India was probably the first of all countries that perfected weaving, and the art of gold brocades and filmy muslins, so if we are to talk about textiles, fabric, sewing, weaving and printing then it is important to know about its history and how the production of it is as important today as it has always been.
India, Assyria and Egypt were producing cotton long before the thirteenth century when it was first introduced into Europe (then it was a poor imitation of the skill that had already been perfected by India). Cotton didn’t arrive in England until the seventeenth century when in 1641 ‘Manchester Cottons’ made up an imitation of the Indian cottons. It could not compete however, and gradually Indian chintzes became so generally worn in England that it affected the wool and flax industries, the Government was so worried that it prohibited the wearing of all printed calicoes.
Fabric and its coloured designs has been causing ripples in society for as long as we can remember. In some periods of history certain colours were only allowed to be worn by certain classes. Clothing has been talked about in the most ancient of documents, even ‘the father of history’ Herodotus tells of the making of dye from natural trees and plants. In the Ramayana (4th century) it mentions coloured garments characteristic of the ways of dyeing cotton cloths in India. The cotton of India has always been sought after for the beauty and brilliance of their natural dyes, more than for the fineness and softness with which they are woven.
Known as ‘the jewel of Western India’, Gujarat is a state rich with tradition and history that strives to preserve the old ways and skills. Bordered by Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, the Arabian Sea and the Pakistani province of Sindh, Gujarat has absorbed migrants from all these areas, and the folk art and skills they brought with them. This wonderful region still has many authentic old villages and nomadic people, living and working as they have for hundreds of years. Textiles are its forte with the area of Kutch providing the richest seam of treasures and an ethnic mix of inter-woven cultures.
Gujarat is also very beautiful, people travel here for the love of art and natural untamed vistas, once the site of some Indus Valley Civilizations, the ancient site of Dholavira is one of the largest and most prominent archeological sites in India from that period and Lothal is believed to be the world’s first seaport.
The ancient history of Gujarat was enriched by the commercial activities of its inhabitants. There is clear evidence of trade and commerce ties with Egypt, Bahrain and the Persian Gulf, so it is not surprising that this area became an industry for decorative arts, fine quality fabrics with skilled decoration.
In 2001 Gujarat faced a Magnitude 7.7 earthquake whose epicenter was about 9km south southwest of the village of Chobari in the Kutch district. The earthquake killed 20,000 people and destroyed nearly 400,000 homes. Gujarat has worked tirelessly to re-build and repair and due to natural resources and the tourism trade it is doing very well, despite problems with the shrinking water table in this region. The main agricultural crop in Gujarat is cotton and is also predominant in the handicraft cottage industries, the abundance of the raw material providing the base for the textile treasure-trove of artisans working in weaving, embroidery, dye and print.
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