The Royal Weave
Jamdani is an exquisite weaving technique originating from Dhaka, now in Bangladesh, and parts of West Bengal. So fine were the fabrics, and so delicate the woven embellishments, that it has been long been associated with royalty, both Indian and British.
The jamdani technique is one of the most time consuming and labour intensive forms of hand loom weaving. It is actually a woven cotton, usually a super fine muslin, where the motifs or embellishments are woven in to the fabric, but are non-structural – ie they appear to float over the surface of the material.
For those who understand the technical points of weaving, this means that the decorative elements are woven in by hand as an additional weft thread over the structural weft which holds the warp threads together. The standard warp/weft creates the fine sheer fabric, while the additional weft with thicker threads creates the pattern.
Patterns are typically geometric, plant or floral designs.
In the 17th century when muslin and jamdani work was at its finest, and worn by the emperors of India, 1,000m of muslin at 1,000 thread count would weigh in at just one gram! These fabrics were so ethereal that the puritanical Mughal Emperor Aurganzeb, purportedly reprimanded his daughter for wearing nothing, when indeed she was wearing seven layers of clothing made from this exquisite featherlight material!
As the British colonialists systematically raped India, they deliberately put a stop to muslin weaving in order to sell cheap British mill-made cloth – which of course was woven from Indian cotton exported to the Manchester mills and re-exported back to India at immense profits. It was not uncommon for a muslin weaver’s thumb to be cut off to stop them practising their craft.
Over the years, the art of muslin weaving slowly became extinct but through the work of NGO’s and some 5th generation weavers, since the 1970’s, it has been resurrected in Bangladesh as well as in villages in West Bengal, to the north of Kolkata. The art has now been declared a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Our jamdani scarves are woven in Phulia and Kalna, around 90km from Kolkata. As well as muslin, silk and khadi cotton is also woven in these centres and makes for highly prized sarees, scarves and fabric lengths.