At the outset, it is the variety of bags she makes that set her apart in any exhibition. But Rani Thomas is more than her bags.
Born and brought up in Trivandrum, Rani taught as a lecturer in All Saints College, Chakkai, till she got married off to Vellore. From there it has been days of globetrotting. Rani along with her husband travelled to New Zealand, the UK, and to many other places until they settled in Kuwait, where Rani joined the Kuwait Indian School as an English teacher.But stitching has been her passion from childhood. Rani began stitching as a kid, under her mother’s guidance. “I studied at the Cotton Hill School, and our school had around 30 sewing machines and a sewing teacher,” she reminisces.
“I have never approached a tailor in my life. I have always stitched for myself and as a young mother, I stitched for my kids. But when they grew up they have different tastes. They would rather prefer a tee or go for labels.”
“It was hard for me to do much stitching when I was in Kuwait. Teaching profession takes up most of one’s time and energy but I used to squeeze in time to go learn things from my friends and from various classes. I passed it to my students. I used to hold classes wherein the kids could do a little tie n dye, marbling, paper craft, bag making, etc. Something I noticed was that mostly the academically brilliant students were never as good with their hands as the others,” says Rani, who still recollects the grace and swiftness of the Bori Muslim girls in her class.
“If I could call someone my mentor apart from my mother, it would be the wife of my husband’s boss, Mrs.Leela Cherian, who introduced me to the possibilities of the art of quilting.”
During the Gulf War, Rani and her family had to come back to India and she chose to teach at the St Thomas Central School from 1990 till they returned to Kuwait in 1995.
In 2002, Rani and her husband Thomas decided to come back to Trivandrum to spend time doing what they desired. Thomas, who is a cardiologist, left his profession at the peak of his career and started painting, which had been a secret passion for years. Rani returned to stitching and quilting. Thomas is actively involved in the art organizations: 'Chitrakala Parishad' and 'The Lantern'. Rani started teaching summer classes wherein she taught the little ones candle making, fabric painting, collage work, glass painting and a little bit of cooking.
“I don’t believe in making ornamental pieces. Things we create should have some utility which is why I taught kids glass painting on drinking glass so that they could use them as pen holders. Kids didn’t enjoy stitching but they took a class on critical stitching, on how to mend torn clothes and fix buttons,” says Rani, who gives credit to her husband, who took the painting classes, and to her daughter Mariam, who took the calligraphy lessons for kids at her summer course.
Rani has been actively engaged at the YWCA and it was in their sale that she initially started making bags. It’s been four years since she started on this endeavour."In the beginning, I gifted them to all my cousins, nieces and friends, and then I started selling them and giving the profit to Ashraya, an organisation that helps the cancer patients at the Regional Cancer Centre.”
“Whenever my daughter comes to Trivandrum, she nudges me if I buy a plastic cover while shopping. She is the one who inspired me to start making these cloth shopping bags, which are priced Rs.80, look attractive and would serve the purpose of carrying weight.”
Her workplace has a sewing machine and lots of materials and bags. “Getting materials is the most difficult part in Trivandrum but I gather them from wherever I go.” She has made reversible bags, water bottle carrier bags, shopping bags, pouches, bags with applique work on the side, bags with silk ribbon work, etc. These bags are affordable and washable and a must in this age where each one must do their part to avoid the use of plastic.
Rani is happy with her stitching and bag making, but since she is trained in teaching dyslexic children, she wants to do something for such things.
Rani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can get her on phone at 9846212354.