Meet Payal, my Indian story-teller friend living in Budapest

I first met Payal and her family on the first and only field trip by Stitch Budapest a few years ago in the woods near the edge of the city, when they just recently moved to Budapest. It was a rather enchanted short trip. I remember, a beautiful green snake appeared right on our path, and Payal’s husband was standing still in shock, staring at the (harmless) snake. There were also marvelous large shimmering blue-green dragonflies that I’ve never before or since seen in that area.

We became fast friends immediately. Payal has a background in storytelling, and she told me she wanted to learn to sew because she wanted to create puppets. So that’s how it all started. She first came to the beginner sewing class, then took the Stitching for the Kitchen course and then she took some private classes learning to make a doll. Instead of just sending her a list of questions for this interview we chatted via Facebook messenger, because I wanted our dialogue to remain interactive. You may find her work @kalaa_aur_kalaakaar on Instagram.

Your story is unique because you always experiment and try new things. What was the first project you ever made? Were you crafty as a child? When did you start creating?

I liked creating things but did not find the right medium to express myself for a long time. I could not draw and was not very successful at knitting and crochet. I started many projects but left them incomplete. It took me a long time to realize that I did not have the patience for a long project as a child. I managed to learn the basics of knitting but crochet was beyond me.

When we first met, you were very interested in learning to make puppets, and teaching people how to make puppets. Did this come from your story-teller background?

Yes. The funny thing is I still haven’t learnt to make puppets. I did crochet a few finger puppets though.

What type of puppets are you interested in making? 

Maybe hand puppets – I think Maronite style puppets are difficult to manage.

So, what did you start with, when you started making crafts as a grown-up? Crochet? Or sewing? I remember we made a doll together, but I don’t know if that was before or after the beginner sewing class. And by then I think you were already crocheting.

Yes – I had begun to crochet by then. The doll was after the basics class and we made my first doll together. I joined an art class back in India – I had high hopes for becoming an artist. The teacher was good – I was terrible.

Don’t be so hard on yourself! I think you are very talented, and very creative. And became very patient over the years.

Yes crochet and sewing both made me a little more patient.

Do you have any photos of the first doll?

Yes

She is sooo beautiful!!!

This is technically the second doll – remember you started making the doll and then gave me the project. I completed the doll later – you have stitched the parts for this one. The doll we made together went to a little baby girl and I remember that the doll was taller than the girl.

Is this the same doll?

Same pattern – but a new doll.

When did you become so good at crochet?

After we moved here – before the pandemic. I made the first crochet monster and was hooked. After that it was always improving a technique or learning a new one

What is your favorite crochet stitch?

Single crochet !!!  You can make absolutely anything with that!

Wow. I don’t like single crochet that much. I prefer double crochet because I like the movement in my hand. It is not as dense as single crochet. But I also like the textured stitches that have a 3D effect.

He he he he he he. I use double crochet when I need to build something faster. Skirts and dresses sometimes take forever with SC.

Are there stories behind the dolls?

Not much – I don’t name them because I feel they belong to someone else. But when someone tells me what the doll is called, it makes me extremely happy. I also sit and hug the doll for a long time after I complete it. And tell it to love and care for their person.

That is so wonderful! And can you tell me a little bit about your I am _____ and beautiful series? How did you come up with the idea? And when you make a character, do you think of a particular person? 

A little bit of it started with me – I was always fat and growing up I was teased a lot by kids and adults in my life. I never believed I was beautiful – and still struggle with believing that. Then I found out my sister, who was and is very thin, struggled with similar issues as she was dark and short. The sad thing is that I realized that even though now the world acts woke – the dark doll had no takers. How we view beauty is more or less the same as it was decades ago.

This reminds me, when I was 8 years old, and first went to the US, what I really wanted was a black Barbie doll, because they didn’t sell them here. And when we went to the toy store with my sister, the cashier, who was black was very touched, because she had never seen a white girl wanting to play with a black doll before.

Kids don’t see colors. It is the adults. I don’t know if you noticed this – but the black doll was taken by a girl in the crochet workshop you invited me to. The little girl was there for some time and every time I saw her she was either hugging or kissing the doll.

That is such a lovely story. No, I did not notice it. But I saw how much the kids loved your dolls. I wish you were there in the afternoon workshop, where there were Roma boys from the playground, and they all wanted to learn crochet because one of their classmates knew how to crochet. And it was before halloween, so they all asked to make spiderwebs.

Wow !!! I wish I had stayed back too.

I remember you telling me that you give away your dolls, and you don’t like it when you have too many. Do you get inspired again, when your “doll basket” gets empty? – I don’t know if we should put this in the interview, because people will start flooding you with requests.

I like the requests. Often the requests force me out of my comfort zone. I always end up learning something new. And one more thing – that day you taught me the sunflower granny square – before that I could not do it and last week I taught that to other women. 

It is funny how all these things happen in small steps, and then they add up to something meaningful. I remember a family from the Ukraine coming and looking at the sunflower, because that is their country’s symbol.

What was the project you completed that you are very proud of? That felt like a great accomplishment?

As a project: the I am —- series. And each textile doll I make. I can see fewer mistakes every time.

I also wanted to ask you who your favorite doll designers and crochet artists are?

My favorite crochet artists are: Pinkmouse boutique, Ochepots, Chia Creations. Fabric doll designers: Tilda and Rockanddolls. I love Rockanddolls as they make really cool doll figures. Do check them out!

What are your plans for next year?

I plan to make more dolls. It is dolls that make me happy. I also want to improve my sewing and photography techniques. My next project: I am using a cut and sew doll to make a pirate 🏴‍☠️

Sounds fun! Wow, thank you so much for the interview!!! It was great chatting with you, as always! In the spring when it is warm, we shall do another workshop together!

Yes please!