A Tale of Talking Fabrics

Wefted by the strands of rituals and skills, I am a timekeeper. I’ve evolved with civilizations; I’ve been in a wedding trousseau as well as on a pyre. My actual age is not certain, but I have been around for atleast a 500,000 years and, I am here to stay. Since ancient times, my bricks have been spun, woven and dyed to make what world calls a fabric.

I can recollect from the past that one fine morning Emperor Aurangzeb had a fit of rage on seeing his daughter princess Zeb-un-Nissa clad in almost nothing. On being severely rebuked, the princess explained that she had not one but seven jamahs (dresses) on her body. Such was the finesse of the hand woven fabrics.

It's been eons, and still I serve the society with protection, comfort and aesthetics.

From the ancient of the times, I have been created manually on looms. Today, handlooms have become an important craft product, comprising of the largest cottage industry in India. Millions of looms stretching from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu are engaged in weaving cotton, silk and other natural fibers. If I may say, there is hardly a village where weavers do not exist, each hub, weaving a unique saga. Though Gujarat was the central place for weavers, but in the great fire of 1300AD weavers had to take shelter in the nearby regions.

India is the only country in the world producing all four commercially known silks - mulberry, tussar (tussore), eri and muga. Presently, in my realm of handlooms, there are Madras checks from Tamil Nadu, ikats from Andhra and Orissa, tie and dye from Gujarat and Rajasthan, brocades from Uttar Pradesh, Daccai from West Bengal and Phulkari from Punjab. India has been known for the purest of silk, wool and cotton. These fabrics were exported to Greece, China, Egypt and Britain. It was because of the business interactions of India with Egypt that brought linen in the country. Later, with the Mughals, came the fabric blends as Muslims did not prefer to use pure silk, cotton or wool. Another milestone in the clothing history of India was brought by Gandhi when he revived Khadi. Khadi means a cloth that is hand-spun and hand-woven. It marked a revolution. It became the identity of freedom, style and income.

Although declining popularity of the handloom sector remains a concern, little do we know that handloom industry is till date the largest employer in the country after agriculture, with over 13 million weaver families drawing sustenance from it apart from the loom and reel-makers, dyers, warp-winders, and other helpers.

Samuel Beckett said that “words are the clothes that thought wear” Observing how every piece of textile has a story to tell and move us isn’t it fair to say that fabrics can talk? Is it not justified to admire how fabric tells a silent story, a story that has no words yet can be felt! And touched! What else could be a realist way of travelling through time?

Where else could that be possible?

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