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Cotton on to a trend

The Central Cottage Industries Emporium is showcasing the best of its cottons this week.

Bright cottons at the Cottage Emporium exhibition. — Photo: K.Gopinathan

Gossypium arboreum linnaeus has always grown in abundance in India. Excuse me! Whatever is that?! It's the very same of which the Greek historian Herodotus wrote around 1500 B.C.: "There are trees which grow wild there (in India), the fruit... is a wool exceeding in beauty and goodness that of sheep. The natives make their clothes of the tree-wool."

Surely you must have cottoned on by now, for we're talking about good old cotton. Gone are the days when cotton fabric was considered the poor man's fabric. If the silk-draped maharajas of yore were to survive world fashions today, they would be getting their weavers to spin them fresh and bright cotton fabric, and yes, only on handloom, please. Mill cloth, of course, is passé.

Perhaps no other country has as much variety in handloom cottons as India. Any piece of handwoven cotton is an elegant statement, be it the simple unbleached cotton of Kerala and Assam, or the muted, earth colours of Sanganer, the cheery patterns of Gujarat's bandhni, or the vibrant shades of the South.

Cotton is a fabric that breathes even as it drapes the wearer in cool comfort. Today, very few fabrics beat the style and texture of cotton. This was not so a few decades ago when synthetic fabrics almost upstaged cotton. Now, thanks to the Khadi Village Board and government institutions like the Central Cottage Industries Emporium that ensure good prices to spinners and weavers, Indian cotton has again regained its position. Nearly four million handlooms are engaged in weaving some 23 different varieties of cotton.

Indian cotton is also world class. "NRIs and even foreigners come to our showroom seeking these fabrics not just for clothing but also to use as furnishings," says Manjula Raghuram, Superviser, Central Cottage Industries Emporium, Mahatma Gandhi Road. "We've had people who use the Mangalgiri cotton fabric as curtains, the batiks and bandhani for cushions to decorate either the whole house or the Indian room, in their homes abroad."

Though designer cotton outfits cost above Rs. 2000 at the showroom, they get off the shelf in a snap, she adds.

The Emporium is showcasing Indian cotton fabrics up to Aug 17. The racks are stacked with many-hued Indian fabrics, each of which has an identity that is as distinct as its colour. People from the hottest and most arid parts of India brighten their surroundings by dressing in colours that shock the heat waves out of the deserts.

The bright bandhnis of Rajasthan and Gujarat, ikats from Orissa and Andhra, and Mangalgiris from Andhra stand testimony to this. Plain fabrics worked with intricate Kalamkari, literally meaning `pen-painting', khadi that is unbelievably fine, viscose-blended cotton that shines new style. The variety could send you into a tizzy. Andhra's zari-bordered Mangaligiris have been hand-block printed in typical Rajasthani style for that fusion look.

Bargain hunters can scout for red-tagged fabrics to get a 15 per cent discount.


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