Art, Architecture, Design & Travel

Interdependence of Craft and Fashion


The Interdependence of Craft and Fashion in India: A Personal Reflection

Dr Anindita Roy 

Living in India, we are surrounded by a vibrant tapestry of colors, patterns, and textures. From the bustling streets of Jaipur, where artisans meticulously carve wooden blocks for printing, to the serene villages of Andhra Pradesh, where ikat weavers dye their threads with skill and precision, we witness firsthand the seamless blend of craft and fashion.

This interdependence of traditional crafts and contemporary fashion is not just a hallmark of Indian culture but also a testament to the country's rich heritage and innovative spirit.

We can see that the Indian textiles can be broadly categorized into three main types: embroidery, prints, and weaves. Each category showcases a unique set of skills and traditions that have been passed down through generations, contributing to the rich tapestry of Indian fashion.

Embroidery: A Stitch in Time

Embroidery in India is not just an art form; it is a legacy passed down through generations. Techniques like kantha, chikankari, phulkari, aari, kashida, zardozi, and tilla are more than decorative arts—they are woven into the fabric of Indian life. These embroideries have found their way into the global fashion scene, adorning everything from haute couture to ready-to-wear collections.

  • Kantha: Originating from Bengal, this embroidery involves simple, running stitches to create elaborate patterns, often depicting daily life, flora, and fauna. Kantha has become a favorite in contemporary fashion, seen in quilts, saris, and even jackets.
  • Chikankari: This delicate and intricate embroidery from Lucknow involves fine thread work on muslin, cotton, and silk. Chikankari's elegance has made it a staple in modern fashion, gracing everything from kurtas to evening gowns.
  • Phulkari: Known for its vibrant and colorful floral motifs, Phulkari from Punjab is traditionally done on shawls and dupattas. Its bold patterns have been reimagined in contemporary fashion, adding a touch of Punjab's exuberance to global wardrobes.
  • Aari: This type of embroidery, involving a hooked needle, is prevalent in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Aari work is known for its fine, chain-stitch patterns and has been incorporated into modern fashion, embellishing everything from saris to handbags.
  • Kashida: From Kashmir, kashida embroidery features motifs inspired by nature, like birds, flowers, and trees. It is often done on wool and silk, creating luxurious shawls and garments that are treasured for their artistry.
  • Zardozi: This opulent embroidery uses metallic threads to create intricate patterns, often combined with pearls and gemstones. Originating from the Mughal era, zardozi is synonymous with bridal wear and couture, adding a regal touch to any outfit.
  • Tilla: Also from Kashmir, tilla embroidery involves using gold and silver threads to create intricate designs, primarily on Pashmina shawls and heavy bridal outfits. Its shimmering patterns have found a place in modern high fashion, bringing traditional glamour to contemporary designs.

Block Prints: A Symphony of Patterns

The rhythmic thud of wooden blocks against fabric is a sound that resonates with the history of Indian textiles. Block printing, with its roots in Rajasthan, produces the distinctive patterns of Bagru and Sanganeri prints. The earthy hues and bold motifs of Bagru prints, achieved using natural dyes and traditional methods, have an enduring charm. In contrast, Sanganeri prints, known for their fine lines and floral designs, offer a more delicate aesthetic. I recall my visits to the workshops in Jaipur, watching artisans dip wooden blocks into dye and press them onto fabric with an almost meditative focus. Today, these prints are celebrated in fashion circles worldwide, featured in everything from summer dresses to elegant scarves, seamlessly bridging the gap between tradition and contemporary style.

Nandana Hand-Block Printing: A Forgotten Art Revived

In the heartland of Madhya Pradesh, the Nandana hand-block printing technique has been a cherished tradition. This unique art form uses natural dyes to create intricate designs, often depicting flora and fauna.  The beauty of Nandana prints lies in their deep, rich colors and detailed patterns. These textiles have started to gain recognition in the fashion world, with designers incorporating them into modern silhouettes, thus preserving and celebrating this traditional craft.

Ikat: The Art of Resist Dyeing

Ikat weaving is a technique that never ceases to amaze me. The process involves dyeing the threads before they are woven, creating patterns that emerge like magic on the loom. In states like Odisha, Telangana, and Gujarat, ikat is a way of life. The vibrant, often geometric designs of ikat fabrics have a unique aesthetic that has captured the attention of fashion designers globally. I remember visiting Pochampally, a town renowned for its ikat weavers, and being mesmerized by the sheer complexity of the process. The resulting fabric, with its blurred, almost ethereal patterns, adds a touch of mystique to any garment, making it a favorite among fashion enthusiasts.

Himroo Weaving: A Blend of Cotton and Silk

Himroo weaving, originating from Aurangabad in Maharashtra, is a luxurious fabric traditionally woven with a blend of cotton and silk. The intricate designs, often inspired by Persian motifs, create a rich, textured fabric. Himroo shawls and saris have a royal elegance, making them a cherished addition to any wardrobe.  The resurgence of Himroo in contemporary fashion is a testament to its timeless appeal and the skill of the artisans who continue to produce this exquisite fabric.

Siddipet Gollabama Weaving: Crafting Heritage

The town of Siddipet in Telangana is renowned for its Gollabama saris, named after the 'Gollabama' motif that depicts a cowherd girl. These saris are known for their unique patterns and vibrant colors. The Gollabama motif, painstakingly woven into the fabric, tells a story of rural life and tradition. Today, Gollabama saris are gaining popularity, not just as traditional attire but also as fashionable statements that celebrate Indian heritage.

Guledgudd Khana: Traditional Elegance

Guledgudd, a small town in Karnataka, is famous for its Khana fabric, traditionally used for making blouses. The fabric is known for its bold colors and patterns, often featuring geometric and floral designs. The Guledgudd Khana fabric has been embraced by fashion designers, who have transformed it into contemporary outfits like jackets, dresses, and skirts, bringing this traditional craft to a global audience.

Ilkal Weaving: A Legacy of Craftsmanship

Ilkal, also in Karnataka, is renowned for its handwoven saris. The distinctive feature of Ilkal saris is the contrast border and pallu, often woven with intricate patterns. The weaving technique involves a unique method called 'tope teni,' which ensures the sari's durability and vibrant color. My admiration for Ilkal saris grew after visiting the weavers who dedicate their lives to perfecting this craft. These saris are now a favorite among fashion enthusiasts looking for something uniquely Indian yet modern.

Lambadi/Banjara Embroidery: A Riot of Colors

The Lambadi or Banjara community, originally nomadic, is known for its vibrant and intricate embroidery. This craft involves using bright threads, mirrors, and beads to create elaborate patterns. The sheer vibrancy and detail of their work were mesmerizing. Lambadi embroidery has found a place in contemporary fashion, with designers incorporating it into jackets, skirts, and accessories, bringing a touch of ethnic charm to modern outfits.

Molakalmuru Silk Weaving: Regal Splendor

Molakalmuru, a town in Karnataka, is famous for its silk saris, known for their fine texture and intricate motifs. The weaving process is meticulous, with artisans dedicating weeks to complete a single sari. The regal splendor of Molakalmuru silk saris, with their rich colors and detailed designs, makes them a prized possession. Fashion designers have begun to experiment with Molakalmuru silk, creating contemporary pieces that maintain the traditional essence while appealing to modern tastes.

The Symbiotic Relationship

The relationship between craft and fashion in India is symbiotic, each nourishing and evolving with the other. Traditional crafts provide a rich repository of techniques and aesthetics that fashion designers draw upon to create innovative and unique designs. In turn, the fashion industry offers these crafts a broader platform and a global audience, ensuring their survival and adaptation in a rapidly changing world.

As I look around, I see how the interplay of craft and fashion has shaped not just the clothing we wear but also our cultural identity. It is heartening to see young designers embracing traditional crafts, infusing them with new life, and ensuring that the artisans' skills are honored and preserved. This interdependence of craft and fashion is a dynamic dance that celebrates India's rich heritage while continually pushing the boundaries of creativity.

In conclusion, the world of Indian textiles is a vivid mosaic of tradition and innovation. Each thread, each pattern, and each technique tells a story of a timeless craft interwoven with the contemporary currents of fashion. As an observer and participant in this beautiful confluence, I am constantly inspired by the resilience and creativity that define the interdependence of craft and fashion in India.

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