Indian textile industry is very varied and one of the oldest in the world. I am doing a series of post on textile designs that were developed by Indian craftsmen with influences from other cultures.The first one is on a favourite of mine.
“CHINTZ” today is use to describe any printed colourfull floral pattern, below are two contemporary examples.
This widespread definition obliterates its origin as a painstaking hand painted cotton fabric from India. The word chintz is derived from a north Indian word chint, meaning to spray. For centuries hand painted fabrics were made for domestic and south east Asian markets but it was the European markets that put chintz at the forefront of fashion in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Portuguese, were the first Europeans to discover Chintzes and called them “pintado”, meaning spotted .
Exotic chintz patterns featuring animals and human figures from Kowatari sarasa fu, a sample book from the Edo period. The word kowatari was used to refer to Coromandel chintz produced specifically for the Japanese market. (Courtesy National Diet Library)
First exported as “Palampore” fabrics. An anglicized term for the hindi word palanposh meaning bed cover, used for wall hangings, bed curtains and bed canopies too. At that time in Europe, fabrics were patterned using simple block prints or embroideries and colours were not always fast or bright. In contrast the chintzes were dazzlingly bright and colour fast too. Local Indian craftsmen slowly started to incorporate western designs based on drawings and samplers sent out from England, France and Holland . A hybrid style developed that combined, Indian, Chinese and European sensibility.
At first it was the poorer women and kids wearing cut offs from furnishing fabrics. By the early seventeenth century it transitioned from bed covering to clothing , used by the upper classes. Initially the large scale designs were used and later smaller floral patterns with borders were created to be tailored into garments in Europe. The craze for chintz patterns were not limited to women, garments for men were restricted to indoor robes, waistcoats and night wear. While there was a great appreciation among British consumers for chintz, it was a threat for English weavers, printers and spinners who gathered in huge numbers and mobbed the house of commons in 1697. While a law was passed banning import of Indian dyed cotton and silks into Britain except for re – export. But this was enough to provide a loophole for the fashionable women to get it smuggled. Finally a second law was passed and the ban remained till 1774. By the end of the eighteenth century, Indian chintzes slowly went out of fashion.
The finest chintz are acknowledged to have been created in south east India, along the Coromandel coast. The area around the Krishna river delta, suited the cultivation of chay, the source for red dye that was used. The main port used to export Chintz fabrics was Masulipatam .
The cloth was first bleached and steeped in a solution of water, buffalo milk and myrabolan fruit. The fat of the milk prevented the colour binder from spreading beyond the required area and astringent from the fruit strengthen the binder. The dried cloth was beaten by mallets to smoothen it and the design were traced using charcoal. The outline then drawn with bamboo pens known as kalam, alum mordant for red areas and iron mordant for black ones. Any white lines or areas were drawn in wax to resist the fabric during the dyeing process, which started with yellow, the lightest colour first. As the fabric was immersed in darker dyes, the previous dyed areas were waxed to prevent colour from seeping in. Indigo was another popular dye that was used. After all the colours were added, the fabric was boiled to remove the wax. Green was over painted in the desired areas.Finally the fabric had to be starched, re – beaten and polished using stone or shell to produce a glossy feel. All these processes took many weeks to complete.
Today a digital printer can print thousands of colours on a fabric in a minutes, yet the beauty and fullness of those natural dyes remain unmatched.
The Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection of Indian chintzes is considered one of the best in the world. Rosemary Crill’s book ‘chintz- Indian textiles for the west’ has been one of my sources and has some great visuals for those interested .
Image source – google.co.in