I am Jeanetta and my husband is Dewa Haley. Together, we co-manage an NGO, Shree Nityananda Education Trust, and its various seva or social work projects in the Ganeshpuri area of Palgher District, Maharashtra, India. One of the trust's projects is improving the capacity of the local tribal families to earn a livelihood from their Native Art, sewing skills, and their innate ability to learn and master a new craft.

The trust started conducting sewing and embroidery classes over ten years ago.  We hired two local Warli painters to give them  an opportunity to develop their craft and expose them to a larger market. (Warli is a local indigenous tribe that dates back 5000 years. Their paintings are famous in India for their distinctive and original style).

In 2014, we opened a women's art and sewing workshop.  Slowly, we have been advancing our mission to help our neighbors, especially women, to change their economic conditions, and thus the lifestyle and opportunities  of their extended families. 

We started the workshop with 11 women, but have grown now to 35 women working full time. During the first few months, everyone was trying to do all tasks. But over time, we discovered that certain women have a natural talent for some activities and little talent for others. For example, several of our women could not sew a straight line. Obviously,  sewing straight is an important skill to have when we are making patchwork quilts. It means the quilt lays flat and corners match. No matter how much we reminded some of the ladies to sew a straight 1/2 inch seam, they would or could not.

I personally have a great love for baskets. Then, on the Internet, we discovered how to make fabric baskets by coiling fabric scraps around jute rope. What a boom to have the internet out here in the outback of rural India.   and we can arts and craft instructions.  So we taught these women to wrap fabric around jute and sew into the most beautiful products... hats, purses, baskets, place-mats and coasters. And we discovered that they are naturals at doing this kind of sewing!  

We divided our work into three activities: patchwork design of quilts, duvet covers, and meditation shawls; coiled fabric creating purses, hats, baskets, placemats and coasters; and hand stitching and embroidery as accent to all of our handmade items.

I love color! Bold, subtle, wild, and sublime color! I love fabric textures, and the rhythm and rhyme of patterns. I love to feel fabrics and experience the subtle variety of texture. In India, I am in fabric heaven. Everywhere you turn, your eyes feast on the beauty of those gorgeous Indian women in the most amazing array of colorful sarees---big playful flowers, organic tribal patterns, exquisite embroidery, many hand made on looms, gorgeous silks, cotton, rayon, even polyester can be stunning, the full rainbow of exotic colors.

Over the years, we have come to know that most western women don't feel comfortable wearing a saree, neither in India nor at home. But westerners are entranced with the colors and want the joy of wearing such beauty. Thus, my husband and I began designing objects of beauty made of saree fabric. We started off with making kurtasz, or tunics out of hand woven cotton sarees that we picked up from Bengal or lighter than air cotton sarees printed with inspired designs. We visited the wholesale market in downtown Mumbai buying dress materials to make fun clothes that the tourist enjoys wearing when on tour in India. But we find myself coming back again and again to the saree. Personally, I wear a saree quite often, but it took me a few years to find a saree that I feel comfortable wearing and that I can put on myself. But even my own sarees eventually go into the fabric pile where our seamstresses can select it to put into their current work of art and make something new. 

My husband, an impressionist painter, is inspired by the Hindu culture and art. He found ways to use sarees to frame local tribal Warli Paintings and art in the same manner as a Tibetan thangka. He works with two artists, Uhlas and Deepak, employed by the trust, on their artistic ability: content, design, composition, choice of color, and finishing to create art works for his special thangka pieces. These wall hangings, each a work of art, are valued by our visiting guests at the retreat facility.  One of our retreat guests asked us to create some yoga bags for her. We jumped right in by picking out one of the most brilliant red and gold embroidered saree to make a sensational yoga bag. I thought of the western woman who is timid to wrap a saree and wear on her city streets, but could be happy to swing this luxurious looking bag over her casual western clothes.

A fellow expat, Anne Godfrey of RoseCircles.com offered to show the women in our area how to make patchwork quilts from old sarees and scraps of fabulous Indian fabrics. And this has bloomed into a full time business. We have more than twenty five Indian women working for us, each about 5 to 6 hours a day. This allows them to still have time to tend to the family's needs of gathering water at the well and cooking over a wood stove. These are women who have very little education and  would not have an opportunity to work outside the house except to do house keeping, farm work, or simple stitching for her family and neighbors. They don't have extra money for medicine for their family, school books for their children, and bus fare to visit a doctor.  To visit a doctor they must take a day off of work and travel by local bus to a government hospital hours a way. Very few of the adult women had the opportunity to study any kind of skill that would allow them creativity, income generation, and flexibility to take care of their family and work.  Now, the workshop seamstresses are appreciative of the opportunity to work in a design house creating new items for the world market. We work together having great fun creating wondrous art!

We also co-manage the trust's small meditation retreat facility Fire Mountain Retreat in Nimboli, a small rural village of about a hundred homes. Fire Mountain Retreat caters to both the Western and Indian who are making pilgrimage to India's holy sites, such as Ganeshpuri. We get to know our guests well by offering them not only lodging, but three meals a day. 

Please take some time to look at our online catalog of products and see for yourself the creativity and beauty that our women can create when given training and encouragement to create works of art. 

And follow us on our Facebook page to view photos of our workshop and the women making art!