Chanderi fabric represents a unique process of weaving, dyeing and design using both silk and cotton threads; produced in the historically significant, one thousand year-old city of Chanderi. Situated on an ancient trade route, Chanderi a densely forested area in north-central Madhya Pradesh is a community of skilled weavers continuing the tradition of crafting fabrics on various handlooms. What makes Chanderi fabric special, in addition to its sheerness and lightweight quality is how it is woven. A weaver will stretch silk warp manually before rolling (warp being the lengthwise threads typically held in place by a loom into which cotton weft or cross-wise threads are woven) thus giving exquisite fineness to the thread. But the most unique characteristic of Chanderi fabric is its design, usually done with the help of extra weft. Generally, golden-hued zari thread is used for this purpose. This testifies to the previous tradition of using of real gold thread; as Chanderi fabric was mainly supplied to the erstwhile native royal courts of India. This royal tradition is still very much alive in today’s Chanderi fabrics.
Maheshwari fabric is produced in Maheshwar, an ancient city situated on the bank of the Narmada River in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Maheshwar was once, one of the twin capitals of the ancient Indian kingdom of Avanti Mahajanapada during the time of Buddha. Avanti was famous for its international trade route passing through Ujjain to reach the west coast of India from where Indian fabric was exported to Persia and the Roman Empire. The present tradition of Maheshwari fabric begins with the patronage of Queen Ahilya Bai Holkar during the late medieval period. Maheshwari fabric, similar to Chanderi in fineness and its gossamer-like quality, is known for its unique geometric designs and excellent application of golden zari; in stripes, checks and floral borders. Maheshwari weavers use very fine thread counts of mulberry silk as warp and cotton as weft. Zari, the golden thread embellishing the reversible borders of Mahehswari fabric is procured from Gujarat a west Indian state. Upon the instruction of Queen Holkar weavers used motifs and symbols such as chatai (woven mat), linth (brick), hira (diamond), and chameli kiphol (a flower) in their designs, as seen carved on the royal forts of Maheshwar. The fabrics are also known by their rich organic colors although nowadays are also available in vibrant jewel tones as well.
Tussar silk, widely known as Kosa silk or “wild silk” (vanya) is produced naturally and not cultivated, some going so far as to collect the cocoon after the silkworm has left it and for this reason it is also known as “non-violent silk” or Ahimsa. As a result of letting the larvae cut its way out of the cocoon, the threads of Tussar silk are shorter and more delicate than the cultivated mulberry strands. Tussar silk cocoons can be found on the trees Arjun, Saja and Sal, indigenous to the densely forested Indian states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Only one-fifth of the world’s silk is obtained naturally, the majority of which comes from India and 40 percent of that majority coming from the state of Jharkhand alone. Tussar silk is known for its beautiful texture and sheen and is found in natural shades of cream, honey, beige, yellow and ash.
Mulberry silk is the finest of type of silk. The mulberry thread’s triangular, prism-like structure allows light to be refracted off its surface at incoming angles, which gives Mulberry silk its lustrous and shimmering appearance of varying colors. Mulberry silk is obtained from the domesticated moth Bombyx mori (Bombycidae) reared in captivity and cultivated on plantations. This moth feeds only on the leaves of the Mulberry tree from which the name of this variety of silk is derived. Mulberry is a fast-growing deciduous woody perennial plant. Silk is obtained from the silken shell spun by the silkworm larvae that serves as a protective covering during its pupal stage of existence. To create one 2 pound silk sari, approximately 3000 silkworms must eat 229 pounds of mulberry leaves.
India is the second largest producer of Mulberry silk after China. The majority of Mulberry silk producing areas are in southern India with the exception of the northern state of Kashmir which is famous for its fine silk fabrics.
Crepe is a French word meaning crinkle. Crepe yarns are made of either staple (short) or filament (long) fibers which are then made into high-twist yarns. The crepe yarn must be twist-set before it can be woven or knitted. There are two kinds of crepe; hard finished, typically dyed black and used in mourning dress attire, or soft crepe including the canton or oriental weaves in plain. Originally woven in silk, crepe can now be found in all of the major fibers, natural or man-made. Surface textures range from fine, flat crepes to pebbled and mossy effects; some surfaces resemble tree bark. Crepe fabric in India is favored for its durability, resistance to shrinkage and its possession of truly excellent texture. It also has a beautiful sheen, is surprisingly light and has exceedingly fine drape.
Chiffon comes from French word for cloth, for its extreme light weight and transparent fabric. Originally made of silk, chiffon can now be found in different varieties of manufactured fibers. It is usually a square fabric i.e. having exactly the same number of ends and picks. The shimmering appearance, for which silk is prized, comes from the individual fiber’s triangular prism-like structure, which allows silk cloth to reflect incoming light at different angles. As with Crepe, Chiffon is valued for its high level of comfort, resistance to shrinkage, color fastness and wrinkle-free properties with particular attention paid to drape and fluidity.
Indian cotton fabrics are known for their sensual oriental coarseness and deep vibrant colors. The Indian subcontinent is known as the home of cotton, where cultivators and weavers have been producing it from the proto-historic time of the Indus Valley Civilization. Cotton fibers are valued for their strength, durability, absorption of color and utmost for their softness and breathability. Cotton fabrics from India are revered for their organic quality and refreshing nature in terms of color and design patterns. Indian cotton fabrics come in various types depending upon the environment of the area and the cultural traditions of the weavers. A few of the cotton fabrics like chintz or glazed calico textiles originally came from Calicut and were very popular in Europe. Similarly, cotton fabrics with block printing from Bagh and batik prints from Bhairavgarh, with their deep indigo, vibrant violet and refreshing white geometric and floral designs, are famous nationally and internationally.