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    Prelude

    Calico, and It's Great Historical Significance

    Calico, and It's Great Historical Significance

    Indian hand woven fabrics have been known since time immemorial. Poets of the Mughal durbar have often likened our textiles to baft hawa (woven air), abe rawan (running water) and shabnam (morning dew). So, it's no surprise that the western world was quite taken by the fabrics woven in India.

    One of the oldest Indian fabrics in recorded history, is called Calico, a typically plain white or unbleached fabric made of cotton threads. The fabric got its name from the city Kozhikode in Kerala, termed as Calicut by Europeans who visited India for fabric trade during 11th century.

    It was mentioned in Indian literature by the 12th century when the writer Hēmacandra described calico fabric prints with a lotus design. By the 15th century Calico from Gujarat made its appearance in Egypt. Trade with Europe followed from the 17th century onwards. 

    The traditional weaver clan Chaliyans used to weave the plain fabric and printing on fabric was done in western and northern India. These printed fabrics became popular in Europe as Calico prints, also termed as ‘Chintz’. With time, Europeans became fascinated by these fabrics and began taking Chintz printed fabrics with them for themselves. Soon they realized the great demand of these fabrics at homeland and Chintz fabrics became a commodity of interest across Europe. Due to it's growing popularity, a Calico mill was established in Ahmedabad in 1880, and was run by Ambalal Sarabhai for 50 long years.

    Although now a forgotten word, Calico once represented the pride of an entire civilisation, and the triumph of Indian craftsmanship in the western world.

    John Fernandes, the Master of Realism-Impressionism

    John Fernandes, the Master of Realism-Impressionism

    John Fernandes was an Indian painter most known for his figurative paintings. His technique was legendary, and his repertoire, as large as his heart. Pencil, watercolours, conte, charcoal and oils were the media he used in his landscapes, figure studies, and portraits. To the female figure he brought sensuality. The caressing drapery, its translucence, the movement of the body, the definite and defining strokes of light, the control of mass and light and shade, the depth, are what make a John Fernandes painting stand out.

    His wife Agnes, who organises his exhibition, said, “His passion for painting was so great that he wouldn’t eat, drink or sleep. I see him in his paintings, I don’t feel he has gone at all.”

    Pashmina - The Pride of Kashmir

    Pashmina - The Pride of Kashmir

    Pashm is the raw fiber used to make the famous Kashmiri Pashmina shawls. Kashmiri Pashmina stand out for their role in determining the economic fate of Ladakh in the early twentieth century, and is deeply interwoven with its history. Kashmiri artisans, traders and merchants brought the attention of the world to this fine fabric with their exquisite finished products like shawls and other apparel.

    Ignorant to the fibre's origin, the British  adopted the term 'Cashmere' to refer to both the fabric, and the fiber.

    Until the twentieth century, Cashmere was painstakingly produced by hand. Later, cashmere yarn was produced mechanically and are stored in clothing factories, like this one in the United Kingdom, ready for mass production.

    Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

    The Princely Art of Zardozi Embroidery

    The Princely Art of Zardozi Embroidery

    This beautiful art of sewing with gold and silver threads finds its earliest mention in Vedic literature, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and many accounts of the Sultanate period. Therefore, it is no surprise that the historical accounts of this craft are rather romantic in nature. The only certainty is that 'zarkas' — a Persian word meaning zari or gold embroidery — was widely used in all the accounts. History states that from the 13th century, the craftspeople who worked with this medium, setting seed pearls and precious stones with fine gold and silver wire, were known as 'zardos' workers. 

    Under the patronage of Emperor Akbar, Zardozi embroidery became one of the most coveted traditional crafts in India. Even though Zardozi is believed to have its origin in Persia (Zar in Persian means gold and Dozi is embroidery), the use of gold and silver thread work, in fact, goes back to ancient India, visually evident in the figures that adorn the walls of the caves of Ajanta. 

    Traditionally, the art of Zardozi used only gold and silver wire along with precious gems and diamonds but with time, silk and other shining threads like dabkaa (a combination of gold and silk threads), kasab (silver or gold-plated silver threads) and bullien (copper and brass coated threads) replaced them. The beauty of Zardozi is emblematic of the Indian royalty. Although the use of real gold and silver threads in zardozi embroidery may have declined, its richness and allure still endure the test of time. 

    This Fabulous Maharani Was No Ordinary Woman

    This Fabulous Maharani Was No Ordinary Woman

    Sita Devi, also known as Princess Karam, was widely regarded as one of the most glamorous women of her day. She was a daughter of the Raja of Kumaon. At age 13, she married Karamjit Singh, a younger son of the Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala. She was fluent in several European languages and was considered to have a strong sense of style, which made her a muse for several photographers from Cecil Beaton to Man Ray.

    The princess caused a quite a stir at a New York ball in 1957. It is said, the Maharani sold a pair of bejeweled anklets to Harry Winston. They had several large emeralds and diamonds. The jeweller set these stones into a spectacular necklace that was bought by the Duchess of Windsor Wallace Simpson. The Duchess wore this to the ball, also attended by Sita Devi. When other guests were admiring the necklace. The Maharani was heard to exclaim that those jewels looked just as nice on her feet. The embarrassed Duchess returned the necklace to Winston. 

    Legend has it, she even commissioned Van Cleef & Arpels, a French luxury jewellery brand, to make tongue cleaners made of solid gold exclusively for her. Now, that's what we call a fabulous lifestyle.