Indian textiles, then and now

Continuing traditions

Our textile history is far more cosmopolitan than we believe it to be,” says textile and fashion designer Mayank Mansingh Kaul. From age-old ‘patkas’ of the Mughal era to Benarasi brocades and from block prints to kalamkaris, some elements in the textile industry have continued to mark their presence in fashion.

Kaul during a lecture on ‘Indian Textiles: Traditional in the Contemporary’ at the
India Habitat Centre took people on a historical journey of India through textiles by narrating contemporary developments and innovations on the fabric.

According to Vandana Bhandari, dean, National Institute of Fashion Technology, “Knowing the linkages and continuities of textile traditions are required to know the possibilities of our textiles. Where fast production techniques like digital printing are flourishing in the market, it is important for the niche clientele to understand core values of these textiles and their appreciation.”

Starting with ‘patkas’ or ‘sashes’ which were worn around their waists by men in Mughal era, Kaul said that they are now being showcased as sculptural objects in
exhibitions.

“Usually in fabrics like metallic brocade, pashmina and wool, ‘patkas’ indicated ranks of individuals in Mughal courts. Since there was no technology to create patkas, they were completely handwoven. So, at least five years were spent in reviving looms for creating them, which are now a part of numerous exhibitions,” added Kaul.

This, he said, is something that transforms the whole idea of what reviving means. Asserting on the fact that textiles have the ability to become something which they are not, Kaul furthered the discussion to innovations in brocade.

While showcasing designer Manish Arora’s brocade collection, Kaul showed how the designer (Arora) had tried to break away from the original visual vocabulary of brocade by giving it an optic look, with fairly large-scale repeats.

Another development, which has continued to be aesthetically present and admired by people is that of block prints.

“Perhaps, we are the only country to have raised the tradition of active hand-block printing. It is symbolic of an idea, an aesthetic that we don’t want to lose,” explained Kaul.

Agreed
Himanshu Verma, director, Red Earth, saying, “Block prints as a craft, involves high level of skills and the craft is appreciated by people even outside India.”

‘But, what about block prints that is made in mills and mechanised sector? Do you endorse that’, asked someone from the audience.

“Mechanised sector textiles are like an antithesis to the handmade sector. However, what is worthy of being noticed is that the designs in mechanised sector replicate those of handmade sector. Thus, the dependence of mechanised on handmade, for references is necessary. And this only indicates the continuity of aesthetics,” answered Kaul.

As Verma said, digital printing, roller blocks, and copy pasting of block prints, is meant for the lower segment of the market.

“Even though they don’t need to follow traditional block print patterns, people in digital sector still follow it. And while a regular block print kurta is available for as low as Rs 300 in the market, we only see that the value for these designs are engraved in peoples’ consciousness,” said Verma.


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