Tilla is a form of hand embroidery using gold, copper or silver zari threads.The precious metals age over time to acquire an antique look, and are looked at as investment pieces that may be passed down generations. Tilla has a royal origin; it was started by jingrahs, who made horse reigns and decorative banners for kings. Later, this embroidery was instituted on Kashmir’s tradition garment- a type of gown called pheran. It takes a month to complete Tilla on a single pheran, making it four times more valuable than machine made options. Contemporary use involves embroidery on suits, shawls and sarees.
At a young age of 25, Jasir Ahmad is a true entrepreneur: he is passionate, yet focused. He may be young, but is a man with defined goals. He had grown up watching his father, a Tilla master craftsperson, and admired the way the latter created pinhole tracings for varieties of designs. So when his father developed an illness three years ago, he had no qualms in taking over the family business. “I was charmed by the beauty of what I saw, and I knew I had to preserve it. There was no compulsion.”
Ahmad is a natural leader to his team of 70 artisans, who create supreme quality woollen shawls and stoles. He knows he is presently limited in designs and products, and is not shy to experiment. Designer Gunjan Jain from Commitment to Kashmir (CtoK) studied his design library, and is helpinghim diversify from flower and vine motifs, to geometric and conversational patterns. Tilla embroidery has a restriction: the embroider cannot break his thread till the pattern in concern is complete. This makes the creation of novel motifs all the more challenging, but the process has him excited, since he gets to enhance his technical expertise. “I’m going to make a geometric summer collection, using cottons, linens and silks. Dresses, tops, kurtis…”, he chimes.
Ahmad is hopeful to be less dependent on traders in Srinagar, and has a goal of being the first person to export this heritage craft to other countries. “I just started working with CtoK a couple months ago, and I have already been assisted with so many new design ideas. I did an exhibition in Kolkata; they took care of all my expenses. What I enjoyed most was that the clients were much more high end than I am used to. I hope I can do more such exhibitions. I get to know what people want.”
Ahmad remains optimistic about the future of his brand, his craft. He admits he has a long way to go, and a lot to learn. But he knows his determination will get him there.