Khadi is also known as Khaddar, a term for handspun fabric, holds a special status in the Indian textile industry. It has been woven since ancient times, has seen our freedom struggle, and is indeed not less than a heritage. That’s why we are here to tell you the rich history of Khadi today!
Khadi is a handwoven natural fiber made with cotton, silk, and woolen yarn. These variations are known as khadi silk and khadi wool and are equally popular among people. But, before we spun the history of Khadi, there are some things you should know. This fabric offers a pleasing rugged texture with a comforting feel at the same time. Khadi is a good option during the winter season, while it will also keep you happy in the summers. Its manufacturing happens in 2 steps. The first involves converting the fiber into yarns, and then it is weaved into fabric in looms. After this, dyeing and strengthening of the fibers take place, and then Khadi fabric is ready.
Woven back in time- The ancient chapter about the history of Khadi
The thousand years old practice of hand spinning and hand weaving makes Khadi an ancient craft. Many archaeological pieces of evidence like terracotta spindles (for spinning), bone tools (for weaving), figurines wearing woven fabrics, and more proves that weaving and spinning were an important part of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Even the very popular stone sculpture of Mohenjodaro has a cloak over its shoulders with patterns. These patterns are today popular in states like Rajasthan, Sindh, and Gujarat.
There are also a few paintings in the Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra where the process of separating cotton fibers from seeds and women spinning cotton yarn is visible. In 400 BC, the Greek historian Herodotus also wrote that in India, “there were trees growing wild, which produce a kind of wool better than sheep’s wool in beauty and quality. The Indians use this tree wool to make their clothes”.
During the invasion of India, Alexandra the Great came across cotton clothes when his soldiers preferred wearing cotton clothes to their traditional woollens. Alexandra later, with his successors, even made trade routes that introduced calicos and chintz(handwoven fabrics) to Europe.
With time, Indian textiles became more and more detailed and added natural dyes and broader prints to them. By the time the 17th-century ended, East India Company was importing a quarter of a million pieces into Britain. Dhaka’s muslin and Calicut’s calico with chintz were in huge demand in European markets. There’s also a very interesting anecdote about Muslin and Aurangzeb’s daughter, princess Zeb-un-Nisa. When Aurangzeb questioned her for wearing a transparent dress, she said, she was wearing 7 layers of muslin!
The golden era of Khadi declined when France and England introduced laws banning the import of Chintz to save their local mills in 1686 and 1720, respectively. Meanwhile, Bombay saw new mills opening up too, and that also led to a dip in the production of Khadi. It was the time when the machine-made textiles from Manchester were ruling across the markets, and so there were very few buyers for handwoven Khadi.
This phase in the history of Khadi was dark, but it was Gandhi Ji who gave Khadi its glory back. He saw it as a strong and potential way of becoming self-reliant again. Gandhi Ji made his mind to revive India’s economy with a spinning wheel, and he did! Khadi became a symbol of the Swadeshi Movement, the country’s pride, and the fabric of the nation.
Taking his movement further, Gandhi Ji established the All India Spinners Association in 1925 to promote, produce and sell Khadi clothes. With new techniques and hard work, this association was able to create employment to the scale of two lakh. After the Independence, to continue Gandhi Ji’s legacy, the All India Khadi and Village Industries Board came into existence. But, later, they were merged into Khadi, Village and Industries Commission (KVIC).
Since then, KVIC has been working on the planning and execution for the development of the khadi industry. It is also actively promoting research in production techniques, taking care of the supplying of raw materials and tools, quality control, and marketing of khadi products.
In the year 1989, KVIC even organized the first khadi fashion show in Mumbai. This show had over 80 styles of khadi wear. In 1990, designer-entrepreneur Ritu Beri also presented her first khadi collection at the Tree of Life show in Delhi’s craft museum.
Over the years, the Khadi industry has seen many advancements and has been becoming a fashion statement. It has been successfully balancing both- traditions and modernity. The Khadi industry is now flourishing even more with new styles. With various handworks like Kantha and Block print, the contemporary designers and their creative minds have made Khadi stylish!