Nelly Sethna: The Queen of Fibre

Nelly Sethna was an Indian textile designer, writer, teacher, and activist. She was the ‘queen of fibre’ as she dabbled in jute, silk, sisal, cotton, wool, and leather using hand-weaving, Sloyd, and hand-knotting techniques.

She revived the old Kalamkari blocks and embellished them with contemporary designs. She did the same to the dying art of Kashmir’s crewel embroidery. She had a strong affinity to the environment that took shape in symmetrical, almost erotic & sacred tantric diagrams.

She worked at multiple scales, from small rugs to magnificent wall hangings. She created tapestries for Air India, Ford Foundation, Godrej, and Express Towers. Her research trips to Iran and Kutch were assimilitaed into her mobile textiles, draperies, and room dividers.

The use of concentric circles in her kalamkari work are reminiscent of the yantras. The use of green, black, and beige fibres is a nod to the Kathakali performers. Her use of Fontana-style cuts is a subtle hint to the intertwining stories, seldom nested.

She published a book in 1985 titled ‘Kalamkari: Painted & Printed Fabrics from Andhra Pradesh’ detailing her extensive research on Kalamkari. In the same year, she received the Padma Shri for her contribution to the textile and design industry.