Harriet Riddell is undeterred by the scorching heat at the Capital’s most-known protest site. Bent over a portable sewing machine at Jantar Mantar, the 24-year-old is oblivious to the curious eyes trained on her. Her focus is on the woman sitting in front of her, in a shack. Riddell, a “performance textile artist", currently touring India, is “drawing" with the machine’s threads and needle.

“I stitch stories," says Riddell as she carefully makes lines on a synthetic, sea-green cloth. Neither Riddell nor her artistic subject understand each other’s language. “I communicate with my art and create narratives on cloth," she says, fiddling with her silver ring, which has the figure of the Hindu god Ganesh on it. A Ganesh sticker also features on her pale white machine that gleams in the midday sun.

“I have always been fascinated by India. I even draw my friends wearing saris, sitting in the woods back home in London," she says. When she says “draw", she really means “sew".

Riddell at Pushkar in Rajasthan. Photo: Courtesy Harriet Riddell

At the time, New Delhi-based Arora, an applauded and commercially successful young designer, was working on her Autumn/Winter 2014 collection for the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week, under her label péro.

“But I wasn’t ever interested in fashion," says Riddell. “So I decided to document the works of the craftsmen working for Aneeth through my stitch-works. It was almost like photography," she says.

The unusual collaboration resulted in 24 pieces documenting Arora’s workshop, the craftswomen at work, even weavers from Kullu who worked for péro. In her pictorial, two-dimensional work, Riddell also drew Arora’s fashion show.

Her embrace of bold colours and patterns was also influenced by her travels to Jaipur, Pushkar, Udaipur, Rishikesh, Dharamsala, Kullu and Agra. In Agra, she visited the Taj Mahal, and created a sewn version on a cloth-canvas. At Pushkar, she recreated a decorated camel with its master

“Going to all these places with my table, chair, batteries, sewing machine, and documenting the surroundings and its people, made me more open as an artist. Indians are very engaging and I gathered so many different forms of textiles." Last month, she showcased her work, along with the pieces she had made for Arora, at an exhibition in the Capital.

Later this month, Riddell will participate with Arora in Pitti Uomo, an annual men’s fashion exhibition held in Florence, Italy. But she plans to be back in India by October.

“I want to document Indian women and their stories," she says, holding the portrait of the woman she made at Jantar Mantar. Along with the face and the name of the woman, the piece also sports doodled words like “rape", “violence", “injustice", and “listen".

“This woman was allegedly raped by an IAS officer and was at Jantar Mantar to protest," says Riddell.

In an era of selfies and tweeting, there is an easy continuity about this young British woman, stitching Indian tales using an age-old medium, as if tying together the legacy of a country with modern art.

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