Elle India
Khadi Image Credit: Elle India
Khadi Image Credit: Elle India

Power Of The Handwoven Fabric

As khadi undergoes a revival, noted textile scholar and historian Rta Kapur Chishti makes a case for the potential and power of the handwoven fabric, even in a globalised economy

Rta Kapur Chishti

Today, the word ‘khadi’ is a misnomer as it is widely used to cover cotton, silk and wool fabrics that are mixed with terry and other manmade fibres to give them added strength and a smooth finish, which is an antithesis in itself.

The original word is derived from ‘khaddar’ or the raw handspun fabric made on the spinning wheel after a strenuous process of cleaning, combing and carding, all done by hand. The natural fibres are first turned into slivers and then made stronger by applying rice, sago or tamarind starch with a brush in the early morning light. This process is done in a tree-covered grove so the yarn dries slowly, allowing for even shrinkage and smoothening out of the surface fibres.

Mahatma Gandhi had realised how widespread the cottage industry of hand spinning and weaving had been until the British, or more accurately, the East India Company began promoting mill-made Lancashire yarns for sale in India. It opened buying houses first in Bihar, Bengal and Odisha, and then other parts of the country to purchase the textured and patterned handspun yarns. In every home, hand-spinning became a part of the national movement and a symbol of active participation in it. It was Gandhiji’s way of building an army of soldiers across castes and communities, rich and poor, with an inner discipline of th


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