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Modern Textiles of West Bengal

West Bengal has a repertoire of textiles in a variety of designs and manufactured by different techniques. The textile heritage of Bengal has many chapters... many tales... about singularity in diversity. Some of the most beautiful textiles of West Bengal have been chosen for this blog keeping in mind uniqueness of the weaves, texture and quality and I hope that  Bengal's fabrics, spun and woven by hand, would soon be on shop shelves nationwide!

Cotton Textiles of Bengal:
Jamdani is a part of Bengal textile heritage. Interesting point: 'Jam' means flower and 'Dani' means vase so you can expect floral motifs. Basically Jamdani is a dress material though these days we come across it in the form of a sari... whether it is created in a simple frame or pit looms. For traditional Jamdani weaving, an elementary pit loom is used and the work is carried out by a weaver and his apprentice who use fine needle-like spindles to conjure magic with weft work that can rival the most intricate embroidery. During the process of weaving a paper pattern is kept beneath to act as a trace to transfer the design. There is a key difference in the weaving technique between Jamdani and Tangail: the embroidery thread in Jamdani is inserted after every ground pick whereas in Tangail the embroidery thread is inserted after two ground picks. The main characteristic of Tangail is the butis i.e. tiny motifs all over. Traditionally Jamdani is woven in white with bleached white geometrical designs. Sadly as an industry Jamdani production is on the decline and highly skilled weavers are finding it difficult to keep the tradition of their forefathers alive.  While the quality of the sari has to be maintained to ensure appreciation... there must be an effort to promote the beautiful traditional Jamdani saris. 
Nilambari: (literally meaning 'blue as the sky') is a legendary indigo-dyed cotton handloom sari. Like a midnight blue sky is offset by the moon similarly a Nilmbari sari is offset with a silver zari border. The 'pallu' is adorned with stripes of different thickness called 'Sajonshoi' and complements the border. Very fine hand-spun yarn of 250-300 count is used for weaving and results in a fine texture.
Shantipuri: Shantipur specializes in weaving fine textured saris and dhotis while coarser ones are meant for everyday wear. It is still being produced in the traditional method today and one can see patterns and colors found in ancient times reflected in the garments produced in the vast textile belt of Shantipur which is the hub where fine textured saris with a uniform weave of 100-112 counts in the warp and the weft are produced. When the decoration is the same on the both sides of the cloth it is called Do-Rookha or double-sided designs. The borders could be either dyed cotton-silk or art-silk or viscose yarns or zari work. The background has fine delicate checks, stripes or a texture created by colored threads or a combination of fine and thicker yarn. The pallu of the sari has butis or Jamdani designs beautifully arranged with stripes of different widths. Some tie-and-dye designs are also being used for the anchalas of Shantipur saris.
Dhaniakhali: The Dhaniakhali district of Hooghly specializes in making saris in pastel shades (Begumpur have deeper and brighter hues). Earlier it was famous for dhotis but as demand lessened, the weavers switched over to saris. The material is a bit coarse and heavier than other textiles from Bengal but suits all budgets and is popular.
Silk Textiles of Bengal:
The cultivation of mulberry silk and its weaving is carried out in the plains of West Bengal. The other districts where silk yarn is made are Murshidabad, Birbhum, Bankura, Maldha and Purulia districts. The district of Maldah on the north bank of the Ganga is one of the most important centers for silk rearing in West Bengal.
Baluchari is an elaborately woven brocade known to have been made during 1850-1900 in the village surrounding Baluchar (Murshidabad Distt.) it is popular because of its artistic and unique design. Tapestry material is made from Baluchar silks which were originally used by nawabs and Muslim aristocrats of the Murshidabad district while Hindu noblemen used raw silk. Baluchar saris have a wide pallu with a panel of mango or paisley motifs at the centre surrounded by small rectangles depicting different scenes. The borders were narrow with floral and foliage motifs and the fall was covered with small floral designs in bright colors. Another familiar motif was diagonal butis. The unique feature is the combination of animal and bird motifs with floral and paisley motifs and motifs depicting hunters on horses and elephants and scenes from the nawab's court. The silk yarn used for Baluchar saris was not twisted and had a soft heavy texture. Limited ground colors were used which were permanent in nature and retain their freshness even after years.
Cowdial: Murshidabad is famous for its cowdial saris made of fine mulberry silk with flat deep-red or maroon borders made with three shuttles and laced with fine serrated design in gold zari. The fine gold lines are supposed to represent the fine trail left on its path by a live cowrie mollusk, thus giving the name: cowdial. Murshidabad silks are also popular for hand-printed designs. Calcutta and Srirampur in the Hooghly district are the main textile hand-printing centers in West Bengal.
Vishnupuri: Traditional silk sari weaving is also done at Vishnupur in the Bankura district which bears similarity with the kataki designs of Orissa. In the districts of Bankura, Birbhum, Purulia, Murshidabad and Maldah the weavers make plain silk fabrics in rich and varied textures using Tussar and mulberry silk.
JUTE: For centuries jute has been an integral part of culture of southwest Bangladesh and portions of West Bengal. During the British Raj much of the raw jute fiber of Bengal was carried off to the United Kingdom where it was processed in mills concentrated in Dundee. Initially due to its texture it could only be processed by hand until it was discovered there that by treating it with whale it could be treated by machines.. The industry boomed ("jute weaver" was a recognized trade occupation in the 1901 UK census) but this trade had largely ceased by about 1970 due to the appearance of synthetic fibers. The Tossa Jute in West Bengal is silky, shiny and strong. This jute mixed with raw silk is popular among Indian women.
Well this is all about modern textiles of West Bengal. Hope this piece of writing was informative and you had a great time reading it as I had writing it!
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12-MARCH-2020 Anusree Das
Very much informative. Thank you so much
14-JULY-2012 Bani Chawla
Looking forward to more posts from you, Jaya. Next time I go to Kolkata I will ask for these fabrics. My mind is already weaving desins (am a fashion student)
14-JULY-2012 nandini guha
Lovely read. I didn't know most of these fabrics existed.
14-JULY-2012 malini sengupta
It's lovely to see a designer promoting the crats of her region rather than blogging about her achievements.
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2012-05-23 07:07:23 ELIZABETHAN DESIGN