Updated: Jun 24
Women & Design // WID Insights
India pioneered innovation in textile and patterns, some even dating back to as early as the 5th millennium BC.
Image Credits - Subhra Priyadarshini
If we’re looking into India’s art history, you can’t miss the luxurious fabrics. India pioneered innovation in textile and patterns, some even dating back to as early as the 5th millennium BC. They played a very vital part in building our culture and what it means to be Indian. They are also one of the many things that is evidence of the diversity in this country.
Every nook and cranny of this land has fabrics unique to them — they tell stories of some of the oldest design led enterprises that flourish even to this day. From block printed brilliance to hand woven marvels, there is so much skill and perseverance, it never ceases to amaze me.
As a child, one of my favourite things to do was admire the vibrance of my mother’s closet. On occasion, we would sit together over a cup of tea mixing and matching blouses to her massive collection of sarees. For her and a lot of the women in my life, these fabrics, their colours and the experience of draping them means everything. Here are some textiles that I grew up around —
Mysore silk (Karnataka)
The epitome of minimalism and elegance, the Mysore silk is a patented product owned by KSIC (Karnataka Silk Industries Corporation Limited). It contributes to nearly 45% of the country’s mulberry silk and was first set in motion during the rule of Tipu Sultan through 1780-1790 AD.
Mysore is famous for its royal heritage and initially the silk was manufactured to meet the requirements of the royal family. Manufacturing was established with 10 looms which over a period of time became 138. These looms were the first of their kind in India and they were imported from Switzerland. KSIC acquired control over the weaving factory in 1980 and the unit completed 100 years in 2012.
Kalamkari (Andhra Pradesh)
This fabric, prints and colours are one of the most ingenious forms of art in the country! Kalamkari is derived from the words ‘Kalam’ which means pen and ‘Kari’ which means craftsmanship. The fabric, prints and colours are ingenious! The 23 step process to creating the fabric uses only natural dyes and originated when nomadic artisans started to illustrate mythology on large canvases.
Initially the prints depicted ancient Indian epics and today they draw inspiration from musical instruments, cultural symbols and nature. It has been practiced by many families in Andhra Pradesh and some villages in Tamil Nadu when some migrants moved there.
The sophisticated level of skill it takes to create this fabric is diligence personified. The technique involves tie-dyeing, plucking the fabric to create exquisite designs. Bandhani dates back to the Indus Valley civilisation which is proof that tie-dyeing existed as early as 4000 BC. It is also known by many other names including Bandhini, Piliya and Chungidi.
Bandhani work has been exclusively practiced by the Kutchh and Saurashtra. Thousands of tiny knots known as 'Bheendi' in the local language are created on a meter length of cloth. These knots make intricate design when they are opened after the dyeing process.
Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu)
Worn extensively in southern India, Kanchipuram brightens up every special occasion! It is luxurious mulberry silk that is produced by 5000 families and 60 dyeing units as of 2008. Like other art forms, Kanchipuram prints are derived from nature, but also scriptures in South Indian Temples! The textile has also been depicted in the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma.
To weave a Kanchipuram sari three shuttles are involved. The weaver works on the right side, his assistant works on the left side shuttle. A genuine Kanchipuram Silk Sari, body and border are woven separately and then attached together by a joint so strong that even if the saris tears, the border will not. For more information on the weaving communities watch the 2008 film ‘Kanchivaram’.
These are some prominent textiles of India but there are so many more! Check out this medium post by Noopur Shalini.
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