In a few minutes...
You can learn a lot from contemporary textile artist Nikita Sheth, namely the importance of quality family time. When she was just two year’s old, her family home was burnt down. Luckily, no one was hurt but it meant she was raised in a home where material possessions came secondary to family dinners and spending quality time with one another. She grew up in a home with “good food and laughs”. While it took time for her to embrace her Indian heritage – her dad’s family was one of the first Indian (Gujurati) to move from India in the 1950’s – she later realised how lucky she was to have it.
A born creative, Sheth taught herself to weave, with the help of a friend who had studied textiles. “I fell in love immediately. I love the tactility of it. And the way it quietened my mind. When I was weaving, I couldn’t check my phone or do anything else with my hands. It offered me a pause in an emotionally turbulent time of my life,” she says. Her grandfather later told her that she was descended from a long line of weavers in Ahmedabadand and it has led her to wonder if she was a weaver in a previous lifetime?
Here, we talk about her motherhood journey, creativity and how she creates calm after a day of chaos with kids.
Go to bynikitasheth.com
Tell us about your childhood. What are some of your most vivid memories?
I grew up in a very wholesome, loving family. I’m the eldest of three girls — so there was always a lot of drama (my poor dad!). I was born in Sydney, and my dad’s family was one of the first Indian (Gujurati) to move from India in the 1950s. Whereas my mum moved from Mumbai to Sydney after marrying my dad. So we grew up with a real mix of western and Indian culture. It took a while for me to embrace my Indian heritage, but now I realise how lucky I am to have it.
My family home burnt down when I was two years old. Luckily no one was hurt, but it meant that my family was never precious about “things/material” possessions. Instead, there was a lot of importance placed on family dinners and spending quality time with each other. I remember my childhood home always being filled with family and friends. My mum is a great cook and dad *thinks* he’s a bit of a comedian. So it was a house filled with good food and laughs.
Your mother is an artist. Do you think creativity is in your blood or was it something she actively nurtured in you?
I think it’s something she definitely nurtured in me. From a very young age, she would always take my sisters and me to visit art galleries. Mum was always creating something — attending ceramics classes, painting tracksuit tops with puff paints (ha! So 90s), sewing. And then later she did her MFA at COFA. I think subconsciously I was always watching her…
Tell us a little about your journey into weaving. How did you first pick it up? Was it love at first try?
Well, I had a bad break-up in my mid 20’s and was looking for something positive to put my energy into. I remember coming across a frame loom on Etsy. I had no idea about weaving but for some reason purchased the loom. There were no YouTube videos or weaving tutorials at the time (it was before the reemergence of weaving). So I pretty much taught myself (with the help of a friend who had studied textiles). I fell in love immediately. I love the tactility of it. And the way it quietened my mind. When I was weaving I couldn’t check my phone or do anything else with my hands. It offered me a pause in an emotionally turbulent time of my life. Sounds super cheesy, but I always say: “weaving found me”. Since then, I’ve learned how to use a Japanese Saori loom, which has opened up a lot of creative possibilities as well.
“ I feel like as humans, we’re always tapping, swiping, clicking, pressing... it’s almost like we’re losing our sense of touch ”
After you had started to teach yourself to weave, your grandfather told you that you are descended from a long line of weavers. Tell us about that?
Yes! It was so bizarre. One day my Papaji (my grandfather), came to my mum’s house for dinner. I was sitting on the couch weaving. He sat down next to me and started rattling off facts about “patola” weaving (a double ikat woven sari, usually made from silk that originated from Gujarat, India). He then said, “you do know your ancestors were weavers, right?!”. I had NO idea. It was a truly bizarre moment. But in a strange way, it also made sense… it perhaps explained why weaving feels so familiar to me. Maybe I did in a past life?
What do you love about weaving?
The tactility. I feel like as humans, we’re always tapping, swiping, clicking, pressing… it’s almost like we’re losing our sense of touch. I love the way the thread feels as it runs through my fingers. Or how the finished piece of cloth feels as I run my hands over it. My favourite tools are my hands. I also love how it quiets my mind. When I’m weaving, I can’t do anything else with my hands.
What's the most challenging part about it?
Time. Warping a loom takes a lot of time. Something which I don’t have as much of as any more. It’s a bit of an emotional and mental challenge. Last month I had to re-warp my loom three times… because I kept stuffing it up (mainly because I had to keep starting and stopping). It ended with a few (too many) tears of frustration.
You have two young children - did you always know you wanted to be a mother?
Yes, I’ve always wanted to be a mother. I have a beautiful and very special relationship with my mother. And I’ve always wanted to create the same with my own children. My babies are my best creation. It’s a privilege to be their mother. Something I don’t take lightly. All I really want is to raise good humans.
Did your weaving practice change at all while you were pregnant with your daughter?
There’s something truly magical about being pregnant — you see things differently. Maybe it’s because you’re beating two hearts or you’re carrying around a tiny soul. Or maybe it’s all the extra water in your body… something shifts. Well, it does for me. During my first pregnancy, I definitely experimented a lot more with my work. It was around that time I started to really play with sari silk and explore possibilities on my Saori loom. It was like I had a newfound sense of courage… I’m not sure why?!
How did you find the transition into motherhood? What was the postpartum period like for you the first time?
Within 18 months — I was engaged, married, and pregnant with my daughter. She was a wedding night baby and we found out on our honeymoon when we were trekking in Patagonia. Turns out it *wasn’t* a bad empanada, but actually morning sickness! I went from being footloose and (very) single to a wife and mum-to-be very quickly! The transition into motherhood went quite smoothly, but only because I have a great support network of family and friends. Adjusting to the new demands took a bit of time, but I quickly learnt that I can’t do everything. During my postpartum period, I taught myself to rest. Something, which doesn’t come naturally. I’m always doing 101 things at once. I also never read any pregnancy or baby books — so I really depended on my intuition to guide me. Allira was a very happy, easy-going baby too, so I think I got lucky there.
How is life with two?
Well, we’ve actually just found out we’re expecting another baby. So next year, I’ll have three under 3.5 years. It was a “happy” surprise, very unexpected, and definitely NOT planned. But as my mum says: “this little soul is eager to join your family….”. Life with two is a lot of fun but has been a real adjustment. The jump from one to two little people is a big one. I’ve always loved my “me time”, something which is pretty non-existent these days. But, I’m lucky to have married a very domesticated man who is an absolutely amazing (and very present) dad. We’re a good team.
You often talk about snatching pockets of nap time to weave and be creative. How do you juggle your art with little ones under your feet? Do they like to try their hand at the loom?
I believe creativity is a muscle. One that you can train yourself to activate when needed. When I do get tiny moments, I launch into my creative zone. No time for procrastination. I always keep my weaving tools ready. So if I do find myself with some time during the day, I can get to work straight away. I’ve always been a morning person. But these days, my starts are getting earlier and earlier. I often jump on my loom at 4:45am. I love the darkness. The quiet. We live right on the bush, so it’s quite magical watching the sunrise and the morning light come down on my loom.
I’ve also found a way to include Allira (2.5yrs) and Mason (1yr) into my creative process. We go on little bushwalks and make sculptural arrangements together or I cut up pieces of wool and let them play whilst I weave. One of the best parts of motherhood is watching how my kids see everything with a beginners mind. Their excitement. Awe. Curiosity. At the tiniest things.
What role does your Indian heritage play in your approach to weaving? You work with a lot of sari fabric - is it purely aesthetic or do you like the metaphor of weaving culture into your work?
It’s a bit of both, but primarily it’s a symbolic nod to my maternal lineage, ancestors and culture.
You also write poetry and bring textiles into your poems. Have you always been drawn to different mediums?
I’ve always loved writing. And one day it’s my dream to bring both my poetry and artwork together. I’m not sure how yet. I’m fascinated by the way so much of our language is tied to textile metaphors. My poems are a way for me to communicate my ideas, stories and emotions. Often my poetry informs and is the starting point for my work.
This was especially true in my recent joint exhibition with my mum — “Storing & Remembering”.
We live in such a digital age. Do you think there's something special about preserving an ancient and very manual art like weaving?
Yes, completely. I love imperfections and celebrate flaws. Such imperfections embody the human hand. Something which I believe machines and technology can never truly replicate.
What does an average day in your house look like?
Every day is different. But a common thread is it is total chaos. By the end of the day, it looks like someone has robbed our house. But my rule is, at night all toys are to be packed away (so they can’t be seen). After 7:30 pm, I want an “adult-space” as it gives me mental space too!
What's on your list of loves?
A Slow Childhood by Helen Hayward (the only parenting book I’ve ever read and re-read. It is so honest, raw and powerful).
Ladies, We Need To Talk (Podcast)
Little Fires Everywhere (TV show – based on Celeste Ng’s book)
Oatly milk (I’m obsessed)
Homemade hummus (I LOVE hummus… all day, every day)
This beautiful essay by Paul Graham
The Art of Noticing
On Being with Krista Tippet (Podcast)