Coconut trees grow all over Kerala, and the coconut is a fruit which is used in its entirety. Smaller coconut shell articles are also made in Trivandrum, Attingal and Neyyatinkara, while larger items are made in Quilandy in Kozhikode district in north
Every part of the ubiquitous coconut tree is effectively utilized in this region - the flesh of the coconut is eaten, its fiber spun into coir, graded and used for a huge variety of uses or burnt for fuel; the stem turned into tables, chairs, banisters, vases, incense stick holders; the husk into figures of monkeys and Buddha heads; the shell with its natural concave shape converted into a enormous number of items that include paperweights, lidded containers with brass handles, cups, bowls, ladles, spoons, snuff boxes, sugar basins, powder boxes, trays with compartments, soap dishes, hookahs etc.
The tools used are the Patiyaram the steel saw and a variety of chisels. The process followed is relatively simple though skill and a sure hand are necessary. First the outer surface of the hard coconut shell is smoothened with steel wool while the inner is smoothened with the aid of small chisels and the resultant surface is sandpapered. The separate pieces to make the final product are attached with screws. The first coat of polish is boot polish, after which a final coat of French polish is given.
Craftspeople ingeniously make shapes by maximizing the natural curvature of the material. Koyilandi in the district of Kozhikode is renowned for its brass bordered coconut shell hookah these were made for the Arabs who had commercial trade links with Malabar Coast with the trend continuing till today, with most of the coconut shell products being produced for export.
Other production centers are in Alappuzha; VaikomIrumbuzhikara in Koftayam district; Cherai in Ernakulam district; Koyilandi and Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram, Attungal and Neyyattinkara Thiruvananthapuram district.
The ubiquitous use of coir in Kerala which is crafted into coir yarn, mats of all varities from simple to colored, embellished, inlaid to handwoven coir rope mats, mottled mats of yarn and compressed fiber mats to matting, rugs and carpets. In addition to organic, green, natural - a complete eco friendly material, coir is also exceptionally durable, being mothproof and resistant to fungi; additionally it is flame-retardant and anti static. Given its sterling natural qualities graded coir yarn is additionally used for different purposes such as the stuffing of couches and pillows, making cordage including large sized cables, saddles, brushes, fishing nets, upholstery, hats and finally, the manufacture of rubberized coil, a blend of coir and latex, which is used to pad mattress and cushioning. The coir craft can be largely seen in Chertala in Alappuzha district.
Using tools that include air compressors, smoking chambers, hardboard moulds, gluing machine, traditional spinning wheels/raft, dyes, corridor mat press steel rods and weights the coir is treated and crafted into products. First the coconut husk is retted in the lagoons for between six to ten months. The softened husk is then beaten with wooden mallets and spun into coir yarn on the spinning wheel. The coir yarn is then woven into floor coverings either by handloom or by powerloom with colored coir yarn creating the patterns. During the finishing stage, the surface of the mats are sheared and then manually cut using clipping scissors.
As in other weaving processes designs and patterns are also created through post weaving embellishment techniques such as hand beveling where the craftsmen manually trims the pile to define raised forms and stenciling. The edges of the coir mats are hand knotted; the craftsmen wears a home made rubber gloves for protection and support while pulling and pushing the thick needle through the tightly woven coir mat.
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