Spanning the globe, Textile Society of America’s membership reflects the broad range of practices and areas of interest that textiles inspire. This month, we highlight Prerana Anjali Choudhury, founder of HoN, a micro handloom initiative based in Assam, India. Born out of an effort to sustain and preserve indigenous textiles and the beauty of the manual loom, HoN’s mission centers community and the women behind the work.
Textile Society of America (TSA): Please share a bit about your work process, and inspiration.
Prerana Anjali Choudhury (PAC): I am from Assam in northeastern India, and growing up I was exposed to the beautiful handloom creations of my paternal grandmother. She would sit at the household loom (manual loom), weaving for hours and engrossed by the rhythm of it. I used to stare at the movement of her hands, transfixed by the motifs she created and the textile canvas that unfolded out of the warp and weft. It was like magic, which I think left an indelible impression on my mind.
It was natural for us to wear traditional drapes woven by our grandmother in our girlhood days, while the women of the family discussed weaves and shared design inputs with each other. It was a lived experience to create clothes for oneself and for the members of the immediate and extended families. Rituals were incomplete— and are still incomplete to this day— without the presence of handwoven textiles. For us, we were lucky to have always received and worn clothes handwoven by our granny.
This of course became the key inspiration behind House of Noorie when I started traveling to Assam’s remote interiors and villages, searching for loom stories of indigenous women and communities. The handwoven textile tradition and practice has indeed taken a hit, with rapid industrialization and fast fashion surge in the past few decades. It pushed me to find out whether the rudimentary manual loom was still in practice as it was so many years back; if it was still a part of the lived experience and everyday lives of rural women. Coupled with that, the strong material history of indigenous design practices specific to the manual loom fueled my quest. HoN is driven by this material history, and I work with select women from indigenous communities to sustain the weaving practices of the manual loom.
I mainly base my work on slow and conscious travel through Assam’s villages, trying to work with women in their environments, situated at their homes and without displacing them from their environments. A large part of what I do is rooted in the communities’ biocultural way of life, which must be sustained and encouraged.
TSA: Does your work tend to reflect a communal process or more of an individual practice?
My work is inclined towards communal practice. Everything I do keeps in the heart of it the thought and practice showcased by rural communities. The women who are part of HoN take the lead in purchasing yarn and discussing design, incorporating practices like hand spinning and natural dye. We intentionally utilize the design history inherited by our women from their mothers and grandmothers, while also keeping focus on working only on the manual loom. The “non-mechanized” nature of the loom may, from the outside, appear more laborious. But for these women who have grown up learning to wield it, it’s second nature for them. Also, installing or repairing a manual loom is easier for the village women and they do it by themselves or by helping each other. They do not like to involve the men or seek their help in the business of weaving!
TSA: Do you encounter any misconceptions about your work, and how do you address these?
PAC: I think the biggest misconceptions can arise from people labeling power loom-made textiles as handmade textiles. There is clearly a strong tendency amongst businesses and the mainstream market today to label any piece of traditional textile as handmade (something I see very commonly in Assam), perhaps also because the consumer is not as aware, knowledgeable, or conscious as before. The other thing that can cause misconceptions about the textiles we create is when a piece of woven textile (by hand or by machine) is tagged as belonging to a particular community. Attaching the name of an indigenous community to a particular textile incorrectly is a grave disrespect to the people of that community, their culture and their identity.
I invest a significant portion of the time and effort put behind HoN to telling stories from the field —of the people, the community, the textiles created, the process behind creation, and so on. The community comes first, and the intention has always been to empower the women behind what we create.
TSA: If given the power to master any skill instantaneously, what would it be?
PAC: Weaving the loom—I really wish to learn and perfect it 🙂
TSA: Do you have any textile-related books or resources that you particularly recommend?
PAC: I recommend for any textile enthusiast to travel and set foot into the grassroots—for any region or community that sparks your interest. There are wonderful books and written resources that regale readers about the world of textiles but there is nothing above the real-time experience of meeting, interacting with, and living with people to learn about their history and their process of creating textiles.
TSA: Are you actively collecting textiles?
PAC: Not really. I do capture in images the textiles I get to see when I travel and meet people in the villages though. So I obsessively collect pictures and devour the beauty of the textiles when I am presented with the opportunity of seeing and hearing the stories of textiles that belong to diverse people.
TSA: How do you imagine that humanity might engage with textiles in the future?
PAC: I wish textiles could become a sort of language, like a marker of identity, even as we move further into AI. But textiles are intrinsically about tactility and I wish the future would be all about reclaiming the ancestral.
TSA: What projects are you currently working on / looking forward to?
PAC: I would like to move into research with the work I have been doing at HoN. In what form or shape, I am still exploring and trying to understand.
Prerana Anjali Choudhury belongs to Assam. She started HoN, a micro handloom initiative, as a way of sustaining and preserving the timeless, raw aesthetic of indigenous textiles woven on the rudimentary manual loom. HoN works with rural women from diverse communities who weave as a way of life, rooted in their bio-cultural environments. Prerana believes in the fluidity of textile drapes and wants to bring love and attention to the rich design history of Assam’s indigenous communities. She instills in her work a perspective of in-depth research and narrative storytelling, also carried out through slow and mindful travels to the region’s bucolic countryside. She is also interested in developing her textile work into a formal research program.