Bengal has a rich and varied tradition of handloom textiles and is known world-over for its unique weaves and fabrics. With master weavers and skilled artisans, handloom weaving is a heritage craft in the state, and the biggest employer after agriculture. Recent years have seen a revival of handloom weaving and techniques that were on the verge of dying out.
Block printing is an ancient Indian textile tradition, in which designs are hand-carved or picked out with raised pins on a block of wood, which is then impressed on the fabric. The intricate and elaborate designs of each handmade block create beautiful and unique motifs on the fabric. Traditionally, vegetable dyes are used in block printing, in rich and vibrant hues.
The count of a fabric is the number of the various weaving elements of the textile per unit measure. The thread count is measured by counting the number of threads contained in one square inch or square centimeter of fabric, including the warp and weft threads. It is usually the number of threads counted along two sides and added together. The yarn count of a textile indicates the quality or fineness of a weave.
A handloom is a loom that is manually operated, unlike motorized or electrically powered looms that have grown increasingly popular. The handloom allows weavers to create fabrics by interlacing the warp and the weft yarns. Handloom also refers to the textiles created on manually operated looms. While the process of weaving is slower than on a power loom, the handloom gives many more weavers the opportunity to practice their craft, and the resulting fabrics are unique, each piece telling a story.
Hand woven fabrics are woven by traditional weavers on handlooms. Fabric woven by hand is far more labour intensive that that woven on power looms, providing employment opportunities to many more people. Hand woven fabrics have slight variations in colour and texture, lending a unique quality to the textile. Aish products are all hand woven, passing through the hands of several artisans – who spin, weave, block print – before reaching your wardrobe.
Jamdani is a 2000-year-old weaving technique that produces some of the finest cotton muslin textiles of Bengal. Two weavers sit side by side to create delicate designs on sheer muslin, thread by thread, on a wooden loom, with no electricity. The unique design is inserted by hand with a needle during the weaving process, called a supplementary weft technique.
The jacquard loom is a mechanical loom invented by Joseph-Marie Jacquard that simplified the process of weaving textiles with complex designs. The jacquard head, an attachment to the loom, is a mechanism to automate the raising and lowering of individual warp threads to weave complex patterns. The mechanism is governed by a series of punched cards, laced together in a continuous sequence, the conceptual precursor to the development of computer programming.
Khadi is handwoven cloth made from handspun cotton, often mixed with silk and wool. In India, Khadi was at the heart of Mahatma Gandhi’s movement to promote an ideology of self-reliance during the struggle for independence. The result of a labour intensive weaving process, starting with the spinning of cotton into yarn using a spinning wheel called a chakra, every piece of Khadi cloth is unique, with rich colour and textural variations that are testament to its handmade origins.
The loom is an instrument that facilitates weaving by holding the warp yarns with some degree of tension, enabling the weaver to lift or lower selected warps to create the weaving sheds or openings for weft insertion. The shape and mechanics of looms may vary, but the basic function remains the same: to facilitate the weaving of textiles.
Muslin is a cotton fabric of plain weave that varies in weights, from unusually delicate, diaphanous sheers to coarse sheeting. The uncommonly fine textile first produced in the eastern Indian subcontinent, known as Dhaka muslin, has found mention in mythology and the history of trade. The delicate, gossamer-like lightness of Bengal muslin helps us to create the light as air and soufflé-soft Aish scarves.
Pashmina is exquisitely soft, luxurious to the touch and beautiful to look at. The word Pashmina comes from the Persian Pashm meaning ‘made from wool’. The wool for this delicate textile is derived from the underbelly of a special breed of goat indigenous to high altitudes of the Himalayas. Pashmina shawls and stoles are handspun and hand woven in Kashmir.
Spinning is the ancient textile art of drawing out fibres and twisting them together to form yarn. For thousands of years, yarn was handspun, using the spindle and distaff. The development of the spinning wheel increased the output of hand spinners. Modern powered spinning is much faster, yet hand-spinning remains an important skill and handicraft. Artisans who hand-spin their yarn are able to produce specific yarn qualities that may not be commercially available.