In the last few years, a fabric which has captured the imagination of a number of designers and brands, that are heavily into ethnic couture, is the Jamdani. Suddenly, there is a lot of interest for this exceptionally fine form of textile. The Jamdani is
Exploring the Jamdani fabric and its fusion with Western wear
THE GENESIS OF JAMDANI
The Jamdani weave has always had an upmarket, elitist connotation to it. The fabrics woven thus were the exclusive preserve of royalty. It reached its zenith during the Mughal rule and was considered to be an ideal fabric for summers. The hallmark of Jamdani weaving was the use of fine muslin. The sheerness of the cloth was further accentuated by fine weaving, akin to tapestries, with gold, silver or muslin cotton threads highlighting the design. The ornamentation was brought about by using extra weft. Even today, the weaving is carried out in the same manner. The design emphasises the sheerness of the weave. The ornamentation is brought about by what is called extra weft technique. The extra weft needles or shuttles, made out of bamboo, work along with the normal weft to create the motifs. Depending on the colour scheme in the sari, coloured yarn or zari are attached to the needles. The number of such shuttles depends on the complexity of the design. A complex one could even have more than 100 shuttles used in the pallav or the body of the sari. The warp yarn is separated with fingers and the extra thread in the shuttle is passed through to complete the design. The shuttles work above and below the warp to complete the motif. The bamboo needle is wrapped with rags so that it does not cut into the fine woven cloth. The ornamentation is akin to embroidery with needle, only this is on the loom. In many cases, this technique is also referred to as loom embroidery.
A celebration of Jamdani was held by the Delhi Crafts Council to celebrate their golden jubilee. A representative of Delhi Crafts Council stated, “Jamdani is India’s ancient legacy, which is dwindling in modern times. It must be recognised that the Jamdani industry can only survive if it is promoted on a global platform. The Jamdani sari exhibition is an initiative by Delhi Crafts Council to keep this glorious weaving technique alive. We look forward to honour talented Jamdani artisans and bring their extraordinary creations to light for a larger base of consumers.”
FINDING THE FABRIC
Jamdani is woven in several parts in India. The most famous of these places are in West Bengal especially Kalna, Tangail. Dhakai Jamdani is equally famous. The Jamdani from Uppada is a GI (Geographical Indication) tagged fabric. It is also woven in the North East, especially Manipur. The weaving at Uppada is done by two weavers, who work simultaneously at the two ends of the border. This makes it easy to work and the piece is finished faster. The pallav is, however, woven by one person only. Earlier, jamdani saris were woven with gusto in Venkatagiri also. Now, with a decline there, it is only in Uppada where this technique is prevalent. This is probably the only instance of weaving using Jamdani technique in the south. Jamdani weaving in Venkatagiri is witnessing a revival.
JAMDANI IN MODERN TIMES
Today, there are a lot of innovations being made with Jamdani, which is contributing to its steady revival in the mainstream. Jyotish Debnath and Rajib Debnath from Kalna are well known names in the field of Jamdani. Rajib Debnath has studied at NIFT and wishes to open a
school for Jamdani. Jyotish Debnath, a national awardee, has tried to make samples of Jamdani designs, woven across time, as a reference for anyone who would want to revisit this form of weaving. Jyotish Debnath gets very excited while describing the way in which the hand spun, handwoven Jamdani is made in Kalna. As he says, the hand spun muslin yarn has its own way of behaving; unlike the power loom yarn which one can mould as per one’s wish. The hand spun muslin has its own mind and one has to understand it to be able to weave accurately with it. A lot of these equipments were on display at the recently concluded Jamdani exhibition put up by the Delhi Crafts Council. Jamdani done on the loom, the jacquard Jamdani which has seen a resurgence in Benares, the Awadhi Jamdani with its almost transparent flow of white material done by Suparkar, was all part of the display. Extreme innovation has been undertaken by the weavers from Uppada. They have really managed to combine modern and contemporary motifs and give Jamdani a new look. The exhibition itself had several outstanding old pieces, alongside the documentation by Debnath.
The Uppada Jamdani combines traditional motifs like geometric patterns; and motifs of lepakshi – the stylised swan, parrot, peacock and ambis, continue to be a part of the repertoire. Newer additions include the tree of life, vriksha, jala system, which is incorporated from Lucknowi Chikan, and the lotus motif, with a host of tendrils and complicated jalas. When saris are woven without borders or pallavs, the entire ground of the sari is a woven confluence of bright flowers, tendrils and creepers. These saris conform more to the printed crepe or silk look. When there is a border, it could just be a block of plain zari called ‘zari patti’ in local parlance. Leheriya inspired borders have also been introduced. As has Paithani-like innovation on tissue base with floral patterns on the foreground. The traditional stylised motifs have been teamed with a range of pastels in self designs. The newer fashions of double pallav or shoulder pallav are also woven. A classical example is the typical Lucknowi chikan jaal design, woven in Jamdani technique out of tussar. The jaals are worked out in darker tussar yarns with silver and gold threads.
The clothing brand Dosa Inc of Christina Kim has done a special project on Jamdani. Using Jamdani saris as fabric, they have designed a series of garments. Left over fabric is often converted into patchwork appliqué in Gujarat. This mode of design takes the form of recycle and re-use. Furnishings developed in this manner are beautiful and stand out. The results are startling and interesting.
Abraham & Thakore have developed a range of saris using Jamdani. Gaurang Shah is another designer who has experimented with a lot of Uppada Jamdani. He has worked with Jamdani using cotton, silk, tussar, and jute – just to name a few! Recently, Sribhas Suparkar, a designer based in Benares, has been working extensively to revive the Awadhi or Tanda Jamdani. This fabric is so finely woven, that it is often described as ‘poetry in motion’.
From Varanasi, the neelambari, pitambari, raktambari are traditionally woven on the jacquard looms. Aashni + Co, a London-based concept store which showcases the work of South Asian designers to the UK market, has a range of pella dresses in Indian handlooms. The white pella block dress is extremely popular. Since Jamdani pulls off the white on white look, it is hugely popular as a fabric which can be shaped into any type of gossamer wear. It is fragile, delicate and falls beautifully.
For Indian apparel manufacturers, this should be viewed as a golden opportunity. If combined with great designs, good prices and excellent services, a versatile fabric like the Jamdani can do wonders for a discerning designer. With the trend of mixing and matching the classic with the contemporary, the ethnic with the global – Jamdani is a fabric that offers itself up for numerous possibilities. It is an interesting and refreshing trend which will certainly witness more popularity in the near future.
WITH THE TREND OF MIXING AND MATCHING THE CLASSIC WITH THE CONTEMPORARY, THE ETHNIC WITH THE GLOBAL – JAMDANI IS A FABRIC THAT OFFERS ITSELF UP FOR NUMEROUS POSSIBILITIES.