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Preserving India’s Khadi Tradition with Guild Member, Anuprerna

For over 35 years Anuprerna, a Nest Artisan Guild Member business, has been partnering with weavers across Bengal to preserve the Khadi textile tradition. In this blog adapted from an open story submission, they share the history of the technique and how they are preserving the craft by incorporating it into contemporary designs. 

Khadi is an Indian woven textile and refers to fabrics that are hand-spun and hand-woven. The word ‘Khadi’ is derived from khaddar, a term for handspun fabric in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Although Khadi is typically woven from cotton fibers, it can also be woven from silk and wool, which are known as silk Khadi and wool Khadi, respectively. The textile tradition dates back to ancient Vedic times (5000 BC) where there are detailed accounts of cotton and natural fibres being hand woven with gold thread using a handloom. Khadi was popularized by freedom fighter, Mahatma Gandhi, during the Swadeshi Movement, which put an emphasis on supporting local traditions and industry. 

THE PROCESS : FROM HANDSPINNING TO HANDWEAVING

Khadi is known for its rugged texture, comfortable feel and ability to keep people warm in winter while keeping them cool during the summer. It is manufactured in two steps: converting the fiber into yarn using tools like spinning wheels (Charkha) and then weaving the yarn into fabric using looms. Immense skill and patience are required to produce Khadi which is woven without the use of any electrically powered machines.

The process begins by separating the cotton fibers from the seeds. This is done by hand using a sharp, comb-like tool. This initial step contributes the superfine texture of finished Khadi. After it is seperated the fiber goes through a process called cording where any final debris is removed. The carded fiber is then collected into slivers. Slivers are spun into yarn on a spinning wheel where they are thinned out and twisted at the same time to strengthen the yarn. 

Hand spinning creates yarn that is less stressed and damaged than machine processed cotton. Because of this Khadi is much softer to touch than textiles woven from machine-spun yarn. 

The spurn yarn must be carefully wound in preparation for the loom. In this stage, the horizontal warp yarns are at­tached to the beam of the loom. Next, the yarns are threaded through a heddle and tied to the beam of the loom.

The warp threads are wound and inserted into a shut­te. A dif­ferent shuttle is used for each color of the weft. Then, the weft yarns are interlaced with the warp yarns. This interlacing is what creates the finished woven fabric.

Dying can happen before or after the yarn is woven. Traditionally, yarns are dyed using natural dyes before the weaving begins. 

Unlike machine made cotton, Khadi is full of life and small variations in the weave serve as a lovely reminder that the cloth is handmade. Khadi is a truly non-industrial, artisanal process.

THE FUTURE OF KHADI

Once reserved for traditional clothing, changes, innovations, and adaptations of Khadi over the last 10-15 years have breathed new life into the fabric. It is now favored by contemporary designers for its historical and cultural significance as well as for its versatility: it can be crisp like cotton Khadi or supple like its silk Khadi. It is easy to print and embroider on. It is easy to wear and molds itself to the body.

Khadi weaving is part of a family-oriented handworker economy where women prepare and spin the yarn and men traditionally weave the fabric. Anuprerna partners with over 150 artisans who produce Khadi from across West Bengal. Different clusters of artisans have expertise in different Khadi weaving traditions from very thick to very fine muslin Khadi. 

Anuprerna is dedicated to partnering with artisans to preserve heritage craft traditions like Khadi by providing artisan training and market access within the modern fashion market. Continual design innovation, technique advancement, and artisan skills development are essential to their model.