In the western world, natural textile fibres like hemp, cotton, jute, wool, and most importantly silk are commonly used for making jewellery. However, natural reed, grass or leaf components are rarely used. On the other hand, with a range of grass, reed and leaf based products India occupies an irreplaceable position in this segment.
Reed and Grass jewellery of India
The bamboo and cane jewellery of North Eastern states of India is magnificent. Being Sturdy, yet flexible, bamboo is the best ECO-friendly material that can be utilised to make jewellery. Sikki grass, often identified as the “Golden grass” is used to create innovative accessories and jewellery. There have been several efforts to explore Sisal grass into jewellery too. Koodur grass of Kashmir and Kajoor grass of Ujjain can be tastefully made into accessories and ornaments. In the South Thazhambhu is traditionally braided into bridal hair does for its distinct fragrance. Though, Palm leaf is a lesser-known material in this segment, it has a lot of potential. Cost effectiveness and the ability to hold an array of colours turn this humble raw material into prospective designer jewellery. While Bangles and Palm Leaf earrings have been the typical products developed with Palm leaf, it offers scope to explore statement necklace styles too.
What is Palm Leaf
Palm trees belong to Arecaceae family, further known as “Palmae”. They grow better in sandy areas where the roots can penetrate through the soil and can withstand dry conditions. Palm leaf is a significant component of cultural commodities. The dried palm leaves are used in making a variety of items such as trousseau packaging, storage boxes, hats, trays, baskets and more.
Palm Leaf products- Manufacturing process
Firstly, the leaves are harvested and dried in the sun. Once their ribs are separated, the leaves are cut into thin strips, dyed in boiling water and again dried. These coloured strips are then woven into the desired designs typically using weaves such as “Thaduku Mudichal” and “Kannu Mudichal”. To ensure pliability, the leaves are continually moistened during the weaving process. The ribs of the palm leaves are used to provide the structure for the designs. The weaving of these products is elaborate and takes from anywhere between a few minutes to many days depending on the size and intricacy of the design.
Palm Leaf earrings
As I mentioned in my post on Pulicat, I had worked with the Pulicat Palm leaf artisans in the middle of this year for design intervention project. In that process, we came up with Palm leaf beads in round, square, star and cylindrical shapes. I got a few extras made for me and converted them into earrings.
The above Jhumka earrings were my original design for the workshop. After making two pairs for them, I made two pairs for sale in the same colour combination and two in white (natural) and pink. I can still make jhumkas in dark teal or yellow (colours that you can see in other pieces in this post). A lot of times I make pieces for myself but end up selling them when people ask. But this time I wanted to keep a pair for myself and you can see me wearing it in the last picture on this page.
Moravian Star Palm Leaf Earrings – These are smaller and daintier than the other jhumkas and are for sale. I can exchange the silver colour findings for gold tone, if required.
The above palm leaf earrings with swarovski pearls are made of cylinders used as stem in rattles. They are thin and are about 3″ long from the ear piercing. The Cylindrical dark teal earrings with detachable kemp focal studs are shorter but they are indeed very eye catching. These are both available for sale. The Palm leaf beads were specially created for me by Artisans Ms. Priya and Ms. Asma, both members of the Pulicat Palm leaf society.
What to expect while buying Palm Leaf earrings
Palm leaf earrings are lightweight. So even when they look big, they are wearable. Palm leaf is typically dyed in direct dyes. This means that very rarely they could bleed (particularly red or pink colours). I usually test mine before selling them. But I do not seal them with varnish.
Styling Palm Leaf earrings
The colour and size of these earrings may make them seem tribal or at the least bohemian. Don’t be mistaken, they are great for semi formal looks too. Though westerns might find yellow or pink too gaudy as formal wear, in India, these colours are not just accepted but also appreciated. The trick that I follow when wearing these high value colours is that I pair them with neutral clothes and a second contrast. In the first image I was wearing a Offwhite Kerala Kasavu saree with a pink and gold blouse for the Graduation ceremony at NIFT this year. I had worn a Moravian star necklace and white and pink jhumka. There was just a hint of colour once I had put on the faculty’s black graduation robes. The colourful background that is see is the pin-up board near my desk. The second is from my trip to Badrinath. This was at Devaprayag, but it is a look that can be worn at a seminar or a conference. The muted gray top and the dull rust pashmina balance the hot yellow making it wearable.
Caring for Palm Leaf jewelry
Palm leaf reacts to weather. During very dry or extremely humid weather they might crack and the natural colour inside would be seen. Depending on climatic conditions (wet & dirty fog), there might occasionally be a fungus growth as it is an organic material. In both cases, just pat them clean with a wet cloth and dry completely. Do not store them in zip lock pouches with stale air locked in. Like any other natural product, they need to be aired, worn and cleaned frequently.
I love the interest that the jhumkas got and I am really happy that people are opening up to the idea of Palm leaf jewelry. They are exactly the right amount of Kitsch that could benefit your wardrobe. I own many leaf and reed jewelry and I must tell you that I get complimented everytime I wear them. So give them a chance. If you are looking for something truly Indian, yet unique these Palm Leaf earrings are great options. To buy the available pieces, please email me.
Do tell me if the comments, if you have ever worn reed or grass jewelry and if you have or will consider wearing them. Also, what is your take on wearing colourful, kitschy jewelry?