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Khadi (The Fabric of Freedom)
Khadi (The Fabric of Freedom)
Description
Foreword

The exhibition on KHADI, documented in this catalogue, will commence its journey through India on January 30, 2002. This date is the anniversary of the violent death of Mahatma Gandhi in 1947. It also marks the last day of the anniversary year of the affiliated charitable trust, the Volkart Foundation.

The coming together of all these dates is more than a coincidence. When Volkart decided to celebrate its two significant birthdays, it was clear to me that one major focus would have to be India. The company was founded in 1851 concurrently in Bombay and the small Swiss town of Winterthur.

For most of its long lifespan India remained the main focus for "Gebruder volkart", as the company was called in Switzerland. India was the main source and market for its traded goods, it became the basis for its wealth, from which it was able to spin its cultural activities. And it was the country where countless Swiss managers made their careers and which they came to love as their second home.

The idea of sponsoring a major exhibition dealing with an Indian theme, and offering it to an Indian audience, stems from this association. But why Gandhi? And why khadi? There is no need to dwell on the association between the Mahatma and his favoured cloth. But what does it have to do with Volkart? In its Indian operations, the company dealt with a number of products, from the export of cashew nuts and coffee to the import of machinery and matches. But none was more important than cotton. Starting from the southern tip of India, along the Western coastline up to Karachi, and deep into the heart of the subcontinent, Volkart Brothers collected the cotton boil, ginned it, pressed it, and packaged it into bales, then shipped it to the major ports of the world.

The export of cotton in its raw material form to factories abroad made sure that it was to be machine-spun and -woven. It was the very opposite of khadi. Therefore, the decision to make this coarse cloth the focus of our anniversary marks a counterpoint to our traditional activities in India.

It seeks to redeem a thread which ran a life parallel to and untouched by the ginning, pressing, and exporting of the "white gold". It was a thread which gave work to millions of people. It dressed and motivated them, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, to do away with a system of governance based on political oppression. By honouring this past, we acknowledge our involvement in colonial practices. But we thereby also lay claim to Gandhi's spiritual message. Because a sponsorship such as that of the KHADI exhibition forms today an essential part of the philosophy of cultural support by the Volkart Foundation. And there is a thread running from Gandhi's spinning wheel to Volkart Brothers too. To do business in a sustainable way, mindful of the social and natural environment in which it operates, has become a cornerstone of its activities.

The KHADI exhibition honours the past. But it also wants to be a promise for the future. And for this to happen, khadi as an economic activity needs to overcome the stagnation of the present. This is the vision which informs the work of Martand Singh and his team of designers and researchers. For more than two years they have reached out to the spinners of Ponduru and the weavers of Phulia, honouring their skills and giving them renewed hope to ably employ them. It has been inspiring for me to be a small part of this process. I want to acknowledge here this debt of gratitude, to a past which we have shaped together, to the present of a remarkable design and team effort, and perhaps to a future which we can all share, in India and beyond.

Introduction

Khadi. Even in the 21st century, this word evokes instantly, for most Indians, the image and sensation of a robust, home-spun cotton fabric. A cloth that is porous, cool, and absorbent when worn in India's scorching summers but also surprisingly insular in its winter chill. A more distant, and now fading, impression is one of khadi as "the livery of India's freedom", of Mahatma Gandhi clothing with consummate vision, an entire struggle for national independence. Closer to our heart is the awareness that, more than fifty years later, wearing khadi remains everywhere, as a legacy of the Mahatma, a potent symbol of public service. We are reminded, in this, of the public responsibility invested in state office by a democratic nation. We are also reminded, if more peripherally, of the contribution to society of many self- appointed, but often well-meaning, subcultures of alternative ideology and creative pursuit. Less apparent to most Indians today is the value of khadi as the last surviving vestige of what was once the world's finest cotton spinning and weaving tradition. More significant, but perhaps equally unsung, is the support that its production provides to the lives of nearly a million poor artisans, an estimated 80 percent of whom are women In the Indian sensibility, this fabric continues to somehow appropriate more roles and meanings than any other.

Whether acknowledged as a material product, a cultural symbol, or an economic aid, cotton khadi derives its distinctiveness, ultimately, from a single textile process: hand-spinning. It is the processing of cotton fibre into yarn by human hands that has endowed the fabric with its multiple guises and varied appeal. First and foremost, hand-spinning lends to khadi its defining material character. Hand-spun cotton yarns, when woven by hand, yield, at their best, a cloth whose tactile quality is unique and comfort level unsurpassed. Repeated washing serves only to enhance these, to the extent that the fabric assumes, over time, a texture as natural and soothing as skin. It was not, indeed, for any other reason that India clothed the world in cotton for two thousand years. It is for this reason, also, that khadi may be poised, in the new millenium, to usurp yet another status. At a time when speed, precision, and replicability have become the hallmarks of production technology, the wholly hand-spun, hand- woven, and hand-patterned cloth epitomizes a product of ultimate uniqueness and luxury. A human process in which the head, heart, and hand work in unison may be perceived, in this sense, as the most meaningful, most rarefied, technology of all. The products of such a process will retain, in our age, the distinction of striking the finest and innermost of human sensibilities.

Tempering this new vision of khadi as the fabric of the 21st century is a more sober reality. Fifty years of industrial development have transformed an ancient craft into a centralized, state-run programme of production and sale. The indifference of government mechanisms to market preference and quality control may have been reversed in recent years, but has left an all too visible scar. Many varieties of cotton khadi have suffered a serious loss of physical quality, their competitiveness dependant almost wholly on the artificial support of state funds. At another level, varying degrees of mechanization have altered, perhaps irreversibly, khadi's pre-spinning and spinning processes. This has blurred, for some of its finer grades, the material differentiation from comparable types of cotton cloth woven, by hand or power, from machine-spun yarn. Innovation in industrial processing, at the same time, has enhanced the comfort level of these competing fabrics to a point where drawing any finer a distinction becomes a matter more of arbitrary preference than of any compelling material or commercial virtue. Their showy surface finish, durable colouring, ease of maintenance, and lower price, moreover, offer easily, to the modern user, a greater total advantage. Added to this challenge in more recent years has been the growing availability of fine, machine-knitted cotton fabric, whose softer yarns and open construction offer a very high level of comfort and convenience in warm climates. For most routine purposes, therefore, the uniqueness and superiority of khadi as a cotton textile now seem notional, and public interest and response have never been lower. Surrounded by vastly improved, more affordable fabrics produced by machine, ordinary hand-spun and hand-woven khadi has come to acquire what many consider to be its most pervasive, but least inspiring, image: that of another out-dated, out-classed product left behind in India's trajectory of modernization. At the turn of the millenium, khadi's share in India's household purchases of cotton textiles has fallen to less than 1 percent", its share in our total production of cotton cloth to less than 0.5 percent.'

As a special material, and even as a popular nationalist symbol, khadi is indeed losing its relevance but, in one role, its presence retains an undeniable power: that of a security net for a large population of poor spinners and weavers. In 1999-2000, the production of cotton khadi employed about 0.95 million artisans, a number which not only re-affirms its value as an anti-poverty programme of impressive scale but nearly exceeds the total employment in the entire organized cotton mill industry of lndia.' Together with other village industry products, khadi has emerged, in fact, as one of the largest of state interventions in generating rural employment and income. Its outstanding contribution, in this, is the opportunity that hand-spinning affords to rural women to earn at least a part-time wage. Hand-spinning also lends itself well to the situation of the elderly and the disabled and to the landless and otherwise dispossessed groups in vulnerable areas.

As a special material, and even as a popular nationalist symbol, khadi is indeed losing its relevance but, in one role, its presence retains an undeniable power: that of a security net for a large population of poor spinners and weavers. In 1999-2000, the production of cotton khadi employed about 0.95 million artisans, a number which not only re-affirms its value as an anti-poverty programme of impressive scale but nearly exceeds the total employment in the entire organized cotton mill industry of lndie.' Together with other village industry products, khadi has emerged, in fact, as one of the largest of state interventions in generating rural employment and income. Its outstanding contribution, in this, is the opportunity that hand-spinning affords to rural women to earn at least a part-time wage. Hand-spinning also lends itself well to the situation of the elderly and the disabled and to the landless and otherwise dispossessed groups in vulnerable areas. Any policy revision for khadi must be weighed, therefore, against its effectiveness in empowering the neediest of the rural poor. There is, however, reason to believe that even this vital function requires serious review. An estimated 80 percent of the artisans of cotton khadi, for instance, are spinners." the vast majority of whom produce medium and coarse grades of yarn. In 1999- 2000, their average annual wage was a mere Rs. 599. Whether as a supplementary income from part-time work, or as a survival wage in the absence of an alternative, such gains cannot be considered tenable in any contemporary vision of rural welfare. Above all else, therefore, any new image and status for khadi must ensure for its artisans a decent life.

The belief that khadi can be restored as an exceptional and competitive product in the 21st century rests on the continuing Indian experience of processing cotton, as many other materials, by human sight and touch. Many maintain that manual processing, at its best, still elicits from cotton its most subtle, if not always measurable, qualities as a textile fibre. They believe, moreover, that superior grades of cotton khadi remain unmatched not only for their comfort and ease but also for an aesthetic character not usually experienced in routine machine-made cloth. Today, khadi is neither the metaphor, nor the choice, for clothing India's poor, as envisioned by the Mahatma. At its true cost, it ranks, in fact, among the most expensive of plain cotton fabrics now available. There is reason, clearly, to assert that khadi must now transform itself, openly and perhaps even exclusively, into a cloth of excellence to meet not only the demands of a new market niche but also the aspirations of its many poor artisans. In the following pages, we explore the bases for reconsidering cotton khadi as a special, if high-value, textile material for our time. This inquiry discards khadi's sensitive historic and political dimensions, focusing instead on its processes of production. In particular, we examine the special nature and properties of cotton as a textile fibre and the manner in which it is prepared and spun by hand and by machine. We examine, also, the more palpable differences between the products of the two. Above all, we attempt to distil the promise still available in Indian hand-spinning and hand-weaving to express, for the discerning patron, uniqueness and distinction.

Contents

Acknowledgements6
Foreword7
From a Different Cloth8
Khadi The Thread of Inner Silence10
Photo Essay12
HandSpun and HandWoven14
Cotton Khadi in the New Millenium28
Introduction28
Cotton Species and Cultivation30
Cotton Cultivation in India
Cotton Varieties in India
The Structure and Properties of Cotton Fibre31
Chemical Composition
Molecular Structure
Physical Structure and Properties
Pre-spinning and Spinning Processes37
Cotton Picking
Ginning and Baling
Carding
Drawing, Combing, Roving
Spinning
Weaving and Finishing Processes49
Special Cotton for Khadi52
A Future for Cotton Khadi54
Catalogue Notes56
Concordance List57
Shanti Sutra70

Khadi (The Fabric of Freedom)

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Foreword

The exhibition on KHADI, documented in this catalogue, will commence its journey through India on January 30, 2002. This date is the anniversary of the violent death of Mahatma Gandhi in 1947. It also marks the last day of the anniversary year of the affiliated charitable trust, the Volkart Foundation.

The coming together of all these dates is more than a coincidence. When Volkart decided to celebrate its two significant birthdays, it was clear to me that one major focus would have to be India. The company was founded in 1851 concurrently in Bombay and the small Swiss town of Winterthur.

For most of its long lifespan India remained the main focus for "Gebruder volkart", as the company was called in Switzerland. India was the main source and market for its traded goods, it became the basis for its wealth, from which it was able to spin its cultural activities. And it was the country where countless Swiss managers made their careers and which they came to love as their second home.

The idea of sponsoring a major exhibition dealing with an Indian theme, and offering it to an Indian audience, stems from this association. But why Gandhi? And why khadi? There is no need to dwell on the association between the Mahatma and his favoured cloth. But what does it have to do with Volkart? In its Indian operations, the company dealt with a number of products, from the export of cashew nuts and coffee to the import of machinery and matches. But none was more important than cotton. Starting from the southern tip of India, along the Western coastline up to Karachi, and deep into the heart of the subcontinent, Volkart Brothers collected the cotton boil, ginned it, pressed it, and packaged it into bales, then shipped it to the major ports of the world.

The export of cotton in its raw material form to factories abroad made sure that it was to be machine-spun and -woven. It was the very opposite of khadi. Therefore, the decision to make this coarse cloth the focus of our anniversary marks a counterpoint to our traditional activities in India.

It seeks to redeem a thread which ran a life parallel to and untouched by the ginning, pressing, and exporting of the "white gold". It was a thread which gave work to millions of people. It dressed and motivated them, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, to do away with a system of governance based on political oppression. By honouring this past, we acknowledge our involvement in colonial practices. But we thereby also lay claim to Gandhi's spiritual message. Because a sponsorship such as that of the KHADI exhibition forms today an essential part of the philosophy of cultural support by the Volkart Foundation. And there is a thread running from Gandhi's spinning wheel to Volkart Brothers too. To do business in a sustainable way, mindful of the social and natural environment in which it operates, has become a cornerstone of its activities.

The KHADI exhibition honours the past. But it also wants to be a promise for the future. And for this to happen, khadi as an economic activity needs to overcome the stagnation of the present. This is the vision which informs the work of Martand Singh and his team of designers and researchers. For more than two years they have reached out to the spinners of Ponduru and the weavers of Phulia, honouring their skills and giving them renewed hope to ably employ them. It has been inspiring for me to be a small part of this process. I want to acknowledge here this debt of gratitude, to a past which we have shaped together, to the present of a remarkable design and team effort, and perhaps to a future which we can all share, in India and beyond.

Introduction

Khadi. Even in the 21st century, this word evokes instantly, for most Indians, the image and sensation of a robust, home-spun cotton fabric. A cloth that is porous, cool, and absorbent when worn in India's scorching summers but also surprisingly insular in its winter chill. A more distant, and now fading, impression is one of khadi as "the livery of India's freedom", of Mahatma Gandhi clothing with consummate vision, an entire struggle for national independence. Closer to our heart is the awareness that, more than fifty years later, wearing khadi remains everywhere, as a legacy of the Mahatma, a potent symbol of public service. We are reminded, in this, of the public responsibility invested in state office by a democratic nation. We are also reminded, if more peripherally, of the contribution to society of many self- appointed, but often well-meaning, subcultures of alternative ideology and creative pursuit. Less apparent to most Indians today is the value of khadi as the last surviving vestige of what was once the world's finest cotton spinning and weaving tradition. More significant, but perhaps equally unsung, is the support that its production provides to the lives of nearly a million poor artisans, an estimated 80 percent of whom are women In the Indian sensibility, this fabric continues to somehow appropriate more roles and meanings than any other.

Whether acknowledged as a material product, a cultural symbol, or an economic aid, cotton khadi derives its distinctiveness, ultimately, from a single textile process: hand-spinning. It is the processing of cotton fibre into yarn by human hands that has endowed the fabric with its multiple guises and varied appeal. First and foremost, hand-spinning lends to khadi its defining material character. Hand-spun cotton yarns, when woven by hand, yield, at their best, a cloth whose tactile quality is unique and comfort level unsurpassed. Repeated washing serves only to enhance these, to the extent that the fabric assumes, over time, a texture as natural and soothing as skin. It was not, indeed, for any other reason that India clothed the world in cotton for two thousand years. It is for this reason, also, that khadi may be poised, in the new millenium, to usurp yet another status. At a time when speed, precision, and replicability have become the hallmarks of production technology, the wholly hand-spun, hand- woven, and hand-patterned cloth epitomizes a product of ultimate uniqueness and luxury. A human process in which the head, heart, and hand work in unison may be perceived, in this sense, as the most meaningful, most rarefied, technology of all. The products of such a process will retain, in our age, the distinction of striking the finest and innermost of human sensibilities.

Tempering this new vision of khadi as the fabric of the 21st century is a more sober reality. Fifty years of industrial development have transformed an ancient craft into a centralized, state-run programme of production and sale. The indifference of government mechanisms to market preference and quality control may have been reversed in recent years, but has left an all too visible scar. Many varieties of cotton khadi have suffered a serious loss of physical quality, their competitiveness dependant almost wholly on the artificial support of state funds. At another level, varying degrees of mechanization have altered, perhaps irreversibly, khadi's pre-spinning and spinning processes. This has blurred, for some of its finer grades, the material differentiation from comparable types of cotton cloth woven, by hand or power, from machine-spun yarn. Innovation in industrial processing, at the same time, has enhanced the comfort level of these competing fabrics to a point where drawing any finer a distinction becomes a matter more of arbitrary preference than of any compelling material or commercial virtue. Their showy surface finish, durable colouring, ease of maintenance, and lower price, moreover, offer easily, to the modern user, a greater total advantage. Added to this challenge in more recent years has been the growing availability of fine, machine-knitted cotton fabric, whose softer yarns and open construction offer a very high level of comfort and convenience in warm climates. For most routine purposes, therefore, the uniqueness and superiority of khadi as a cotton textile now seem notional, and public interest and response have never been lower. Surrounded by vastly improved, more affordable fabrics produced by machine, ordinary hand-spun and hand-woven khadi has come to acquire what many consider to be its most pervasive, but least inspiring, image: that of another out-dated, out-classed product left behind in India's trajectory of modernization. At the turn of the millenium, khadi's share in India's household purchases of cotton textiles has fallen to less than 1 percent", its share in our total production of cotton cloth to less than 0.5 percent.'

As a special material, and even as a popular nationalist symbol, khadi is indeed losing its relevance but, in one role, its presence retains an undeniable power: that of a security net for a large population of poor spinners and weavers. In 1999-2000, the production of cotton khadi employed about 0.95 million artisans, a number which not only re-affirms its value as an anti-poverty programme of impressive scale but nearly exceeds the total employment in the entire organized cotton mill industry of lndia.' Together with other village industry products, khadi has emerged, in fact, as one of the largest of state interventions in generating rural employment and income. Its outstanding contribution, in this, is the opportunity that hand-spinning affords to rural women to earn at least a part-time wage. Hand-spinning also lends itself well to the situation of the elderly and the disabled and to the landless and otherwise dispossessed groups in vulnerable areas.

As a special material, and even as a popular nationalist symbol, khadi is indeed losing its relevance but, in one role, its presence retains an undeniable power: that of a security net for a large population of poor spinners and weavers. In 1999-2000, the production of cotton khadi employed about 0.95 million artisans, a number which not only re-affirms its value as an anti-poverty programme of impressive scale but nearly exceeds the total employment in the entire organized cotton mill industry of lndie.' Together with other village industry products, khadi has emerged, in fact, as one of the largest of state interventions in generating rural employment and income. Its outstanding contribution, in this, is the opportunity that hand-spinning affords to rural women to earn at least a part-time wage. Hand-spinning also lends itself well to the situation of the elderly and the disabled and to the landless and otherwise dispossessed groups in vulnerable areas. Any policy revision for khadi must be weighed, therefore, against its effectiveness in empowering the neediest of the rural poor. There is, however, reason to believe that even this vital function requires serious review. An estimated 80 percent of the artisans of cotton khadi, for instance, are spinners." the vast majority of whom produce medium and coarse grades of yarn. In 1999- 2000, their average annual wage was a mere Rs. 599. Whether as a supplementary income from part-time work, or as a survival wage in the absence of an alternative, such gains cannot be considered tenable in any contemporary vision of rural welfare. Above all else, therefore, any new image and status for khadi must ensure for its artisans a decent life.

The belief that khadi can be restored as an exceptional and competitive product in the 21st century rests on the continuing Indian experience of processing cotton, as many other materials, by human sight and touch. Many maintain that manual processing, at its best, still elicits from cotton its most subtle, if not always measurable, qualities as a textile fibre. They believe, moreover, that superior grades of cotton khadi remain unmatched not only for their comfort and ease but also for an aesthetic character not usually experienced in routine machine-made cloth. Today, khadi is neither the metaphor, nor the choice, for clothing India's poor, as envisioned by the Mahatma. At its true cost, it ranks, in fact, among the most expensive of plain cotton fabrics now available. There is reason, clearly, to assert that khadi must now transform itself, openly and perhaps even exclusively, into a cloth of excellence to meet not only the demands of a new market niche but also the aspirations of its many poor artisans. In the following pages, we explore the bases for reconsidering cotton khadi as a special, if high-value, textile material for our time. This inquiry discards khadi's sensitive historic and political dimensions, focusing instead on its processes of production. In particular, we examine the special nature and properties of cotton as a textile fibre and the manner in which it is prepared and spun by hand and by machine. We examine, also, the more palpable differences between the products of the two. Above all, we attempt to distil the promise still available in Indian hand-spinning and hand-weaving to express, for the discerning patron, uniqueness and distinction.

Contents

Acknowledgements6
Foreword7
From a Different Cloth8
Khadi The Thread of Inner Silence10
Photo Essay12
HandSpun and HandWoven14
Cotton Khadi in the New Millenium28
Introduction28
Cotton Species and Cultivation30
Cotton Cultivation in India
Cotton Varieties in India
The Structure and Properties of Cotton Fibre31
Chemical Composition
Molecular Structure
Physical Structure and Properties
Pre-spinning and Spinning Processes37
Cotton Picking
Ginning and Baling
Carding
Drawing, Combing, Roving
Spinning
Weaving and Finishing Processes49
Special Cotton for Khadi52
A Future for Cotton Khadi54
Catalogue Notes56
Concordance List57
Shanti Sutra70
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