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Rekindling a Dying Art

Rekindling a Dying Art

Club Member Neelu Jain explains her passion for the traditional Japanese craft of embroidered temari balls.

Soon after the earthquake in 2011, a friend of mine who used to take temari classes at the Club introduced me to the art. Later that year, one of the students from the class was selling temari at the International Bazaar. That’s when I first saw that they could be used, and I wanted to learn more.

I used to do shibori tie-dyeing as a kid and I was introduced to Indian embroidery at 10 years old. I later did a master’s in apparel design, so I’m a costume designer by profession.

Coming from India, I’m very interested in handloom [weaving] and the craft sector, so anything created by hand, sown or embroidered. I was very interested in the complexity of producing a temari ball and the simplicity of how it looks.

In the beginning, I just wanted to learn how to make them. I’ve been doing it for seven years now and I got into earning certificates in making temari because I wanted to teach people. It’s a kind of dying art, so I wanted to revive it as well. Just recently, I got my master-level certificate.

Historically, temari were used as simple toys for kids. Mothers would take their old kimono fabric, wrap them in a ball and take the same kimono yarn to make interesting designs on them. As time went by, [temari] became an art form for royalty and the designs became more intricate.

Later, they became decorations for hinamatsuri [Girls’ Day] and gifts for weddings and births. They are now popular with foreigners as Christmas tree decorations. For my master certificate, I developed a cube-shaped temari, which was appreciated by the Temari Association.

As I got into creating more intricate temari, I didn’t know what to do with them. My house was full of temari. Then a few of my friends saw them and wanted to buy some. I started to teach a friend and realized that I had a knack for explaining patterns. Then I started to work through the certificates to be able to teach.

Japanese people are really interested when they see my work, and they want to know why a foreigner is interested in their art. At the same time, they feel sad that they haven’t picked up the craft. But I have five or six Japanese students who really want to learn.

When I start a pattern, I can do that for hours and basically forget about everything else happening around me. Each pattern I make has a story and is inspired by nature. It’s almost like the pattern takes me to the places I have visited in Japan.

Since we have been moving around with my husband’s job, [making temari] keeps me grounded. It has made me a calmer and more patient person. And I enjoy seeing the passion for learning in my students.

I would like to revive this art and make it more known to people. I also want to do something with temari that is more than decorative, where they have a utility.

As told to INTOUCH’s Nick Jones.