Discovering Cotton 1/10


What’s happening at The Registry of Sarees this June? We’ve been trying to understand as much about cotton as is possible and we’d like to share it with you.

 South India is believed to be inherently a cotton growing and wearing economy and culture. This is of course before Silkworm was brought to us and the cultivation of the “Cotton Tree” ( Gossypium Arboreum) gave way to the Mulberry plant that literally feeds the silk industry. India is now the second largest cotton producer in the world – but the variety of cotton available commonly in the market is not the cotton of our ancestors. A genetically modified strain of cotton, Bt Cotton delivers a faster crop. Aside from the impact that this has on the environment, in the context of sarees, the texturial feel of a drape of Bt Cotton is very different from an organic cotton plant.

 The world’s earliest surviving woven cotton fragment was found in Jordon from around 4450 – 3000 BC! It leads us to believe that the wealth generated by such trade was the basis of the Indian economy. This wealth allowed the development of local culture, art, other textiles. This early mastery of cotton cultivation led to cross breeding with other varieties of cotton, some of which continue to be highly valued, even today: 

  • Cotton from the plains of the Ganga was spun into the thinnest threads – and thus developed the Dhakai Muslins and the Jamdani weave
  • The “regur” black soil of the Deccan Plateau has led to numerous priced weaves including the Chettinad Cottons, Patteda Anchus, Kanchipuram Cotton, Venkatagiris, Kasavus and many others typical of the village of their origin.

 All Indian cotton was handspun, before the Industrial Revolution and the advent of the Manchester Textile Mills. The Chakra or spinning wheel originated in what is today’s modern day Iran. Strangely no matter where cotton is grown or spun, it is always twisted in the same anti-clockwise direction.

 Reference: V&A Museum, Wikipedia

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