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Collecting Vintage Textiles: An ever-burgeoning pursuit

The tradition of collecting textiles has surpassed centuries, and handwoven textiles remain an important item of collection even today, with impressive demand all over the world. The manual technique, as well as the culture and heritage attached with each textile, make it a prized collectible that can be enjoyed both visibly and tangibly. A lot of effort goes into the making of a traditional textile, making it a valuable item that is sold and displayed at auctions and exhibitions. In India, there are a variety of traditional textiles, which originate from various regions and pockets of the country, and carry with them the flavor and heritage of that particular area. The most sought after textiles at auctions date back to the 17th and 18th centuries and include Mughal textiles, Pichwai textiles, Ikat textiles and Kashmiri shawls, among other hand-woven textiles. The bright colours, distinctive material, intricate designs and symbolic value have generated a huge demand for Indian textiles in markets across the globe; however, a lot of potential still lies untapped, and there is a lot more that the textile market can achieve in terms of sales and demand.

Embedded in the past

The first uses of textiles can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilisation, and the earliest depictions of textiles lie in paintings, sculptures and inscriptions, where the finesse of the cloth is highlighted through the hems and folds of the dresses. The historical heritage of Indian textiles has often been linked with trade, which was how the diversity of Indian cloth exchanged hands and entered distant and foreign lands. Cloth formed the bulk of Indian trade, and was exported to the Roman Empire, Europe, Arabia, China, and even Moscow, and it was widely appreciated by wealthy foreigners like the Malaysian royalty and rich traders from Phillipines, who sought the Patola textile from Patan and Ahmedabad, and colour-fast decorative cotton from Gujarat. Textiles like embroidered bedspreads and wall hangings made up a large part of Portugese trade with India, and Portugal used to commission quilts of embroidered silk on cotton or jute with European and Indian motifs, based on Bengali textiles. This trade lost much of its sheen under colonial rule, when India was deemed a dumping ground for machine made European textiles; this period was a major setback for the rich textile culture of India. Post-Independence, several measures were taken to revive the cloth heritage of the country, and eventually, the efforts paid off as textiles began regaining the recognition that was long due to them.

Diversity worth considering

The production of each textile is a unique and exquisite process, which includes the working of yarn using methods like weaving, knitting, crocheting, felting, knotting and laminating to create fabric, which is then designed to create each textile. Textiles can be designed in different ways. Some textiles are painted such as the Phad from Rajasthan, the Rogan and Mata ni Pachedi from Gujarat, and Kalamkari from Andhra Pradesh. Other textiles are printed like Ajrakh from Kachchh and Bagh from Madhya Pradesh, and it is done using blocks, which are of three types- Rekh for the outline, Daat for the filling and Gadh for the background of the design; with chemical dyes, two new forms of printing have emerged- Direct Printing and Discharge Printing. Some textiles undergo the process of resist dyeing, in which sections of the cloth are reserved, while the rest is dyed and this style is evident in the Bandhej and Leheria traditions. There are certain textiles which have fabric of different hues and patterns stitched on them, called appliqué, and it is used in Mochi from Gujarat, Khatwa from Bihar, and Pipli from Odisha. Embroidery is another technique used in textiles, where the cloth is gilded through a range of stitches having a variance in colour, pattern and rhythm, and examples of this system are Phulkari from Punjab, Chikanari from Uttar Pradesh, and Kantha from Bengal. Another very popular technique that stretches from India to Central Asia, Japan, Africa and Latin America, is the Ikat, which uses resist dyeing on both sides of the fabric, with many regions within India having indigenous weaving techniques like that the Sambalpuri ikat, the Gujarati Patan Patola and the Puttapaka from Telangana; a characteristic feature is the blurriness of design due to difficulty in weaving the dyed yarn, and this is what makes these textiles highly prized at auctions.

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