Kodungallur Screw pine Craft Clu...
Initially, only mats were made from this craft. These mats were used as a bedding alternative. Kerala, a land with its luscious backwater was flooded by houseboats of various sizes in olden times, and the roofs and walls of these boats were made from screw pine mats. Other uses of them included thatching, hats, ropes, twine, sails for small boats, baskets etc. thus marking a vital existence in the daily life of olden kerala. In due course of time, the functions and utility of this craft changed to meet the needs of the contemporary market. Thus, nowadays different types and shapes of lifestyle products like bags, table mats, beach hats and household items like bowls and fruit holder bowls are made. The price of these products depends on the type of design and shape.
Nowadays, these products have taken an important place as gifts for wedding ceremonies and house warming ceremonies and various types of events.
It is considered that the mats created by screw pine plants have a significant role in the traditional customs of the state of Kerala. Tourists who visit the homes of the weavers of this craft, are offered the mats as honored articles to be sat upon. The most prominent characteristic of this craft is that the finer mats woven with screw pine have been used throughout history as an affordable bedding alternative. This craft has long provided the women crafters with steady employment and economic independence. The craft not only promotes green practices but it also provides employment in an eco-friendly manner. Screw pine craft is among many cultural wonders of India that not only displays the powers of craftsmanship but also promotes judicious use of resources.
In a world dominated by plastic mats and bags, the significance of the Screw Pine craft has experienced a notable resurgence. This renaissance is primarily attributed to its remarkable eco-friendly characteristics. The craft’s raw material, sourced locally, is not only readily available but also boasts the inherent advantage of being entirely biodegradable. It plays a crucial role in reducing environmental impact, aligning perfectly with sustainability goals. Furthermore, the material’s inherent strength ensures not only its resilience but also its ability to withstand the test of time, making it a durable and lasting choice for conscientious consumers seeking both eco-friendliness and longevity in their products.
The term ‘screw pine’ is commonly known as ‘Pandan’ or ‘Pandanus’. The plant belongs to the Pandanacea family. This plant is identified by its leaves which are sword like, thin and long, prickly margins, spiral arrangements, and aerial roots, with a rough green surface. Screw pine plant is a monocot and flowering plant. This plant only grows by streams and rivers which helps to protect the water bodies and prevent soil erosion. For making the products like baskets and mats, this fleshy green plant is peeled into thin strips, dried in the sun, and then diagonally plated to weave.
It is said that the screw pine craft of Kerala is one of the oldest crafts practiced by majorly women of this state for more than 800 years. It was first started as an empowerment tool for women but in course of time it later became highly popular due to its eco-friendly form of practice. This craft is considered as the most authentic and traditional cottage industry of Kerala. This craft is majorly practiced in Lokamaleswaram, Malappuram in Thrissur district of state of Kerala. The reason being is that the screw pine craft is a core natural resource product of this district from which people here make use of this plant to enrich their living. This natural resource is collected from local people and processed. This is the only plant where each part of this plant is used in order to make this craft. The leaves are widely used in creating a variety of products. These leaves are hand-weaved and the products are suitable to use, as they are eco-friendly and the dye colors which are used to color these leaves contain chemicals in very small quantities which is said that it does not affect the environmental protection. While, the roots of this plant are used to make paintbrushes.
On 30th November, 2015, the ‘Screw Pine craft of Kerala’ was granted Registration in Part A in respect of door mats, wall hangings, mats, bed mats, prayer mats falling in class-27 under sub-section (1) of section (13) of Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999.
Screw Pine weaving employs several techniques, including coiling, plaiting, and twining. These techniques determine the structure and appearance of the final product. Coiling involves wrapping the softened leaves in a circular manner to create the base of the item. Plaiting consists of weaving leaves together in an over-and-under fashion, while twining involves twisting and interlocking the leaves. Before weaving begins, artisans often have a design or pattern in mind. This could be a traditional pattern passed down through generations or a new, creative design. The pattern is laid out, and the leaves are cut or folded accordingly. Depending on the desired aesthetics, artisans may incorporate decorative elements such as colored leaves or fibers from other plants, beads, or shells to enhance the appearance of the woven item. These decorative elements add a unique and personal touch to the final product.
The products which are quite popular which are made out of the screw pine plant are mostly handbags, mats, braided bags, coasters, bowls, pillows, boxes with weaved lids. Recently in order to cater to the urban demand a new range of items have been added like sling bags, file holders and jewelry boxes. All these products are purely hand-made. These products are most preferred by not only local people but from all over the world. Slowly as the craft has been introduced in the international market, the craftsmen are now experimenting with adding new colors with natural fibers to last long in terms of durability.
One of the major challenges faced by the artisans of this craft is scarcity of screw pine and limited marketing opportunities for this craft. It is said that, a few years back, the plant was destroyed from the river banks, canals, ponds and from a few backwaters. Besides that, the outburst of plastic mats in the market also added a big issue to this craft. An initiative of revival of this craft is needed, starting from procuring the raw materials to bringing the innovative products to creating marketing avenues.
The screw pine craft making process follows several steps. The first basic step includes collecting the screw pine plant leaves and cleaning it, as it has sharp thorns on both the edges. The technique varies depending on the type of item being made.
The main raw material required for this craft is screw pine leaves. The other important raw materials required are mentioned below:
Screw Pine: Also known as Pandanus, is a tropical plant found in various parts of the world, including Kerala, a state in South India. Kerala Screw Pine is a particular variety of this plant that is native to the coastal regions of Kerala. It is known for its long, spiky leaves and its significance in traditional crafts, especially in the art of weaving. The leaves are carefully harvested and processed to make them pliable for weaving.
Dyes: The dye colors which are added with water to give color to the screw pine leaves.
The tools and technique required for this craft are mentioned below:
Cutters: Used to cut the screw pine leaves. In olden days, scythe used to be more popular as a cutter.
Needles: Used to stitch screw pine leaves together.
Cardboard: Used to stitch the coasters by placing the cardboard in the middle of two weaved screw pine leaves.
Splicer: Used to split the leaves into small strips of widths-0.25cm, 0.5cm, 1cm and 1.5cm. This tool is a piece of wood on which 3 blades are fixed at equal intervals. While splicing a leaf, four uniform strips of screw pine are cut.
Needle: In order to sew the edges of the products, the screw pine is sliced into very thin strips of 0.25cm. Needle is used to stitch the edges of these sliced leaves.
Punch: In order to fold the mat while making products into different shapes, punch weight is used to fold the mat, so to retain the shape while stitching two pieces together.
Tracing Wheel: In order to make the markings, a small wheel attached to a handle with multiple teeth is used. The tracing wheel is run through the line which should be creased, it is then folded with the help of a punch tool. The main purpose of using this tool is that the screw pine is usually stiff and rough, so there is a chance of breakage due the stiffness. Hence, to avoid the breakage, it is first creased with the tracing wheel and then folded, pressed with the help of a punch.
Knife: Knife is used to remove the sharp thorns attached to edges and midrib of the screw pine leaves.
Scissors: Depending on the different product sizes, scissors are used to cut the woven mats.
Screw pine plant, the large flowering part mostly grows on the river side. These plants are collected from the local people of that region. Mostly, the makers of this craft get the raw materials from the local areas and then they continue with the further process. These people are trained for about a month and later they come up with new designs which are appealed by the clients.
The first step in this process starts with cutting of the screw pine leaves with the help of a cutter tool. After the cutting process is done, the leaves are dried well to straighten the screw pine leaves. These leaves are then sliced to the required widths and then they undergo the process of dyeing where the leaves are put to boiling water in a 400 liters tank filled with required dye powder. After the boiling process, these leaves take the respective colour. However, these leaves undergo another vat dyeing process to cool it down. It is then kept in the sun to dry. After the drying process, they are then sent to the weaver’s department to start with the weaving process.
The weaving of screw pine leaves is done by using ‘one up and one down’ weaving technique arrangement. Majority of the products are done with the same process with a slight change in twist and turns of these leaves. Based on the required shape, these sheets are cut and then weaved.
For instance, in order to make the coaster a round shape cardboard is taken and then placed on the sheet of weaved screw pine and a circle shape is drawn on it. It is then cut into a circular shape. Now, at this step, a cardboard of the same size and shape of the screw pine leaf is cut and it is then glued between and stitched at the ends. These stitches form the important stage as the stitches should look neat and in sequence. This same technique is followed for making plates and mats.
Here’s a simple exploration of the general Screw Pine weaving process:
Harvesting and Preparation: The process commences with a careful selection and harvesting of Screw Pine leaves. These leaves, often long and slender, are ideally suited for weaving. Following the harvest, they are commonly subjected to sun-drying, a crucial step in preparing them for the weaving process.
Stripping and Softening: The leaves’ thorny edges are frequently removed to enhance workability. This is typically achieved using a knife or another sharp implement. Subsequently, the leaves are softened, rendering them pliable for weaving. This pliability is achieved through techniques such as rolling or gentle bending to break down the stiff fibers.
Pattern: Prior to the weaving initiation, artisans typically conceive a design or pattern, which may either be a traditional motif handed down through generations or a novel, creative concept. The chosen pattern is laid out, and the leaves are trimmed or folded accordingly to align with the envisioned design.
Weaving : Screw Pine weaving embraces several distinct techniques, including coiling, plaiting, and twining. These techniques play a pivotal role in determining the structure and appearance of the final product. Coiling involves the wrapping of softened leaves in a circular manner to create the foundation of the item. Plaiting entails the interweaving of leaves in an over-and-under fashion, while twining encompasses the twisting and interlocking of leaves to establish the desired pattern.
Finishing: As the weaving process advances, artisans ensure the integrity of the item’s shape and structure by securing the ends of the leaves. These ends are often tucked, sewn, or tied together with additional Screw Pine strips. This crucial step fortifies the durability and longevity of the finished product, guaranteeing its lasting quality.
The intricate and deliberate process of Screw Pine weaving reflects the dedication and skill of artisans who have honed this craft over generations. It results in finely crafted, eco-friendly products that serve both practical and aesthetic purposes while preserving cultural heritage and promoting sustainability.
List of craftsmen.
1. Anonymous, “Promoting Screw Pine”, Swaminathan Research Foundation website.
2. Baral B., Divyadarshan C.S., Sandhya B., “Screw Pine Craft-Thrissur”, D’scource.
3. Chandrashekar M., “Screw Pine Craft of Thrissur”, The Cultural Heritage of India website, (September 24, 2022).
4. Jacob., “Kerala Women’s Traditional Hand-Woven Screw Pine Craft on Its Way to Revival”, The Quint, (November 17, 2021).