The Pristine Heritage of Indian Fabrics
What makes India the most incredible nation is its immortal cultural continuity especially when there is so much of diversity. Even though we mostly classify cultural identities by languages that people speak but even before one speaks, it’s the way people style themselves in so many ways across all corners of India, that gives them their unique identities. The tremendous variety of designs available today is the result of the knowledge and skills of the craftsmen that have been passed to them from generations to generations. No wonder why each cultural corner of India has its own unique fabric and style.
This blog is a a tribute to this unique heritage of Indian fabrics and in all its modesty will attempt to cover the rich legacies of major Indian fabrics that continue to finds its way into modern adaptations by designers across the globe.
1. Embroidered Fabric
The beauty of the embroidery lies in its fine art of needlework. Mostly practiced by women, embroidery is an extremely skillful art on that has been in practice since Indus Valley Civilization. The fabrics were decorated beautifully with embroidery that they were even worn by Mughals as a symbol of royalty. It is still used to decorate fabrics in different ways but the only difference is embroidery was done with gold for Mughals and now it is done by different mirrors and threads.
Every region of India has its own embroidery art. Let us take a look at some of the most famous embroideries prevalent today from different parts of India:
Kashida from Kashmir, Phulkari from Punjab, Chamba from Himachal are some of the most famous embroideries in North India.
The local fabric vendors of our cities sell beautiful shawls calling it the work of Kashmiris. Ever wondered what is that Kashmiri Art? It is Kashida embroidery which is inspired from the natural surroundings of Kashmir depicted in the form of flora and fauna.
Phulkari, an art originating from the Punjab, is done on a handwoven material of Khaddar. There are particular colors of thread are being used for the phulkari embroidery i.e. shades of Red, Green, Golden Yellow, Orange, Blue and more. Practiced mostly by the women of Punjab, it is considered an auspicious part of bridal trousseau. Women use it for designing splendid dupattas, skirts, tops and even home need products like bed linen.
Chamba Rumal, also called as ‘needle painting’ by Romans, can be traced back to 15th century. One can see Pahari culture in the form of Chamba Rumal Embroidery as it depicts flora and fauna of Himachal region. It also takes its inspiration from Lord Krishna and his playful antics which is evident from the beautiful wall hangings that are so common on the walls of restaurants, hotels etc.
Practiced by different communities of the Gujarat, Gujarat Embroidery is one of the most popular embroidery of Western India. Some of the styles of this embroidery are Mochi Bharat, Soof Bharat, Abhla Bharat, Moti Bharat and Kachcho Bharat. This embroidery is used all over India for creating enticing quilt Covers, Wall hangings, Ghagra, Cholis etc.
Parsi embroidery, another elegant embroidery originating from Parsi communities of Mumbai is admired all over the India. It is mostly done on the silk fabric for decorating Parsi garas, also known as heirlooms and jhablas.
Chikankari, Phool patti and Zardosi are some of the most admired embroideries of central parts of India. Chikankari, originating from Lucknow, is a white embroidery art. It is believed that Nur Jahan, invented this beautiful art of white embroidery after she decorated her husband i.e. Jahangir’s white cap with white embroidery. Nowadays, some vibrant pastels shades are also available in Chikankari.
Phool patti, a geometric style of embroidery takes its inspiration from the flowers and leaves. Traditionally used for dupattas and saris only but nowadays designers are experimenting with this embroidery style for designing curtains, table linens and bed covers also.
Zardozi, a geometric and floral style of embroidery is one dazzling art created during the era of Mughals. It is a gold and silver embroidery art and used on fabrics like velvet, satin and silk to decorate wedding Lehengas, Suits, Gowns and every outfit of ethnic available today.
Kasuti embroidery, originating from Karnataka, can still be found in our mother or grandmother’s closet. Every woman has at least one black or Chandrakali sari decorated beautifully with kasauti embroidery.
Lambadi Embroidery, comes from rural areas of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh practiced by their Banjara women. Enthralling embellishments like cowrie shells, coins and mirrors are used in this art of embroidery.
Kantha embroidery, coming from parts of West Bengal, was traditionally used to create embroidered fabrics from old used fabrics. This embroidery style is extremely famous to decorate white cotton saris with different color threads that are also drawn from the borders of old saris.
Just like Kantha embroidery, there is another embroidery style, Sujani, which was also traditionally done on old saris to transform a sari into a quilt. These quilts were considered auspicious as it was a tradition to create Sujani quilts on the birth of a baby. Taking its inspirations from our daily life and surroundings, this embroidery is done in the form of flora and fauna.
Pipli Applique, originating from a small town of Odisha, Pipli, was traditionally used to decorate the idols of a very famous temple, Jagannath Puri. This art of embroidery can be seen in splendid vibrant shades and usually done on a contrast colored fabric. Pipli embroidered fabrics are still used during all religious ceremonies but this artwork can also be seen on home decor items like wall hangings, bed and cushion covers, lampshades etc.
Modern Adaptation of Embroidery Art by Fashion Designers
Gaurang Shah’s “kalpavriksha” collection in Lakme Fashion Week Summer/Resort’15, depicts the best of traditional Indian cloth weaving.
According to our Hindu mythology, Kalpavriksha is considered as the wish-fulfilling divine tree. And Designer Gaurang shah, in this collection, Revisited the subtle khadi with a representation of the Tree of Life, depicting the work of Jamdani weavers of Andhra Pradesh and Bangladesh.
Gaurang creatively blended the khadi with prints of Phulkari, Kalamkari and Chikankari into a charming and classic modern collection.
Gorgeous anarkalis with intricate weaves, ghagras so superbly designed, and such graceful sarees were seen in his collection.
Gaurang always creates a plethora of colors. From pinks and reds to blues and rustic greens, this collection was also full of summer.
Check out an indigo kurta with hand-woven border with ghagra inspired with phulkari. How alluring is this design. And the perfect blend of yellow Chikankari kurta with khadi brings out the significance of khadi fabric which is considered as the fabric of freedom.
Fashion Designer, Agnimitra paul, showcased a collection called “Stitch Story- The Kantha Tale” for spring/summer at Lakme Fashion week 2008. The collection showcased the perfect blend of traditional embroidery art of kantha with western silhouettes.
The collection displayed the beauty of Kantha embroidery but with a taste of the craft which turned it into a contemporary design and looked completely alluring.
The fabrics she used in her collection were pure cotton, mul-mul, khadi with a pinch of chiffon for layers. The shades had peach, green and pink on an ivory base.
This multi-layer dress with combination of green, gold and ivory shades look so summery and is so much wearable.
The collection had small waist coats, skivvies under simple pinafores, asymmetric shirt tunics with classic shirts. There was an immense glitter and glamour in her overall collection.
The sarees had Kantha embroidery all over with beautiful vintage cholis. This saree has an amazing futuristic look with shimmery petticoat peeping out from the saree.
2. Resist Dyed Fabrics (Tie and Dye Technique)
Resist Dying technique is a traditional tie and dye technique of coloring the fabric to create patterns by blocking some areas of the fabrics so that the resultant fabric has just those areas colored which were unblocked.
Bandhani and Ikat are the two most commonly found resist dying techniques.
Bandhani, originating from parts of Gujarat, and Bandhej, taking its roots from Rajasthan, can be traced back to 6th century which is evident from the paintings showcased at Ajanta caves in which women can be seen wearing tie and dye clothes. Mostly done on cotton and silk fabrics, it can take months to prepare a fabric with tie and dye technique.
Bandhani of Gujarat, mostly practiced in the areas of Jamnagar, Bhavnagar, Rajkot and Porbander, is adored for its convoluted designs in the form of fine resist dots. One of the famous Bandhani art is Gharcholu. It is a resist-dyed red color cloth in cotton or silk with checkerboard geometric style layout woven with a gold thread. The checks are decorated with forms of parrot, Elephant, Flowers etc. Worn as a sari by women for auspicious occasions, it reflects the beautiful Gujarati culture. The other famous Bandhani styles are Chandrokhani and Aba.
Bandhej of Rajasthan, very similar to the Bandhani of Rajasthan in its production process, except the designs are also in the form of small boxes, Laddu, kori and not only resist dots like Bandhani. This is also done on cotton and silk cloth and is used as a sari by women, turban for men and also used for stitching Skirts, Dupattas etc.
There is another famous tie and Dye technique of Rajasthan i.e. Lehariya. Available in gorgeous pastel shades, it has diagonal and zig-zag patterns that is created by using tie-and dye technique.
Indians would still go for traditional clothes when it comes to weddings or some religious occasion and that is the reason Bandhani, Bandhej and Lehariya are used during any auspicious ceremony for covering their head.
The word Ikat, derived from the Malay-Indonesian word ‘mangiikat’, which means to bind or knot, itself depicts the technique behind it. The uniqueness of Ikat lies in its hazy patterns on the fabric which comes as a result of tie and dye of yarns before the weaving is done.
Ikat fabrics are mainly produced in areas of Gujarat, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. And Ikat of each area has its own beauty and uniqueness.
The double weaving of Ikat, is found in Gujarat and called as Patola of Gujarat. Double weaving is the tie and dyong of both warp and weft in which the patterns are already pre-defined and then weaving is done to create the end designs on fabric. Patola saris are adored for its design and worn by women for any auspicious ceremony.
Bandhas, taking its origin from Odisha, are known as Bandhas of Odisha only. These are single ikat or combined ikat designs unlike Patola of Gujarat. In single Ikat, only the weft or the warp is tie-dyed. Mainly weft ikat are produced in Odisha. This design is inspired from the flora and fauna of the Odisha Region as swastika, flowers like lotus, fish, tortoise are evident in its design.
The beauty of Bandhas ikat is captured in the designs of scarves, skirts, saris, suits, dupattas, stoles etc.
Pochampally Ikat, originating from a very small town of Pochampally in Andhra Pradesh, is extremely popular with the high-street fashion designers today. Celebrities can be seen in the designs of this traditional Ikat style. And the designs of Ikat can be found in vibrant shades of magenta, brown, parrot green, orange, off-white, black etc.
Modern Adaptation of Traditional Ikat by Fashion Designers today:
Shilpa Reddy, a Hyderabad based fashion designer also showcased her Handloom Ikat- “Floral Geometry “collection in New York highlighting the beauty of geometric styled Ikats inspired with blossom of floral in Spring. Tapsee Panu looks stunning in this geometric Ikat outfit.
PC: Fashionfad.in/Rahul Mishra
Delhi based fashion designer- Rahul Mishra, has created a perfect blend of heritage, history and modernity of Pochampally Ikat in its new Collection. The collection is a feel of ancient Han-Atlas fabric, a multicolored, hand-woven and hand-dyed Ikat fabric of 19th century Central Asia that was popular with traders on the silk route and was used to symbolize power and luxury of traders.
3. Printed fabrics
The known history reveals that the first evidence of block printing on fabrics was found in Egypt but belonged to India. It is believed that because of the inexpensive and intricate designs of block printed fabrics, British east India company used to export these fabrics from India to other countries.
Traditionally printing on fabrics was done using the hand-carved wooden blocks using vegetable dyes to obtain shades of terracotta red, turmeric yellow, deep green and indigo blue. But now with the advancement in technology, machines also help in the printing.
Block Prints of Rajasthan
Rajasthan has been known for fabric printing since ages. Sanganer and Bagru are two of the most famous villages of Rajasthan known for block printing and each village’s print has its uniqueness of its own.
Bagru prints, originating from Bagru village of Rajasthan, is practiced on cotton, Silk and Silk blended fabrics. The prints of Bagru takes its inspiration from 17th century Persian motifs which is evident in its designs. Flowers, leaves, buds, dancing women, warrior men, chess, lines, dots are some of the patterns visible in this print. They are used for all types of apparels and home decors.
Sangaer prints, coming from the Sanganer village of Rajasthan where printing on fabrics is practiced as an ongoing traditions coming from generations. Mostly done on light colored fabrics like white and off-white, these prints are popular for decorating Scarves, Dupattas, Saris, Salwar Kameez, bedcovers, curtains etc.
Another block print which is equally beautiful and unique is Kalamkari. Originating from Andhra Pradesh, take its name after the art of pen. Kalam means ‘pen’ and kari means ‘art’. It was so popular in ancient times that there was a separate name that was created for Kalamkari printed fabrics i.e. ‘Chintz’. Instead of blocks, pens were used to designs patterns on fabrics which enhanced the beauty of the fabric. Kalamkari prints can be seen in colors of yellow, red, black and blue.
Modern Adaptations of Block Prints by Fashion Designers
Fashion Designer Purvi Doshi showcased “The Renaissance” Collection in Lakme Fashion Week Summer’14. The collection truly displayed her love for nature and the Indian culture. She made the perfect choice of pure cotton clothes dyed in naturally occurring colors. The collection was a mix of shades of reds, Greys, Khaki green, Deep green, off whites and Indigo which look magnificent in block printing. Renaissance era marked the rebirth of humanism and revival of our culture in the form of art. The collection showcased the same era depicting rebirth and reconstruction by connecting two Arts-Europe and Gujarat.
Check out the perfect blend of color blocking with European inspired outfit:
PC: Vogue.in/Divya Seth
Divya Seth displayed a hand-woven natural dyed collection at Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2015. The collection made us peep into Rajasthani Culture. It showcased hand painted kalamkari motifs on handwoven khadi, Cotton, Organic Silk and Cotton Jersey.
The whole collection was inspired with the earthy shades of Rajasthan. It had colors of Ochre, Dusty Pink, Rust, Indigo and Olive. There was also a blend of Gota and dabka embroidery with kalamkari prints which just made us drool over her collection more.
Designer Sashikant Naidu presented a divine collection of Saris and dresses in silk, Khadi and Crepe fabric with traditional Kalamkari work of Andhra Pradesh. The collection displayed the blend of florals in kalamkari work. The crepe saree with floral kalamkari work with a lightly embellished green blouse look just stunning.
4. Hand-woven fabrics
Handloom prints, the centuries old tradition of weaving textiles is practiced all over the country in almost all the rural areas of India. If we take a look at these small parts of any town or any city, we will see it surrounded by thousands of skilled craftsmen and artisans who have been practicing weaving textile since generations. And each part of India has its own style of weaving the fabric in the form of different looms.
Some of the most famous hand-woven fabrics are the ‘Kani’ shawls of Kashmir, woven on Pashmina fabric. Others are brocade saris, chanderi or maheshwari saris etc.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular hand-woven printed Sarees
Banaras Brocades, originating from the holy city, Banaras, the Banarasi brocade sarees are considered one of the finest sari of India. They are adored all over the world for their Zari border made in the shades of gold and silver and also for the sophistication in its design. Only made from the finest of silk available, the design is the end result of use of colorful threads and materials. Traditionally they were used for royal coats,achkans and jamas of Mughals,but now they are used for sarees,suits, dupattas, ethnic gowns also. A bridal trousseau is incomplete without a banarasi brocade saree.
Baluchari Saris, mainly produced in Murshidabad area of West Bengal, are one fancy sarees that is different from the other sarees. The pallu of the saree itself depicts the royalty. It memorializes the Nawab and his wife by showing their prints on the pallu. Traditionally, these saris were made from Jala looms but modern jacquard fabric replaced them. This saree is still worn by the upper class ladies of Bengal who wants to depict their royalty through their saree.
A blend of cotton with cotton, cotton with silk, silk with silk, is what makes a Jamdani Saree. The sari’s pattern is inspired from the Geometric florals, leaves and paisleys prints. These are ornamental sarees produced in west Bengal only.
Heavy silk sarees are still a must for completing any wedding trousseau for an Indian bride. Paithani sarees are one of those heavy silk saree. This angelic saree has beautiful gold block prints embellished on them. Traditionally, they were also traded in return for gold and silver stones.
Coming from the Kanchipuram town in Tamil Nadu, Kanjeevaram sarees are one of the most expensive silk sarees available today. This hand-woven saree is made from pure mulberry silk and is decorated with gold Zari border. The prints on the Kanjeevaram sarees are inspired from the temple architecture. We can see imprints of peacock, scenes of Ramayana and Mahabharata, parrots etc. on the saree.
The perfect wear for summers, Chanderi Sarees takes its origin from Madhya Pradesh.This saree made from a blend of cotton and degummed silk is an ideal inexpensive replacement to the silk sarees.
Another saree that originated from Madhya Pradesh are Maheshwari sarees. The three layer Zari border captivates the entire beauty of the saree. The motifs of this saree takes its inspiration from the Maheshwar’s Ahilya fort which are evident from the prints on the saree.
Just like sarees, hand-woven shawls are also adored all over the world for their beauty. The three most admired comes from the mesmerizing valley of Kashmir, Kinnaur & Kullu and the north-east.
The craftsmen and artisans from the divine valley of Kashmir has given us one piece of Beauty-Kashmiri Shawls.
According to the known history of ‘Jaina Rajatarangini’, Mughal emperor Zain-ul-Abidin first produced this Kashmiri shawl with the help of people of Kashmir by teaching them the art of making shawls with experts from Turkistan. Two of the most famous shawls of Kashmir are Pashmina shawls and Kani shawls. Pashmina Shawls are admired for their warmth, softness and the fineness with which it is made. The word Pashmina comes from a Persian word ‘Pashm’ which means soft gold.
Kani Shawls are so fine that it takes around one and a half year to complete one shawl and requires huge amount of labor. One shawl is produced from 1500 different colored threads.
Kullu & Kinnaur Shawls is mostly famous in women of Himachal Pradesh. The borders of this shawl are inspired from the geometric motifs of nature. These shawls are gorgeously colorful and is worn with heavy silver jewelry.
The tradition of practicing cloth weaving has been ongoing since generations. The women of all the seven states of north-east practice the weaving of the shawls. These shawls are mostly in shades of black, dark blue, red and yellow. These north-east shawls are still the primary occupation of women of north-east.
Modern Adaptation of Hand-woven fabrics
Let’s take a look how the modern designers are experimenting with their creativity of designing modern outfits from traditional hand-woven fabrics.
Check out Rohit Bal’s 2015 Spring collection of Banarsi saree with Banarsi Jacket. Rohit Bal creates a perfect blend of contemporary and traditional fashion with beautiful brocade jackets over Banarsi saree which makes this collection perfect for winter weddings also.
Fashion Designer, Santosh Parekh displayed the beauty of Kanchipuram by creating some splendid Kanchipuram sarees for its 2015 Collection. The use of beautiful hues and delicate Zari work on the borders made it just more appealing.
Gaurang Shah has always shown love for the traditional fabrics of India. In his Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive Collection 2016, he showcased the “Vrindavan” collection which celebrated the stories of Lord Krishna, Radha and the Gopis.
The Collection showed love for India’s rich warp and weft heritage that unfolded with the Raas-Leela tales woven into the Jamdani textiles. It was a stunning collection for the wedding as Gaurang Shah also launched his men’s wear range inspired by the Braj-Bhoomi.
The men/groom’s collection had bold patterns and colors on Paithani dhotis paired with Kanjeevaram kurtas. The Banarasi sherwanis looked amazing in their cuts; while the Patan Patola ones looked so alluring. The khadi Jamdani achkans and the Kotah Kurtas were just the perfect pick for pre-wedding functions. There were also Patan Patola shawls which were the perfect topping on the groom collection.
Brocades dazzled on the ramp for the men’s wear as dhotis, churidars and salwars created a style statement for the stronger sex. Gaurang’s design sensibilities reflected the Vishnu-Purana in a contemporary form for the New Age man.
Gaurang picked up just the right embroideries with the perfect fabrics for the brides-to-be that traversed the culture of India as he created beautiful pieces in Kanjeevaram, Paithani, Patan Patola, Kotah and Banarasi fabrics, where there was a magnificent blend of motifs and textures. Tie-dye techniques like Shibori, clamp dyeing, Bandhani, leheriya, Ajrakh and Dabu block prints made them look even more splendid.
This collection by Gaurang Shah displayed the perfect blend of glamour, glitter, shimmer and timeless heirlooms which is a perfect wedding trousseau to any bride and groom.[/content][/article_content]