The production of textiles in India continues to flourish just as it has for many centuries. The
interactions of peoples — indigenous tribes, invaders, traders, explorers — through history has
built a culture legendary for its variety and colour. From the Ram of Kutch to the Coromandel Coast,
from city and village, handloom weavers, block printers, painters, dyers and embroiderers are all
creating the most extraordinary textiles.
This all—encompassing survey of textiles from every region of the Indian subcontinent runs the gamut
of commercial, tribal and folk textiles. The authors first place them in context by examining the
cultural background: the history, the materials and the techniques — weaving, printing, painting and
tie- and—dye. They then give a detailed region—by—region account of traditional textile production,
including chapters on Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. A dazzling array of images provides an
unsurpassed visual representation of the textiles, While a detailed reference section with further
reading, museums and information on technical terms completes this essential guide.
John Gillow is author of African Textiles and Traditional Indonesian Textiles and co-author
of World Textiles, Arts and Crafts of India and The Traditional Architecture of Indonesia.
Nicholas Barnard is author of Living with Decorative Textiles and Living with Folk Art and
co-author of Living with Kilims and African Majesty.
Thirty years ago, after one of those long, dusty, apparently endless train journeys so typical of
India, I alighted at last at Bhuj railway station in the far north-west of the country.
There , I looked on to a walled, gated town, whose incongruous centerpiece was a Victorian Gothic
tower – part of the Maharao’s place but better fitted to a public school in the English countryside.
I walked through the main bazaar of Bhuj, past silver merchants and shops full to bursting with fine
masbru satins and shawls. Jostling past me came Sidis of African descent, as well as Ahir and
Rabari, Hindu herders in their mirror work costumes and ivory bangles, and Kanbi farming women with
chain-stitch blouses and skirts. Stalkig through them all came tall and lean Jat Muslim herders,
henna-bearded men in ajarakh block-printed turbans and lungis, and women wearing profusely
embroidered tunics, heavy gold nose-rings and madder-dyed bandhani shawls and skirts. Here were
communities and castes living side by side, at peace – and expressing their differences through
colour and textiles.
In the workshops, I saw block printer and bandhani workers, weavers at pit looms producing mashru
satins and dablo blankets for the herders and farmers. Later, in the villages, I saw interiors
decorated with beadwork panels and hung with embroidered, pennanted bunting setting of highly
polished brass pots and silverware, with furniture carved with the recurring patterns of flowers,
birds and animals, all against walls decorated with a relief of mud sculpture, whitewashed and inset
No other land enjoys such a profession of creative energies for the production of textiles as the
South Asian subcontinent. The interaction of peoples – invaders, indigenous tribes, traders and
explorers – has built a complex culture legendary for its vitality and colour; today, over ten
million weavers, dyers, embroiderers and spinners throughout India, Pakistan and Bangladesh
contribute their handmade textiles to this melting pot.
From earliest trading records, it is clear that European, Asian and Levantine civilizations looked
to India for her textiles. Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Persians and Chinese traded precious metals and
silks for the fine and colorful cottons of the subcontinent. The special quality of the light cotton
cloth, the embroidery techniques, the ability to respond with alacrity and sensitivity to the
demands for new designs and patterns, as well as the fast nature of the colorful dyes, ensured that,
until the European Industrial Revolution, India was the world’s foremost centre of textile
Today, the subcontinent has more than recovered from the disasters wrought by the flood of foreign
power loom imports, Prom the Ram of Kutch to the Coromandel Coast, and from the deserts of Sind and
Baluchistan to the North—West Frontier, and in the padi-bounded villages of Bangladesh the hand-loom
weavers, block printers, textile painters, dyers and embroiderers work to continue the developing
traditions of textile craft in the subcontinent. Indian Textile’s focuses on the twentieth-century
development of this domestic and small workshop industry and is the first comprehensive survey of
the handmade textiles of the whole of the South Asian subcontinent with special emphasis on the
textiles of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, establishing the historic links between their
handmade textiles and those of modern India. Throughout the whole region, the histories of textile
traditions are examined, the techniques of dyeing, weaving and embroidering are analysed and the
subcontinent is traversed from region to region to explore and highlight the centres of traditional
textile production. For the designer, traveller, student and collector, Indian Textiles is the
essential guide to the most famous of all the crafts of the subcontinent.
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