The Materials & Processes related to the Cultural Textiles of Africa

Textiles of Africa


A Kuba chief in formal attire. Note the cut pile border. Image from The Worldwide History of Dress.

Textiles of Africa occupy a unique spot in the history of world textiles: Their use ranges from clothing, tent awnings, wall hangings, and bed covers: they also indicate the wealth of the owner, and in many cases, his social standing and possessions.  Historically, textiles in Africa have also been used as currency. Therefore it is a pity that most western perception of this genre centers on its ‘craft.’ Of course, African textiles are craft-based, but they are so much more than that.  

Africa is a massive continent, with immense cultural and geographical diversity, so the only way to examine its textile traditions in such an article is to divide the elements under heads: (more…)

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Handwoven Diaphanous Muslin, The Story of the World’s Finest Fabric

Muslin- The word ‘Muslin’ is believed to derive from Marco Polo’s description of the cotton trade in Mosul, Iraq. Another view is that of fashion historian Susan Greene, who wrote that the name arose in the 18th century from mousse, the French word for “foam.” The word is most likely derived from the port of Machilipatnam, called Masulipatnam earlier, from where muslin was exported to South Asia, the Roman Empire, Ethiopia, and Egypt, where it was famously used to wrap mummies.  It was often traded for ivory and rhinoceros horn by Greek and Arab merchants.  (more…)

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A Humble Origin & Fascinating Stories of Fashionable Madras Checks

Madras Checks: My all-time favorite, and always in fashion, Madras checks stem from a humble origin with fascinating and quirky twists and turns in their journey.

The Origin of Madras Checks Fabric

Around the 12th century, Madras Checks was a piece of handloom clothing for India’s peasant class in the village called Madraspatnam (Madras now Chennai). The local weavers would extract the soft fibers from the “tip-skin” of native trees to weave 36″ wide square handkerchiefs, which were then block printed with bright colored check patterns.  They were worn as a garment similar to a sarong wrapped around the waist and extending to the ankles, called a lungi.


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Animal Pigments – the History of extraction of beautiful Natural Pigments


Can you imagine a world where all our apparel, our interiors, the objects we use in our daily lives were a uniform white or grey? We take color so much for granted that we cannot imagine that this was the case at the dawn of humanity. As civilizations started flourishing in Asia and Egypt around 2500 BC, the human need for adornment and self-actualization asserted itself in the first use of color. (more…)

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The Beautiful Indienne, A Textile Story of Switzerland

The Beautiful Indienne, A Textile Story of Switzerland

I discussed my recent textile-related reads with a friend when she mentioned the book ‘Indiennes – Material For A Thousand Stories“. The exhibition at the Landesmuseum Zürich published this book in conjugation with their presentation.

The name ‘Indienne’ made me curious as I have not heard of it before in relation to the calico textiles that were traded between India and Europe. I grabbed my copy right away and just finished reading it. The book examines what happened next to the beautifully printed and painted cotton story after they left the Indian shores, arrived in Europe and created a veritable storm of buying enthusiasm in Europe. (more…)

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The Story of Indian Cotton

Two women spinning white threads. 1780-1858. Watercolor gouache on mica, 97 x 149 mm. New York Public Library Digital Collections NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b13976376. Click on image to enlarge it.
The Story of Indian Cotton: As we enter the sixth month of the pandemic I sit in disbelief, bewildered at the might of the virus- something that has incredible power but molecularly so small. This destructive virus almost feels like prescience as I consecutively write about how mankind has manipulated the existence of indigenous cottonseed, another ‘small’ yet ‘mighty’ being of nature. 

The Discovery of Indian Cotton (more…)

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Khadi or Khaddar- How is khadi philosophy applicable today

Jamdani Khadi from Marasim Library
Khadi or Khaddar- How is Khadi philosophy applicable today

My husband and I transition our day into relaxation and nostalgia by binge watching motion series adaptation of R. K. Narayan’s book  ‘Malgudi days’ .  Short stories from a small village exuding the zeitgeist of pre-independence India- reminiscent of my grandmother’s beautiful stories. In one particular episode of Malgudi days, the whole village organizes a bonfire to burn their ‘English’ clothes.. The story belongs to a time when Indian’s were encouraged to keep only ‘khadi’ or ‘khaddar’ clothes with them. It gives the audience a glimpse of the boycott movement that was adopted to fight against the imperial rule.

‘Khadi’ , a  material embodiment of an ideal’

In the current situation, we are witnessing the collapse of long distant supply chains and brutal financial realities. It is time that countries adopted self reliance and economic self sufficiency that was advocated by  M.K Gandhi for India. Gandhi used humble Khadi as his weapon for inspiring a revolution.


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Story of Kalamkari Artisan Entrepreneur Thilak Reddy : Art of Hand Painting the fabrics

Kalamkari: The ancient art of Hand Painting the Fabric with Thilak Reddy.

Thilak Reddy was introduced to us for the first time at the Santa Fe Folk Art Market, In spite of all of his talent and achievements, he is one of the most humble and hardworking people we have ever met. 

Thilak, 32, practices the art of hand printing the fabrics using a bamboo pen and natural dyes to achieve intricate designs. He lives with his sister and mother in Srikalahasti, that has an indelible history of India’s painted and printed cotton trade with the world. Read here.

He is a second generation Kalamkari artist after his father. Thilak started practicing this craft at a very young age and has now been working for over 20 years. After graduation, he lost his father. He had no option but to take over all his father’s projects to help put food on the table. (more…)

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Traditional Block Printing Technique: Bagh Printing from Madhya Pradesh

Traditional Block Printing Technique

Bagh Printing: Traditional Block Printing Technique from Madhya Pradesh

Block printing dates back to over 2000 years ago, during Buddha’s time. The trade of printed textiles from India flourished during the medieval age and 12th century. While the Coromandel Coast boasted of Kalamkari, the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan were built on block printed textiles. These soft intricate textiles, mostly naturally dyed, built a textile tradition that is still relevant today.

My tryst with block prints began with my mother. Seeing her wear indigo prints is what I grew up with. She wore exclusively cotton, a perfect textile for the Indian climate. The madder, indigo and mustard color of these calico textiles kept the body cool and soul happy.


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How do you Source Sustainable Cotton

Traditional Block Printing Technique
Sustainable Cotton. In 2012, when I was doing my research on traditional wisdom of food in India. I learnt about the scholar and environmental activist Vandana Shiva. I appreciate the knowledge she shared on biodiversity conservation, organic farming, the rights of farmers, and the process of seed saving. It is a good sign that the food environmentalists have started to understand the harm the food ‘industry’ has done to the soil by replacing the traditional wisdom of nurturing and growing food on farms with the modern invention of  lab made, chemically manipulated foods and agricultural practices.

The fashion industry should also adopt the concept of returning to “Earth Citizenship” and becoming a part of the Earth’s life cycles. The issue is that the fashion industry, with its long supply chains and numerous processes between idea generation and product development, lacks the time to develop an understanding of something as ancient and essential as cotton farming methods. The fashion industry generally places price above practices when it comes to most steps in the product development process.



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