A figured or flowered muslin woven in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Of Persian origin, from jama meaning cloth and dana, woven motif, and known throughout the ancient world as a fabric of great and desirable delicateness. The Moghuls are said to have developed the Bangladeshi muslin weaving skills by patronising it as a select royal fabric, and by providing new Islamic design scopes. Jamdani muslin reached its peak as an 18thC export to Europe, and remains highly sought-after.
As well as being a quality muslin, the creation of jamdani patterns is an art in itself: the motifs are woven into the cloth as it is being made by inserting thicker supplementary threads by hand to create a raised pattern. These geometric designs are not first drawn onto the cloth, rather the weavers place them by eye, a slightly imprecise technique that brings beautiful movement and ‘life’. Jamdani is mostly woven for saris in 11m lengths–enough for two saris. Each pattern is unique and will never be woven again.
As with all fabrics, much Jamdani is now machine made, though there are still families that carry on the ancient practices, using the finest Egyptian cotton. As these are commissioned for special occasions, the designs are often woven with gold and silver threads.
White on white Jamdanis are exquisite, and some fine examples are held in a stunning collection at the V&A. For coloured works, the fine yarn is pre-dyed with vegetable dyes and then soaked in a starch made of popcorn, rice or barley to help it wind more easily onto the bobbins. This work is always done in the early morning, before the heat of the day dries the yarn, which would make it brittle and too difficult to work and manage.
Old jamdani saris and scraps of saris can be successfully re-cycled into smaller items of clothing and home wares, cushions and tiebacks, or for traditional patchwork projects.
Christine Kim at Dosa, creates beautiful clothing by working scraps of old jamdani saris onto a plain backcloth.
“Smaller patterned scraps are positioned onto the plain base cloth and basted. Designs are drawn in pencil onto the basted pieces. The lines are cut and then turned under and appliqued, exposing the cloth beneath.”
Recycling materials to make new materials is an age old tradition, one that has become far less essential and almost lost in the western world but one that can and is being revived to help lift skilled but disadvantaged communities out of poverty.
“The recycled jamdani project utilizes the skill of women in Gujarat. Coordinators of the project balance and understanding of the design intention and a respect fro the individual sensibilities of the artisans. In the process of creative collaborations, spontaneous decisions are inevitable; as a result, the recycled jamdani panels are one of a kind, reveling the hand of each artisan” Christine Kim, Dosa