Textiles of India

Walk down memory lane with the fabrics of India  courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum

Cotton Fabrics of India

India provided cotton to the world for centuries before the industrialization of cotton, where cotton cultivation dates back 9000 years or so.  Indian textiles experienced international trade long before European merchants discovered it.  Excavations in Jordan have discovered Indian cotton, dating back 6000 years.

India’s geography and climate allows for the cultivation of a variety of plant fibers and natural dyes perfect for fabrics, with regions within India becoming renowned for their skills, such as the fine cottons of Bengal and the gold silks of Assam.

India’s blue and red dyes were world-renowned from ancient times, with the Greeks taking the name for blue – indikos - indigo – from the country of India.  Fixing red dyes with the use of fixatives was known to the Indus Valley region by 2500 BC, a challenge in ancient times that was unrivalled by Indian dyers’ expertise until the invention of chemical dyes in the 19th century. It is this mastery of fixing dyes to last and retain their bright colours that is a mark of India’s textile heritage.

India’s embroidery is almost as famed as its weaving and dyeing.  Regional styles developed over centuries, and the Moghul courts embraced the finest Gujarati ari embroidery of the 17th century. 

Textiles produced for India’s royal courts demonstrate the skills of craftsman with some of the finest textiles ever made in the world dating from the 15th century surviving.

Contemporary fashion in India is revisiting these ancient art forms, with designers exploring traditional techniques and combining them to create fashion and art for the modern world.

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With many thanks to the Victoria and Albert Museum for their exhibit on the Fabric of India.