Indian Weaving: History & Patterns

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  • 0:04 Weaving in India
  • 1:05 Terms & Tools
  • 1:32 Cotton & Wool
  • 2:37 Silks
  • 3:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Do you love bright colors? India has a rich heritage of making textiles. In this lesson, explore Indian weaving history and learn about some basic patterns.

Weaving in India

Have you ever seen women wearing colorful silk saris? These woven fabrics are examples of textiles from India. India is a vast, diverse country with a rich history of weaving. Weaving is the process of making textiles by interlacing fiber threads. Examples of Indian cotton textiles date back 5,000 years ago. References to hiranya, or cloth made of gold, can be found in the ancient Vedas texts.

Weaving centers in India made saris for royalty in the 12th and 13th centuries. Saris are women's garments made from a single, long piece of fabric. By the time trading customs were established along the fabled Silk Road, India was well known for its woven textiles.

Regions, villages, and communities throughout India have unique weaving traditions with distinct customs and patterns. Depending on the location, textiles may be woven from cotton, wool, or silk. Today, weaving remains important to India's economy with roughly 4.3 million people involved. The country even has a Ministry of Textiles.

Terms & Tools

Most weaving in India is done on handlooms. A handloom is a loom powered manually rather than by industrial means.

Basically, all looms are frames that hold the warp threads, those that run vertically along the length of the intended fabric. The warp threads are then interlaced with weft, or filler threads at a right angle, thus forming the fabric. In Indian weaving vocabulary, the warp threads are called the tana and the weft threads are called the bana.

Cotton & Wool

Cotton has always been important to Indian weaving, and there are 23 varieties of this natural fiber found throughout the country. One of India's oldest fabrics is called khadi, a traditional cotton weave whose resulting product in rural areas corresponds to the country's history and politics.

Khadi is woven so that the interlaced threads allow for a cooling effect, important in regions that are sometimes subject to stifling heat. Khadi is used for clothing, bed linens, and other purposes. No one pattern or design dominates the fabric; however, the Tricolor (India's national flag) is always supposed to be made of khadi.

Mangalagri cottons, which come from Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, are durable, stiff, tightly woven fabrics that typically utilize bright colors. Patterns include checks of varying sizes and bold stripes, sometimes in contrasting colors.

People from Indian's northern regions, areas with mountains and high elevations, raise sheep and goats and weave fabrics from wool. Kashmir and Punjab are famous for goods like brightly colored blankets and shawls that feature large geometric shapes and straight lines.

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