“Art and culture flow from every nook and corner of Lucknow” says Uma Tripathi about the artisanal heritage rooted in the city. Even though she graduated with a degree in law from Lucknow University, her first love had always been design. Reflecting the influence that the city has had on her, Uma shares, “The City of Nawabs with its rich history of extending patronage to exquisite art-forms, mapped my journey of using traditional hand-embroidered textiles as a means for artistic expression and women empowerment.”
Born and raised in Bhilainagar, Bihar, it was only after her father passed away in the mid 1990s that the family moved to their ancestral city of Lucknow. While in school, she had opted for home science as a subject, which introduced her to different embroidery techniques and a few other crafts. Lucknow was the perfect place to dwell deeper and expand her knowledge. This is where she came across textile embroidery crafts such as Chikankari, Mukaish, Kamdaani, Zardozi and more. What started out as a passion project, now supports more than 65 women artisans directly and many more women are roped in when there’s a demand surge. Moreover, Uma has trained over 400 women in Chikankari, Mukaish and other embroidery forms.
Mastering the craft didn’t come without its challenges. Uma camped in different villages to gain expertise under the tutelage of various master artisans, practicing hands-on learning. Uma says, “To do justice to an art form which dates back numerous centuries, I felt it was imperative to understand its minute nuances, its roots and how it has transitioned through time.” The entire learning curve proved to be an enriching experience for her. She feels blessed to have gained knowledge about certain rare traditional techniques, standing on the verge of being lost to the annals of history as the arduous effort that went behind them wasn’t being rewarded appropriately and not many from her gurus’ next generation were willing to take up the vocation.
Today, Uma can proudly lay claim to passing on centuries-old wisdom to those who show keen interest. While Chikankari embroidery has thrived relatively well in contemporary times, there are only a few with the ability to execute by hand some of the sophisticated stitches and techniques to perfection like Uma and her team. “The beauty lies in the details!”, says Uma “Even in Mukaish work, which involves embellishing fabrics with dot motifs and patterns using metal wires, we are thoughtful of not just the intricacies of the design but finishing it well by carefully bending and locking the wires so that they don’t entangle in other fabrics or brush uncomfortably against the skin.”
When she started the workshop with her brother, it was to be a small unit. Though, one thing was clear to her from the beginning - her venture was to empower as many women as possible. Employing women from urban-rural and rural settings, she was empathetic towards their plight of balancing work along with household responsibilities. Uma made space for them to get skilled and then, if need be, work from the comfort of their homes. It is perhaps a combination of her passion for the craft, compassion towards her peers and a discerning eye for blending traditional skills with contemporary tastes that she has been able to scale her operations and stand out. Hers is an inspiring story of crafts empowering female artisans, one worth echoing far and wide for many more to follow.