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A stitch in time to revive embroidery traditions

New book on hand-sewing techniques :

EMBROIDERY EXPERT: Ramyali Leelaratne

EMBROIDERY: Time passes by. Each year new trends take over the fashion industry and with time they fade away. Fashion is ephemeral by nature. Yet the majesty of old traditions prevails. It is through their ancient roots that new ideas and methods emerge, blending into a multitude of colours, patterns and stitches, producing exquisite garments, cushion covers, bags, wall hangings and bed spreads.

The art of sewing has always been closely linked with the feminine touch. Seamstresses had produced many breath-taking forms of creations long before the sewing machine and printers came to exist. However, the value and grandeur of hand stitched embroidery remain unmatched.

This is the lesson behind Ramyali Leelaratne's book on the basics of embroidery, Daeshiya Sarasili Athkam Mahum Krama (Geometric Embroidery) published by Stamford Lake (Pvt) Ltd. The book launch was held at the Jayewardene Art Centre, Colombo, on March 26 under the patronage of Child Development and Women's Empowerment Minister Sumedha G. Jayasena.

"I learnt the basics of embroidery from my mother and my schools, Anula College, Nugegoda and Musaeus College, Colombo. During school vacations my siblings and I would return to our home in Maskeliya. We would spend our time sitting around on the carpeted floor, sewing while listening to the radio. That was the beginning which helped me to proceed in this field," Ramyali said.

FORMS OF EMBROIDERY: Different stitches connected to Geometric Embroidery

EXQUISITE EMBROIDERY: Cushion covers made by Leelaratne

Though she is engaged in other field such as cookery, beauty culture, painting, jewellery designing and floral arrangements, this is her first love - and first book.

"I spent all my free time stitching. When I was invited to television programmes, I presented these creations. There was a good response for them. So I had to put my creations in the market. Then there were a number of requests asking me to present this form of sewing through a book. Daeshiya Sarasali Athkam Mahum Krama is the result of all those demands," she explained.

Ramyali had written the book in English. She had shown it to Thilaka Jayasundera, the director of the National Crafts Council, who had advised her to rewrite the book in Sinhala.

"It is mostly the rural folk who engage in this form of sewing. Therefore it seemed more appropriate for it to be written in our mother tongue. This method of sewing is not alien to us. It had existed for ages. Foreigners had borrowed it from us and used different terms. Now it has come back to us under English terms," Leelaratne mused.

"I have used old Sinhalese terms such as Wanka Gedi Masma and Mahawali Masma instead of the English terms that we are now familiar with. Sunanda Abeysiriwardana, the compiler of the Sinhala dictionary, helped me during this process. This book is written using simple language so that even a young child would be able to grasp it. There are diagrams to show both the outer layer as well as the under layer of the stitches. Even men can try their hand at this form of stitching. It is very easy to follow," she added.

Ramyali's aim in writing this book is to see women benefit economically by producing embroidery creations for the market. "Works of embroidery are in high demand. Our country would be able to develop its economy by exporting such garments," she noted.

"I believe that this book's worth comes from the fact that it is written in Sinhala. My aim is to write books concerning all the fields I am engaged in. It will be a great pleasure for me if someone is able to make a better living with the aid of my book."


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