Khadi or khaddar is an organic cloth woven from silk, wool or cotton by hand using khadi yarn–which is twisted as it is spun, giving the finished cloth an uneven, slightly crumpled texture. It is cool in summer and warm in winter, it drapes well and after two-three washes has softened into the most comfortable fabric.
In pre-industrial India, peasants and artisans always wore khadi made from locally grown organic cotton, harvested by local labourers, spun into yarn by their womenfolk and woven into cloth by men. Techniques and method for the base cloth and the finishing–dyeing, embroidery and printing–varied from region to region.
In the early 20thC, incensed that India was now buying back Indian cotton from the British, Mahatma Gandhi called for the public burning of British mill-made cloth. His objective was to dispense with the colonial rulers in a quiet, non–violent revolution, and aimed for the self-sufficiency and independence of every Indian. Ghandi believed that all patriotic Indians should only wear homespun Khadi, and that each community should return to making their own.
“What I object to is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such. The craze is for what they call labour-saving machinery…The impetus behind it is not philanthropy to save labour, but greed”
As the political and spiritual leader of his country, weaving and spinning were never skills Ghandi had ever had need of doing, and so, in the spirit of a true leader, once he had taken the khadi cloth as his symbol, he learnt how to use the charkha, the drop spinning wheel, and spun every day of his life thereafter.
When the Indian National Congress of 1920 stated its aim to promote khadi as a national fabric, the embodiment of united defiance against colonial oppression, thousands of bonfires were lit across the country as the textile mills were burnt. Khadi precipitated a full-scale re-organisation of India’s textile industry, which today is still developing internationally. Khadi weaving is labour-intensive, but as with all labour-intensive products does provide work for people.
Different Indian states produce different varieties of khadi. Some, like Madhya Pradesh, specialise in tussar silk, the old families of Gujarat and Jaiselmer embroider it with mirror work. Woolen Khadi is produced in the colder states of Himanchal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. India’s textile and fashion designers have embraced khadi, experimenting with blends including denim, wool, polyester and silk, and will no doubt help remove the sometimes dull associated image, bringing about a second revolution and endowing it with star quality through new ideas, techniques and colourings
Bess Nielson designs, sources and sells lovely Khadi items form her shop in paris – Khadi & co. www.khadiandco.com