Khadi – the humble fabric with a big heart
Khadi is a soft, light and fairly loosely woven fabric, usually cotton, that allows air to circulate and keeps the body cool in the tropical climate of South India. If the cotton has not been packed into bales before processing and hand spun, an even softer fabric will result that is supremely comfortable to wear. The term Khadi, cannot be used unless the yarn is hand spun before being woven by hand as well. Mill spun cotton which is hand woven is distinguished from Khadi by being called Handloom.
A chance encounter with a small handloom workshop in North Kerala on my first trip to India in 2014 originally fired my interest in hand made textiles. From the first sound of the gentle click-clack of the looms from the lane outside, to the wonder at the skill and speed of the master weavers, I was hooked on these beautiful hand-crafted textiles. After more research, I learnt that the skills of hand spinning and weaving and natural dyeing have been seriously undervalued in India until quite recently. They’ve been looked down on as relics of a bygone age that have no place in one of the world’s fastest growing economies. The master weavers have barely survived with subsistence pay and poor working conditions.
Today in parts of South India these traditional crafts are being revived by individuals, groups and with the help of government subsidies. Absolutely no power apart from human effort and love is used to create these fabrics. Even the dyeing of the yarn only depends on wood to fire the boilers that process the yarn.
There is a growing awareness of the importance of these traditional skills in keeping rural communities alive and also of the environmental benefits of their revival. This awareness is led by an understanding, as Ghandi had, that with village-based hand spinning and weaving came self-sufficiency for the villages. In Ghandi’s day when India was ruled by the British, this was a symbol of independence from the colonial yoke. Today, hand weaving and spinning helps sustainability and self-sufficiency in the villages, providing women in particular, with an independent income.
The potential is there to provide creative, skilled employment for village communities, helping to halt the exodus of
the young to the big cities, and keeping communities intact. But it can only happen if a premium price is achieved for the unique and special fabric that’s created, by widening its appeal and creating new markets for the product. At the same time as providing an inspiring textile adventure and exploring the traditional culture of this undiscovered part of India, Textile Travels aims to raise the profile of hand produced textiles and the skilled practitioners of these traditional crafts, by introducing them to a wider audience of textile lovers.
Hi, I’m Sally Mason, a freelance costume designer working in television who has been travelling to South India for the past six years each winter to explore the richness of its textile heritage and culture. I decided to set up Textile Travels in response to the interest shown by textile loving friends on my return home each year, matched with a desire to raise the profile of hand crafted fabrics and the skilled artisans who produce them.
MY BACKGROUND in working with textiles started in repertory theatre in 1977, when I filled in as a temporary wardrobe assistant for the panto season, laundering and repairing costumes. I was soon bitten by the theatre bug and before long moved on to learning the techniques of costume making. I continued my studies at the London College of Fashion in 1981 where I learnt pattern cutting for period costume. My wonderful tutors there gave me a lifelong love and appreciation of historic clothes and their fabrics as well as the knowledge I needed to progress to my next post as ladies pattern cutter at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre.
After a memorable three years creating costumes in this busy production wardrobe, I then set up my own business as a freelance costume maker in Bristol. Over the next five years my client list spread across National Opera companies, the Royal National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, ITV and the BBC as well as West End theatres. It was during a spell working on costumes for ITV, that a friend asked if I’d like to go out on location one day to help look after the peasants and their costumes, on “Robin of Sherwood”, a major TV series in the 1980’s. After one day, I was converted by the buzz and immediacy of working on set and gradually started to take on more TV work, interspersed with costume making.
Since then, I’ve worked as a freelance Costume Supervisor on productions as diverse as “Coronation St”, “Cracker”, and “This Morning” for Granada in the nineties, “Silent Witness”, “Messiah” and “Holby City” for the BBC in the noughties, moving on to becoming a regular Costume Designer for “Casualty” and “EastEnders” to the present day”. Whatever the brief, it’s the textiles that inform my work and influences the way I clothe the character. How it feels, how it drapes and looks on the body, is at the root of all my work. It’s this ingrained love of textiles allied to a love of travel and adventure that led me to want to explore farther afield and brought me to the humble abode of Khadi in South India. Here, my heart went out to the skilled artisans working in less than ideal conditions, creating these very special fabrics.
What people have said about this tour
“The whole experience exceeded my expectations and I felt I had seen some of the real India.
“This trip was a real adventure for me because of the variety of places we visited, activities we took part in and the people I met. I felt safe at all times in the hands of our tour guide, Sally and was impressed by her knowledge of the people of India and the places we stayed.”
“Wherever we went Sally explained every process thoroughly and her enthusiasm always made it accessible and exciting for us. We felt very privileged.
“In true India style, we ran across festivals and villages, temples and ghats en route. It was enlivening, fascinating, colourful and enriching and often difficult to know where to look first.”
Film Set Decorator
“Sally is so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about Indian textile production. I feel privileged to have seen the processes of how fabrics are made and am completely hooked. I bought many things to bring home. She also has a real affection for India and it’s people. It was my first visit to India, and travelling in Kerala I experienced so much it was almost overwhelming, from temples, wonderful food, performing arts, scenery and magical beaches.
This was my best ever trip.“