Crochet from India

Sep 4, 2012

When we were reviewing submissions for PieceWork’s 2nd edition of Crochet Traditions and got to Chitra Balasubramaniam’s on her mother’s crocheted holed-anna purse, there were so many questions! First and foremost: What’s a holed-anna? The story was so intriguing, we just knew it had to go into this Fall 2012 Crochet Traditions. Here’s a portion of Chitra’s story:

Crocheted coin purse incorporating Indian holed-anna coins made by Chitra Balasubramaniam's mother. Probably silk thread; copper coins. Chittoor, Palakkad, Kerala, India. Late 1950s. Photo courtesy of Chitra Balasubramaniam.
Although crochet’s history in India is long, for most women it is a pastime learned along with a number of other needlecrafts and seldom used. My mother, who lived in Chittoor, Palakkad, Kerala, crocheted only when required and not regularly. Nonetheless, she made the coin purse shown here, using no-longer-in-circulation actual coins and crochet.

Following decimalization of the Indian currency in 1957, the holed-anna coin no longer had any monetary value. Until that time, the holed-anna (otta mukkal or otta kalanna in Malayalam, the principal language in Kerala) had been equivalent to one-fourth anna or one pice; one Indian rupee equaled sixteen anna, It is still not uncommon to hear the phrase “not even worth kalanna” to describe a good-for-nothing person.

Since the holed annas were made of copper, they were recycled for various uses in addition to coin purses. Necklaces were fashioned out of them; makers of musical instruments, in particular, flute makers, used them. According to my father, plumbers preferred them to rubber washers as the holed anna was both cheaper and lasted longer.

In my mother’s village, many purses were made in the late 1950s. Mother laughingly used to say, “Everyone wanted to make one, and soon a rumor spread that using these coins for a bag meant violating the dictate of the country as it meant an insult to the use of coins. So making the bags stopped as quickly as it began.”

Mother’s purse measures 4½ inches wide by 4½ inches tall. The crocheted edging is ½-inch  wide, and the purse has two small crocheted handles. Mother used a total of thirty-eight holed annas, which she wrapped separately in buttonhole stitch; she then sewed them all together, nineteen per side. After assembling both sides, she worked the edging in single crochet.

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I love this story: It’s a time capsule for another time and another place; it shows the resourcefulness of crocheters; and it captures the life of Chitra’s mother. It’s just one of many great stories (and tons of projects) in this latest edition of PieceWork’s Crochet Traditions.

Best,


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Comments

pernmoreta wrote
on Sep 8, 2012 9:46 PM

Just the idea I had when I was reading this.  Although you might need to double wrap or file off the sharp edges on the washers if the purse is going to get a lot of use.  I may have to play around with this idea.  

scot_belle wrote
on Sep 8, 2012 2:48 PM

We may not have the correct coins, but any hardware store would have washers that could step in, to take the place of the Indian holed annas coins. The the only catch being that only some of these washers are brass, and not copper.