Weaving together Scottish and Chitrali narratives

By Shiza Malik
Adil Iqbal is a Scottish-Pakistani textile designer, whose designs have been showcased at fashion weeks in London and New York.
weavingPakistan and its rich textiles were a source of early inspiration for Mr Iqbal, whose 2006 graduate collection was inspired by childhood memories of watching his Pakistani mother and grandmother sewing. This fascination led him to establish Twilling Tweeds – a social enterprise which brings together embroiders from Chitral, Pakistan and Scottish weavers from Outer Hebrides, an island chain off the coast of mainland Scotland.
Twilling Tweeds’ hand-loomed embroidered textiles incorporate Pakistani narratives illustrated on Harris Tweed and Scottish narratives depicted on Chitrali calico. The product range spans from fashion, accessories, art and home décor. Dawn spoke to Mr Iqbal about his experience of bringing together these artisan communities.
Q: How was the idea for Twilling Tweeds born?
A: Twilling Tweeds is reflective of my own identity. I began researching the different craft traditions from Pakistan in 2008 and Twilling Tweeds was born in 2011, when I visited the Chitral Valley for a summer research project.
I fell in love with Chitral and its people. I was intrigued by the isolation under which artisans in both Pakistan and Scotland worked, sitting quietly by the fire, teasing thread.
I also wanted to work with the women in Chitral and create economic opportunities for them. So, I used the Dewar Arts Award to fund my 2012 project ‘Twilling Tweeds and Hunarmand Hoost (skilled hands)’.
So Twilling Tweeds began as an independent art project but later grew into a social enterprise. Now we are more than a brand, collaborating and working with artists, artisan collectives and businesses to create social impact.
Q: What did you aim to achieve with this project?
A: At the heart of this project was my passion for working within grass-root communities, coupled with a fascination for their cultural heritage. I wanted to connect textile workers in remote areas of Pakistan with those in the Outer Hebrides, creating a bridge between communities and raising cultural awareness.
Another major aim was to create an opportunity for the women of Chitral, to share their life experience and thoughts through a creative journey.
This would also allow the development of new ideas, textile work, market-friendly and income generating products and encouraging the artisans to take ownership of the creative art and design process.
Q: What were some of the gains made by the Twilling Tweeds?
A: Twilling Tweeds and Hunarmand Hoost workshops allowed Chitrali women to participate in a design workshop and develop skills, discuss various aspects of culture and also learn about Scotland. The workshop also offered a break from their daily routines and roles as mother, daughter, wife and sister.
A group of women from Chitral were also invited for the opening of the Islamabad exhibition, where they were able to interact with the audience. This was a very proud moment for many of the artisans, who were able to talk about their experiences, gain exposure and make linkages with the market.
Our current 2015 collection, featuring sleek, functional tote bags, zip clutches and a range of tapestries, cushions and coasters has provided a livelihood for the women in Chitral. They are able to save this money or put it towards their children’s schooling.
Q: How was the experience of bringing together weavers and embroiders from different ends of the world?
A: It was a beautiful experience. The artwork incorporates Pakistani narratives illustrated on Harris Tweed as well as Scottish narratives on Chitrali calico. In the past, culture and life in Scotland was very similar to that of the people of Chitral, who also weave and farm land. And both Chitral and the Isle of Lewis in Outer Hebrides share the fact that they are self sufficient and tightly knit communities. The Scots are famous for weaving tweed while the Chitralis are well-known for their hand-woven woollen, Patti cloth.
The narratives shared in the work depict the determination of the people in the Outer Hebrides and Chitral Valley in Pakistan to preserve some ancient traditions which might otherwise slowly disappear. And this exchange mingles their traditions in unique and unexpected ways.–Dawn

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