In a rural farming area in southern India rice paddies and banana plantations stretch as far as the eye can see. Growing up surrounded by and working in these plantations, the women in this area use the bark which is naturally shed several times a year to create products for their domestic use. In the last 20 years or so an effort has been made to formalize and re interpret traditional designs with the vision of generating additional income for the women behind the craft and this is where, working with a group of about 8 women, we create our banana fiber products.
It all begins with the natural shedding of the banana plant bark. The women observe the process and when the timing is right, these large pieces of natural material are gathered by the rope makers. Once fully dried the bark is spliced into long thin strips of different widths and segregated out by color variations.
Then, by putting gentle pressure and applying a rolling motion the strips are rolled into one another and progressively new strips are added to create the sturdy, beautifully variegated rope which is the base product of our baskets. Working nimbly, with practiced skill, a rope maker will need a full day to make the 200 meters of rope needed for one of our baskets! All while chatting away and keeping a close eye on their children balls of different rope thicknesses begin to pile up. This because, as you can imagine, a larger basket will need a sturdier, thicker rope while a napkin ring will generally be made with a finer rope.
At this stage it's worth mentioning that, not only will the artisans be creating a beautiful natural product, but they are also helping to keep this "waste" material from the landfill or from being burnt both of which produce toxic gases. A win-win situation!
Having selected and bought the necessary quantities of rope for an order, the next step in the process is the hand weaving or actually crocheting of the banana fiber product. Crocheting is a traditional skill in many parts of India and in this case it's been adapted for this local material. The ball of rope is first soaked in water to keep it soft and no framing is used so the skill of the artisan to recognize the variety in the thickness of the rope as it unravels is essential. Working up from the base of the basket or the center of the placemat and using just a crochet needle, she carefully counts the rows making sure that the desired symmetry is achieved. And finally, depending on the size and shape of the basket, stability is provided by using a wire which has been covered by banana fiber rope so as to remain invisible to the eye. The best part is that once the crochet artisans have been given their rope allocations and design specifications they can work from the comfort and safety of their home so they can manage their time between work and taking care of their families.
There are many actors involved in the making of our banana fiber baskets and table decor with each one using their skills to contribute to the community in a carefully orchestrated process!
Together with the many natural variations in color these all come together to make each piece truly unique. Beautiful, sturdy, and yes, biodegradable everyday basket products created in harmony with nature. From plantation to basket!