A link between history and fashion

FOR QUITE some time now, khadi fabrics have become part of fashion. The "political" association of the past has disappeared even if the "intellectual" tag of khadi kurtas teamed with Levis remains. The KHADI exhibition begins on January 30. Fitting because that is the anniversary of the violent death of the Mahatma Gandhi who made khadi the symbol of our protest against colonial rule.

Few know that this is also the 150th anniversary of the founding of Volkart Brothers and the 50th anniversary of its affiliated charitable trust, the Volkart Foundation. The company was founded in 1851 simultaneously in Bombay as it then was and the small Swiss town of Winterthur. They collected raw cotton from across India and shipped it to major ports of the world. It then became machine-spun and woven into cloth and found its way back to India.

That was the kind of cloth Gandhi wanted to be replaced by our own homespun khadi. It dressed and motivated millions of Indians. The irony of history is that the exhibition to be held at the Old Central Jail in Gandhinagar is sponsored by the Volkart Foundation of Switzerland. The khadi exhibition honours the past. But it also wants to be a promise for the future. For this to happen, khadi as an economic activity needs to overcome the stagnation of the present. This is the vision behind the work of Martand Singh and his team of designers and researchers in setting up khadi. For more than two years they reached out to spinners in different regions, honouring their skills, and giving them hope by employing them.

KHADI, the exhibition, celebrates the unique tactile and aesthetic character of this Indian textile. It showcases 108 varieties of plain khadi fabrics, ranging from the sheerest to the coarsest textures. All sourced from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. It includes a collection of 108 khadi saris from Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal and garments from seven leading fashion designers. This is what some of the designers have to say about khadi fabrics. Asha Sarabhai thinks it is a fabric that evolves rather than dictates; at its best reminds us of the immense pleasure of the tactile. Ritu Kumar divides her collection into two parts: The first uses a coarse quality of khadi, embroidered and dyed to simulate the indigo colours and washed to highlight the twist and turn of the countless yarns and their variants in the fabrics. The second line is a softer, lighter quality of natural coloured khadi with variations of weave. Abraham and Thakore say their collection is an exploration of the textures of khadi. The uneven twist of the hand spun yarn forms the characteristic texture. This unevenness of the yarn is explored through layering and fraying of raw edges.

By Satyamurty K

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