenders from their family's village.

Anita is ready to let the police do their work as she prepares for a one-woman photography show in a prestigious gallery, but fate conspires against her. An accident wrecks her schedule as well as her car. She sets up her camera for one last shot, but it fails to work. When she inspects the camera she finds a piece of paper wrapped around the batteries and someone else's memory card inside.

Whether she likes it or not, Anita is drawn into the frantic search for a young mother and the murky world of moneylenders and debts of honor, a hidden corner of life in South India.

When Krishna Calls asks how far will a woman go for love and family? Anita Ray thinks she knows how Nisha would answer, but before it is all over Anita must also answer that question. How far will she go to protect her family and her home?


Susan Oleksiw said...

Lois, Thank you for hosting me today, and giving me the chance to talk about Indian embroidery. Although I've done a lot of handwork, including embroidery, my work has never risen to this level of skill. I remain in awe of these artisans.

Lois Winston said...

Mine either, Susan. I'd go blind!

Kathleen Valentine said...

What beautiful work! I love any kind of handwork anyway and the colors in this are just lovely.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Thanks, Kathleen. The shawls are so beautiful that I want to wear them but I'm worried I'll damage them. There are a few spots on them but I don't dare have them cleaned either. So I'm left to admire them and share their beauty with others through photographs. Thanks for commenting.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Oh my goodness, how beautiful!

I admire such talent...especially since I have absolutely zero in that particular art LOL!

Great post.

Good luck and God's blessings

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I enjoyed reading this post and seeing this lovely handiwork. Wonderful family treasures. And I also love your exotic mystery novels set in India.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Thanks, Pam and Jacquie. I'll never produce anything as beautiful as that needlework, but I'll keep writing the Anita Ray series. Thank you both for commenting.

Maris said...

The book sounds absolutely fascinating, and the embroidery you showed is beautiful. I did some needlework when I was in my twenties but nothing as delicate as what you have here. I know how much I labored over my stitches and can't begin to imagine what doing those designs would entail.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Thanks, Maris. Yes, I too tried embroidery but was never able to come close to the intricate work of Indian artists. Thanks for commenting.