Sisters of the craft

October 16, 2022


The handicraft skill of making domestic or other objects is a traditional mode of art crafting. Handmade crafts make lovely personal gifts. Some handicraft artists have so much love and passion for their work, it awakens in them a spirit of entrepreneurship.

Nazia Jamil and her younger sister Shazia Jamil are two creative artists who turn ordinary materials, such as leftovers, pieces of paper, fomic sheets or thermophore, into handicrafts. They produce some of the finest crafts that Pakistanis need throughout the year. Their crafts are largely associated with our identity, honour, pride, and history.

As the fragrance of Independence Day celebration starts floating in the air, fervour and emotion fill up the environment and the mood of the entire nation turns festive. Pakistanis throng to buy pins, badges, festoons, and flags. We, as a nation, feel proud to wear and decorate our country with colourful objects.

Like any master creator of handicrafts, the Jamil sisters are proficient in creating unique and artistic crafts, ranging from cards, gift packing material and objects of home décor. They have a remarkable eye for design and colours; their products display cubist aestheticism and finesse of hand artistry. Their one-of-a-kind designs redefine the aesthetics of interior decorations, made with simple and ordinary mediums like paper and cloth.

While the two have not, so far, professionally collaborated on a project, they are super supportive of each other—whether it’s a crafting event, handling orders, launching new designs, or a furnishing process. Nazia and Shazia supported each other during the 2022 diamond jubilee celebration of the Independence Day on August 14.

The Jamil sisters started crafting in their school days. They became enthusiastic about the medium because their mother was a keen handicraft maker whose innovative ideas transformed their home into a heaven of crafts. The siblings grew up watching their mother’s enthusiasm, and having inherited the skill, first experimented with mini items like pins and clips. From there, their journey of art started.

When talking about her inspirations, Nazia says that growing up in a household with a master crafter like her sister is definitely a gift from God.

The Jamil sisters became famous together, and their parallel inventiveness continues after over a decade.

Recently, the duo had a wide-ranging conversation with this magazine on their artistic endeavours, creativity, achievements, and the sisterly bond. Both share the same sentiments for one another: “I’m so happy and feel blessed that she is my sister. I’m also her biggest fan, and I’m super proud of her.”

STF: Did you (Nazia) receive any formal training in handcrafting?

NJ: No, I have not received any formal training in handicrafts design. I am an educator, a lecturer, and vice principal in a private college. Education remains my prime focus. After doing MA in international relations, now I am pursuing further higher education in human resource management at the Karachi University.

STF: From education to artistry, how did that happen?

NJ: Although I enjoy my day job as a college faculty, spending hours sitting at a computer or just reading and teaching drove me to look for an alternative creative space. I felt like something was missing, I wanted to do something physical and hands-on. I loved cooking but I already knew how to do that, and I didn’t need a course. Handicrafts is a passion for me, much more than its monetary or any other value. I have always enjoyed my work. To me, it is exquisite and worthy beyond any monetary gains.

STF: Tell us how it all started. What inspired you to make decorative crafts?

NJ: I was very fond of doing creative work since my childhood. The credit goes to my mother who was an extraordinary artistic person. She used to make arts and crafts to decorate our home. May Allah bless her with jannat (heaven), amen. I inherited this passion from her, and by the time I was fifteen, I started making handicrafts. I tried to follow many of her endeavours. Although she was also not trained professionally, to me, she was the best in all respects. I just try to imitate her methods.

STF: Which of the handworks do you like to do?

NJ: I do many things if I have time. Allocating many hours for each category is not possible, but I always try to spare some time for embroidery. I often find myself in the middle of pieces and colours that hold me back until I finish a project.

STF: What is your response to people’s appreciation of your work?

NJ: I never thought I would feel a sense of pride seeing my craft pieces being appreciated, both economically and qualitatively. Response of people who have a true sense to understand the worth of fingers assembling materials for hours is important.

How do you plan your work, starting from concept, colour scheme, designing and basic material?

I select the design first. Next is the stage of assembling. I use all types of material—paper, thermopole, fomic sheets. Colours play a major role. The concept of colour scheme and blending all depends on the visualisation of a product. Colours represent things naturally as they tender their own usage—which and where to apply and how to design.

STF: What are your preferred materials?

NJ: Although I am comfortable with all types of materials, every material has its own uniqueness when it comes to design and the aesthetic beauty of interior decorations. I do feel that a single material looks more attractive; I always like to make objects with one material. I don’t have a favourite; I treat my work equally, but I love to make earrings and cards as they are used on all occasions and by all ages.

I am very proud of my sister Shazia. She is a natural sketch artist and has a good knack for designing.

STF: When did you (Shazia) start your handicraft start-up?

SJ: I started doing crafts when I was just nine. It grew inside me as a genuine pastime that gradually matured and transformed into a serious activity. I used to make cards and badges at school, especially on occasions like the Independence Day and Defence Day. All my teachers and friends liked and appreciated my work. When I first made jewellery for a wedding, I received huge appreciation from everyone. Because of that success, many people approached me with their orders. It was the transitional period of my skill. My hobby changed into a professional that shifted the focus of my life, and I moved ahead with that. I reshaped it and decided to make it my startup.

STF: Did you continue your studies?

SJ: Of course. I completed my masters in Urdu literature, and did multiple IT studies. Currently, I am heading the computer department in a school. It helps me in my process of creating delicate designs. Being digital has its own benefits as it helps to reshape my art and designing.

STF: Do you have any other passion in life?

SJ: No. I’ve always had a love of art, crafting, designing and interior decoration so I decided to look for diversity in handicrafts. I wanted to give them a new life, but in a traditional way. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of 18th-century craftspeople, and above all, my mother. It takes dedication to work on a piece, and there are times when I’d rather be spending the evening watching television. But then I remind myself that I need to continue creating, working on the art I inherited from my mother.

Having studied Urdu literature, I love poetry. After art and crafts, poetry is my greatest passion. I can dedicate hours reading poetry, studying the art of words, and understanding its depth. Good poetry can be really refreshing as it leaves a soothing effect on your mind and soul.

STF: What is your favourite category of handicrafts?

SJ: So far, I have made jewellery, badges, model wedding plates, and ornaments for wedding events. I prefer to design the background with floral work, especially roses. Together, my sister and I, do wedding planning, manage decoration in events, create flower ornaments, and background floral decors.

STF: Do you have any regret in life?

SJ: I think it’s important to have a balance in life, to have something to focus on outside of an office environment. Handicraft art is creative, and the exact opposite of what I do sitting at a desk all day long. It is three-dimensional, very real, and tangible. From sourcing and finding right materials, designing, choosing colours, and assembling, it’s a full process.

In our society where people tend to wince at the cost of decoration pieces, buying gifts or souvenirs, handicrafts stand out. And that is because of the process of making a beautiful piece.

STF: How do you view taking up your skill as a startup?

SJ: There has been a real return to learning and to make things in the last few years, and, partly, I think it has to do with the economic climate. I see a lot of people who during their studies or full-time jobs are pursuing their skills. There’s a lot of uncertainty and job insecurity these days, and having a skill is viewed as a good fallback plan.

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