Cotton - crafts

Some of the finest and most beautiful cottons are produced in South Asia. The art of spinning and weaving have strong regional traditions and produce stunning fabrics from wedding saris to wall hangings. Dyeing and printing techniques transform the natural off-white colour of cotton threads and fabrics. Cotton textiles vary in delicacy from sheer muslins, sometimes called baft-hana or woven air, to thick durries and even stiff cotton rag paper.

Fabrics and threads

A photograph of cotton jacken from Kew's Economic Botany Collection
Brightly coloured jacket woven from cotton.

Durries are heavy cotton fabrics, usually with simple stripes of colour, used as bed and floor coverings. In the Karnataka village of Navalgund it is said that girls are prevented from learning the secret techniques, in case they spread the knowledge outside the family when they marry.

Some of the finest cloths on earth are muslins from Dacca, Bangladesh, which can be passed through the centre of a ring. A fish bone was traditionally used to prepare these gossamer fibres. Jamdani is a West Bengal muslin with floral designs embroidered or woven into the cloth using extra weft threads.

Mirror work and embroidery

Mirror work is a classic and familiar South Asian appliqué technique in which brightly coloured cotton and tiny mirrors are stitched to a base cloth. These eye-catching, geometrically-patterned fabrics are often enhanced with embroidery and pleating. Traditionally used in Orissa during religious festivals as canopies, banners and covers for dummy horses, they now also have world-wide appeal as cushions covers for home furnishing.

Embroidery is an important technique in South Asia. It is usually done by women, who embroider clothes for their personal use or members of their family. Designs are often connected with culture and religion. Gujaratis produce some of the finest embroidered camel decorations in South Asia. Embroidery is also used in a type of quilting technique known as kantha. Layers of discarded saris are stitched using coloured threads. Of all the uses for textiles, saris are perhaps archetypical of South Asia. Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh is noted for its fine cotton saris with a silk warp and cotton weft. Fine cotton saris with tiny checks of soft colors are woven in Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh. These are worn with the flowing pleats in the front while the back is tucked into the waist. Saris of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are characteristically dark, spicy and earthy in colour. Andhra Pradesh also produces saris of thick cotton with checks and contrasting silk borders with gold.

More images of Cotton