Emotional Textiles



When you see a piece of fabric, you take a few glances at it and instinctively your hand reaches out to touch and feel it. While textile is a ‘text’ that can be seen and read it also carries an embodied meaning that takes shape when it is worn or placed within the setting of a home. Mark Johnson says, ‘Meaning is embodied. It arises through embodied organism-environment interactions in which significant patterns are marked within the flow of experience. Meaning emerges as we engage the pervasive qualities of situations and note distinctions that make sense of our experience and carry it forward. The meaning of something is its connections to the past, present, and future experiences, actual or possible.’ (Johnson 1992,286). These meanings flow through the body as it experiences and reacts to situations. Johnson further adds, ‘My body is never merely a thing; it is a lived body—what Merleau-Ponty called the “phenomenal body,” the situation from which our world and experience flows’ (Johnson 1992,286-87). A textile is a body in itself that has its own experiences and personal stories. The experience of touching a piece of textile initiates an intimate exchange between us and the fabric that leads to an outburst of feelings and emotions that are hard to describe in words. 

The Natyashastra, a text written in the 2nd century is considered to be one of the oldest manuals for theatre and Indian classical dance. The text describes in detail certain emotions and feelings that are meant to be acted and felt by the spectator. Bhava, a state of becoming or thought process manifests itself in rasa which can be understood as taste. A rasa is like a flavour or an ingredient that used in the preparation of a dish. It is an amalgamation of certain causes (vibhavas) that involve reactions to them (anubhavas) that is enacted against the psychological state (vyabhichari bhavas) of the play. There are nine main rasas- Sringara(erotic love),Hasya (love and humour), Karuna (compassion), Raudra (anger), Vira (heroism) Bhayanaka (fear), Bhibatsa (disgust), Adhbhuta (wonder) and Santa (transcendance/moksa) that a spectator experiences while watching a drama. These rasas are both felt instinctively but also learnt over time. 

Though the Natyashastra is a treatise for dance and drama, it can also be used to understand our relationship with textile. A piece of textile is like a drama, we, as wearers of the textiles  feel these rasas when we engage with the textile.What is it that affects our moods and emotions when we wear a textile? Is it the texture of the material? the motifs found on it? or the vibrant colours? This blog series explores these ‘emotional textiles’ through the categories of material, motif and colour. A textile is a ‘lived body’ and it lives a second life when it engages with us; starting from the basic connection established through sight and touch to the socio-cultural meanings it carries in society. 

Join us on this journey while we explore 'emotional textiles' through this series! 


Written by Rukmini Swaminathan. 

Rukmini is a researcher at The Registry of Sarees. She is interested in textile, design and architecture history and hopes to explore  her interests through these journal entries.


Abhinavagupta, Edwin Gerow and. 1994. “Abhinavagupta's Aesthetics as a Speculative Paradigm.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 186-208.

Ghosh, Manomohan. 1951. The Natyasastra. Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal.

Higgins, Kathleen Marie. 2007. “An Alchemy of Emotion: Rasa and Aesthetic Breakthroughs.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 43-54.

Johnson, Mark. 1992. The Meaning of the Body;Aesthetics of Human Understanding. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Image Source: https://www.classicalclaps.com/natya-shastra-an-overview/

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