Category Archives: Design and Art

What Your Anchal Product Is Telling You


The leaves are falling, the air is chilling, and my Anchal textiles are getting more use than ever! As fall settles in, I have been rocking my Anchal scarf during the day and cuddling with my quilt at night. With their ever-increasing use, the intricate patterns of these textiles have really begun to spark my interest. For example, where did this alternating paisley on my quilt get its start? Why are lotuses stitched onto so many Anchal pillows? And just what does this winding vine pattern on my scarf really mean? Consequently, I hit the history books to find out what a few of these symbols mean and here is what I found:

If your Anchal product has a Lotus, or Kamal, symbol, it represents power and wealth.
The Lotus, or Kamal, is a complex symbol that came from both Buddhist and Hindu religions. Pantheons of these religions rested on lotus-shaped structures, which represented their spiritual power and authority. It also symbolized the material world, the multiplicity of the universe, prosperity, and material wealth.

If your Anchal product has Jasmine on it, then it symbolizes purity and holiness.
Jasmine, a six-petaled flower, originally appeared on pottery remains from the Indus Valley. Many girls who weren’t married used the motif to represent their virtuous nature. These flowers eventually became a very popular decorative element in Islamic India.

If your Anchal product has the Buti symbol, it represents exclusivity.
Buti, which is floating shapes of flowers, sprigs, or bushes against a plain background, first appeared in North and East Indian sculpture. These elements in clothing suggested unique block-printing and dyeing techniques. While the motif has been indigenous to North India, it was adapted for expensive fabrics worn by Muslim elites, as well.
If your Anchal product has Paisley on it, it signifies life and eternity.
Paisley, a droplet shape, is only about 250 years old but has become an extremely popular motif in Indian textiles during that time. It evolved from 17th century tree-of-life designs that were created on expensive tapestry woven for Mughal textiles. Early designs depicted single plants with large flowers and thin wavy stems, small leaves and roots. As the designs became denser over time, more flowers and leaves were compacted within the shape.


To learn more about the motifs on your Anchal textiles, check out the following websites:


It’s a MASSive Problem


A few weeks ago, Anchal had the opportunity to screen a pre-release of Half the Sky. This small sampling of the film was, in itself, so moving that it inspired myself, along with family members, friends, coworkers, and numerous strangers, to watch the 2 day, 4 hour film when it premiered on PBS. As the last credit rolled off of the screen, I was left in awe. I always knew that women faced discrimination across the globe, but what I hadn’t realized was the extent to which this discrimination affected their lives. Rape. Slavery. Abuse. These women have endured horrors that are hard for most of us to even imagine. Fortunately, some of them are able to overcome these horrors in the midst of ongoing oppression thanks to organizations like Anchal and the other NGO’s featured in Half the Sky, such as New Light. Unfortunately, not all of them are lucky enough to have that opportunity.

For those women who are unable to get out, they often live a life of exploitation, cruelty, and pain. Many are impregnated leading to their death. Others are attacked during long commutes by bike. Then there are the women who face direct physical abuse, leading to their demise. Several of these atrocities could be prevented if it weren’t for two major factors: a lack of education and a lack of healthcare. As a designer, I often look at these types of issues as something I don’t have much control over. But I also realize that many of the decisions that I make in my career will have the ability to effect positive social change; social change such as that being created by MASS Design Group, a Boston-based architecture group that is building schools and hospitals in remote parts of third world countries.

The firm’s first endeavor was a hospital in Rwanda that was completed by three architecture students, one of which was Michael Murphy, the co-founder of MASS. This hospital not only provided much-needed healthcare for locals, it was also built using local materials (minimizing its environmental impact) and employed over 270 people (providing job opportunities). With the success of one project behind them, Michael and his team moved forward creating more hospitals and some schools as well. They now have three offices and multiple buildings under their belt, which has resulted in improved healthcare, better education, and more job opportunities in numerous countries. Plus, all of their buildings have a focus on sustainable design, using local materials and utilizing the surrounding landscapes for heat, sunlight, and water. With every facility they create, these architects are allowing fewer women to die from pregnancy complications that can be easily fixed. They are allowing more women the opportunity to get an education for a career other than prostitution. They are effecting positive social change in areas where it is most needed, and they are doing it through design.

To learn more about the amazing work done by MASS Design Group, you can visit their website at


She’s Crossed the Line


Tanya Aguiñiga, an LA based furniture designer, grew up in two different countries: Mexico and The United States. Both of these cultures, despite their differences, heavily influenced her design point-of-view, so she decided to focus the theme of her work on the interconnectedness of these two societies. Through her art installations, community exhibitions, and furniture pieces, Tanya has managed to convey messages for social change in her work, a task that is not easy to achieve. Consequently, she has been able to bring bi-national awareness to issues that she feels passionately about; issues like pollution, migrant rights, and poverty. The following are pieces Tanya completed to transform her beliefs into three-dimensional objects.

The Half-Chair relies on a wall to properly function. The shadow it produces when light is cast upon it, completes the image of the chair making users aware of it’s full potential… Hello, symbolism.

The Hole Table asks users to consider the necessity of a solid table. Must we fill in every gap or will less material suffice?

The Embrace Lounge has a hidden, body-shaped curve in it that embraces the user. It brings to light the comfort one gets from the care and support of another.

The Non-Folding Chair is a folding chair that has been covered in felt. It no longer folds but has become soft and inviting begging the question, can functionality and comfort coexist?


Mehndi (Henna): Origins and Myth


This past weekend I was fortunate to be invited and to attend a Hindu/Catholic wedding in New York City. The bride’s family is Punjabi while the groom hails from an Irish Catholic heritage. The wedding was a perfect mash-up of eastern and western traditions. During the ceremony, the couple walked around a fire 5 times to seal their bond, and immediately afterwards turned to a catholic priest to exchange their rings. The bride wore a traditional Indian wedding dress, while the groom wore a full tux, complete with a tailcoat.

During the ceremony, I was not surprised to see the bride with her hands and her feet decorated in bright orange/ brown henna designs. Even the groom sported small areas of flowery scrolls. These designs, called Mehndi, are not new to the western wedding scene. Many women in the US and other western countries have adopted this tradition, as a matrimonial celebratory adornment. But I was curious, where did these designs come from? What does the tradition actually mean? Mehndi is beautiful, yes, but are there deeper meanings, myths, and origins?

What is Mehndi?
The Hindi word “Mehndi” is used to describe the henna plant, the act of henna painting, and the designs used in the paintings. Used for centuries for beautification and conditioning, henna is used as in celebratory rituals from North Africa, the Middle East, as well as in India. Hindus as well as Muslims have used henna as a cosmological cosmetic. Primarily used for festivities and celebrations, it is also a way of making the sacred visible, and communicating with a higher power.
Henna Plant
The henna plant is a non-remarkable small woody shrub with white flowers. Reaching 8’-10’ in height, Henna or Lawsonia inermis, is cultivated for both Mehndi and ornamental gardens in tropical and sub-tropical climates.

The practice of Mehndi is so ancient that is difficult to trace where it was originally practiced, but the one of the oldest discoveries of Mehndi is in Egypt. The Egyptians would dye their fingernails with henna as a way to become a member of polite society. It was this discovery and others that suggest that the henna plant originated in Egypt and was later brought to India. During the Mongul Era, when thousands of Hindus converted to Islam, the practice became integrated into the faith and spread to the Middle East and as far as Morocco.

It is said that Pavarti, the consort of Shiva, a powerful Hindu deity of destruction and transformation, used Mehndi to attract and please her husband. Because Shiva responded so strongly to Pavarti’s charms, Mehndi became associated with marital fortune and sexual desire. The story may also suggest a way for a woman to protect herself and her family by appeasing the gods through a cosmetic application. The henna plant is believed to have magical powers, and through its association with Shiva may be why it is used during a marriage ceremony, during a transition from separate to unified.
Shiva and Pavarti

The Art
For thousands of years the people of India have been devoted to the art of ornament and adornment. Rigorous study, experimentation, and craft are exemplified in the Mehndi designs. In India, the quest for the perfect ornament or adornment is tandem to the quest to describe the human spirit. Through these designs the spirit is made tangible. In India the beauty of a woman’s creativity is celebrated through the practice of Mehndi.

As Oracle
Mehndi is sometimes used as a way to predict the future. The color of the henna, its quality and intensity, can signal good or bad luck, the outcome of a marriage, or the love felt between two people. If a dot of henna on a man or woman’s forehead stains then the person will be fortunate. If the color of the henna on a bride’s hands is a dark orange, it means that marriage will be a long and loving one. The darkness or lightness of the color also reveals the level of protection that the gods will give the couple during their union.

There is much more to the Mehndi tradition than I can talk about here but if you are interested in learning more I suggest reading Mehndi: The Timeless Art of Henna Painting, as I have used it as a source for this article. But if you would rather do it than read about it I have found it is fairly easy to find henna cones either online or in an Indian supermarket. Some kits even come with templates of various designs for you to follow.


There’s A “Method” To Their Madness


It was just a few short months ago that I graduated from college. During those years I lived in a “college” house (where the floors were sinking), with a “college” budget (Ramen was a dinner staple), and had a “college” cleaning ethic (our vacuum was broken for over a year). Needless to say, this combination didn’t bode well when my landlord demanded we deep clean our house or pay $300 to have it done before we moved out. After discovering that the few cleaning supplies my roommates and I had were expired or empty, off to Target we went. It was there, amongst the Windex and Clorox, that I first saw Method.

With four out of five roommates being design majors and the fifth having impeccable taste, we were all drawn to the beautiful packaging of the method products. Upon closer inspection, I realized that the cleaning supplies were being advertised as environmentally conscious too… This seemed suspicious. But just as I was coming to terms with the fact that these products had outer beauty and inner beauty, the price tag came into my view. I was sold. After using the products, I can say that Method made cleaning fun! Well, not really. But it did make the cleaning go faster since the products worked so well. And now I have some endearing, decorative bottles that I don’t feel the need to hide in my closet.

Even though Method products are technically just cleaning supplies, I found it inspiring that a company had taken the time to redevelop and actually redesign such a commonly used product all for the greater good. Most cleaning products are full of harmful chemicals to both the environment and to us. The founders of Method, Eric and Adam, realized that a simple reevaluation of these products could spark social change, not just in our houses, but in the world one day as well. Here is a summary of their philosophy and the list of principles their products adhere to:

“Eric knew people wanted cleaning products they didn’t have to hide under their sinks. And Adam knew how to make them without any dirty ingredients. Their powers combined, they set out to save the world and create an entire line of home care products that were more powerful than a bottle of sodium hypochlorite. Gentler than a thousand puppy licks. Able to detox tall homes in a single afternoon.”

CLEAN. At method, we’re happy about what we do. Sometimes we’re even a little giddy. But when it comes to the effectiveness of our products, we’re dead serious. They work. How could we be happy if they didn’t? Our cleaners use powerful formulas made with naturally derived surfactants that work by dissolving and removing dirt. Our team of green chefs (aka formulation chemists + product designers), ensure that our products are not only highly innovative, but also highly effective.

SAFE. Cleaning can be a chore. Stinging eyes, burning lungs and headaches aren’t just unfortunate side effects of a well-kept home. They’re warning signs. That’s your body telling you, “Don’t use this. This is bad for you.” Our greenskeeping team rigorously assesses every ingredient we use, so we can be completely sure of its safety. That’s why method’s entire product line is both people- and pet-friendly, specially formulated to put the hurt on dirt without harming a hair on you or your loved ones’ heads.

GREEN. We’re in business to change business. At method, we see our work as an amazing opportunity to redesign how cleaning products are made and used, and how businesses can integrate sustainability. Our challenge is to make sure that every product we send out into the world is a little agent of environmental change, using safe and sustainable materials and manufactured responsibly. Little green soldiers in the battle of doing-well-by-doing-good, if you will. This is why we make our bottles from 100% recycled plastic, why we constantly seek to reduce the carbon emitted by our business (and why we offset the remainder), why we never test on animals, why we design innovative products using natural, renewable ingredients, and why we’re transparent about the ingredients we use, how we make our products, and what our track record is as a green business.

DESIGN. Most companies treat product design like it ain’t no thang. At method, we believe product design is a thang. It’s very much a thang. So when we were figuring out how to package our products, we enlisted world-renowned designer Joshua Handy to sculpt some of the finest pieces of recyclable plastic art this side of MoMA. Form, meet function. Function, form. You two play nice.

FRAGRANCE. Some companies might think that ammonia or bleach is the fragrance of clean. At method, we’re for flowers. Also fruit. Maybe an herb here or there. We’ve noticed that some home products lead to rapid breath-holding and window-opening. But no one holds their breath while slicing a grapefruit. So we’ll stick with that.


Anything Look Familiar?


Do you recognize these patterns? If you are thinking, “Woah…..those look like the patterns on my scarf….” then you are correct. For centuries, any printing of fabric would be done by block printing, transferring an image from block to fabric with pressure, like a stamp. As the industrial revolution did for many industries, it transformed textile printing to almost a completely automated industry. While most textile printing today is done by processes like wet printing, pigment printing, burnouts, flat-bed, rotary, and strike-offs, there are still some people that do it by hand.

These blocks from India are carved from a single piece of wood, pressed into a bed of ink, and printed with a dramatic karate chop of the hand on to a piece of fabric. The white areas are the parts that would press the ink onto the fabric while the parts between would remain inkless. The result is a mirror image of the block, transferred to the fabric. The folks at West Elm went to Rajasthan and made a beautiful video illustrating the textile printing process from the creation of pattern, the carving of the block, to the master printer demonstrating the craft.

If you are interested in trying to print yourself, I would suggest starting with a simple linoleum cut rather than jumping right into wood. Linoleum is a softer material than wood, which means you will spend less time carving and more time printing. It’s also more forgiving of mistakes so when your hand slips and takes a nick out of your perfect pattern or image, you won’t see it as much. Mary McDermott from does a great job of demonstrating a DIY linoleum cut printing process that you could do at home.


Hand-stitched style: All the rage!


In our age of machines, where IKEA rules and one-of-a-kind is a descriptor more often used for children’s refrigerator artwork than for home deco, it’s interesting to see that there is always an undercurrent of resistance. The insistence on handicraft in its truest sense, where every stitch really was made by a human…like the olden days.

But don’t call handicraft old fashioned! Hand-stitched is all the rage! Check out these artists, who have used their creativity to make a living, as our artisans do – one stitch at a time.

This pillow was hand-embroidered by Christine Dinsmore, of Plumed (who has been a guest on my column here). Because each pillow is handmade, Christine can replace the word “love” with a person’s name, or even the outline of your own children’s hands – you just have to send her a photo file to work with. $49 on Etsy.

Sam Gibson, from Northamptonshire, England, makes a variety of handmade “hangables,” including this wall plaque. “A lovely gift for the pretty thing in your life.” $45 on Etsy.

Check out this detail from “Empire State Building” by Peter Crawley! Crawley is another U K-based artist who has become known for creating hand-stitched illustrations with impeccable detail. And you’ll have to pay a pretty penny (er, pound) for it too: this one goes for £675.

The work of 25 year-old artist Inge Jacobsen focuses on the transformation of found images through embroidery, cutting and collage. “I started collecting fashion magazines knowing that I wanted to work with that sort of imagery, I just needed a way to intervene into them. I had found some embroidery pieces from my school days in Denmark when I was moving to university and thought that that would be a great method to use,” she says in an interview on her site. Prices vary but are also worth a pretty penny.