Indo Portugese Shawl

The Indo-Portuguese Shawl is an example of the level of sophistication that textiles in India had reached in the 16th and 17th centuries – a time when the Mughal demand for luxury was peaking.

The shawls were made from monochrome and embroidered tussar silk on cotton muslin in the district of Hoogly which was then under the rule of the Portuguese. The shawls were made for a select upper-class client in India and Europe during the reign of Akbar the Great, Jahangir and Shahjahan.

The tussar silk-embroidered shawl represents one of the most important schools of Indian embroidery, which was flourishing even before the arrival of the Portuguese. Under their patronage, the designs became increasingly Christian reminiscent of Italian Renaissance ornamentation.

The figures are drawn with a naïve innocence and animation. Structured elements, such as houses and boats, are more formalized, the faces of people in full frontal view and animals have side profiles. A shawls takes almost six months to make by artisans of South 24 Parganas.

Balaposh

Balaposh is an exclusive shawl or quilt that was traditionally used by the Nawabs of Bengal. 

It is almost a lost art and the only practitioner of the craft is Sakhawat Hussain Khan of Murshidabad, West Bengal.

It is one of Bengal’s finest creations where the craftsman creates a soft quilt with a thin layer of attar-scented cotton between two silk layers. Nothing unusual about that except for the fact that these three layers are only stitched at the edges, yet the cottonwool inside doesn’t move or lump up. Typically, balaposh quilts have contrasting borders. The soft quilt is very comfortable to use, and the layer of attar spreads a soothing fragrance all around.

These lightweight, hand-crafted, exquisite creations originated during the time of Nawab Shuja-ud-din, son-in-law of Nawab Kuli Khan, the first Nawab of Bengal. Silk balaposh were also used by the Mughals.

Biswa Bangla has now joined hands with Sakhawat Hussain to revive this dying art of West Bengal. Sakhawat Hussain has won many State and district-level prizes for his expertise in balaposh. He was also awarded a Certificate of Merit by the Government of India in 1988.

Bostani Kantha

This type of embroidery from West Bengal is generically called ‘kantha’ embroidery, and is traditionally made of worn-out cotton saris and dhoti.

Coloured threads were extracted from the borders of the old saris to provide coloured areas, although in recent times specially purchased coloured threads are used. Kanthas are made up of several layers of cotton cloth, stitched together by designs in simple running stitch, and designs are added using pattern-darning stitch, satin-stitch and button-hole stitch. Kanthas are used for a multitude of household functions: the small size and square format of this one suggests that it was either an all-purpose wrapper ‘bostani’. Biswa Bangla has reinterpreted this exquisite craft in a contemporary way.

Indigo Collection

The name Indigo originated from the Greek Indicon (a substance from India) points to the fact that the blue natural pigment was one of the largest exports from India between the 12th century to the 1800s. By 1815, Bengal was exporting annually over 3500 tons of Indigo (valued then at six shilling a pound).

 

Four fifth of world's Indigo supply came from hundreds of factories in Bengal and Indigo manufacturing became Bengal's largest private industry.

Dinabandhu Mitra's black humor play, NEELDARPAN, written in 1860 was the inspiration for the launch of Biswa Bangla's Indigo collection.

The collection recreates the beauty of Indigo that has been so popular for the last 600 years across the world and is today a household item in the form of blue denims.We have re-interpreted Indigo for Indian customers through the traditional Saree ,kurtas,home furnishing etc.

Muslin

Many centuries ago, muslin, an object of desire and a symbol of luxury, was the first export that introduced Bengal to the world. Over time, this fabric fell by the wayside, unable to compete with machine-made products and because of lack of support to weavers and insufficient market promotion.

Project Muslin is a revival package for this überfine cotton-thread by the Department of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Textiles, Government of West Bengal. Its primary objective is to revive the muslin industry and ensure that the artisans get remunerative returns and appreciation for their unique skills.

West Bengal produces nearly 55% of the muslin made in India. But out of the thousands of muslin weavers that were once engaged in this craft, just 800 remain. Project Muslin aims to revive and promote Bengal muslin through a holistic approach. Among the steps that are being taken include soft and hard interventions like skill development, technology support, design inputs, product diversification, credit linkage, marketing support and encouraging the rural young to take up the craft.

 The weavers are given special training and introduced to modern designs so that they can produce high quality, marketable products.

Woven Air

The origins of Bengal muslin are more than a thousand years old. Hand woven from uncommonly delicate hand spun yarn, muslin was produced from a cotton plant that grew exclusively along the banks of a certain stretch of the Brahmaputra river. 

Bengal’s muslins were exported to far off Rome under the name ‘textalis-ventalis’ – ‘woven air’ and other fancy names like ‘evening dew’ and ‘morning mist’. About 450 BC, Herodotus testified that in Inde “wild trees bore fleece as their fruit, out of which the Indians made their clothes”.  The best quality muslins had such fineness that it was a very highly valued item which only the very rich could afford. Involving highly intricate processes of spinning, weaving, darning and washing, the celebrated muslins of Bengal attained the status of an art. A standard piece of fine Bengal muslin measured 60 feet by 3 feet. This was so sheer that a small hollow bamboo tube could contain a whole piece of the finest muslin. 

The origins of muslin

Archaeologists believe that muslin of the finest weave found from the excavated sites in India was produced during the Indus Valley Civilization about 5000 years ago. But the first documented origin of this finely-woven fabric is from Dhaka (ancient India).

How did muslin get its name?

Some say that the word was derived from Mosul, an old trade centre in Iraq, while others think that muslin was connected with Musulipattam, sometime headquarters of European trading companies in southern India. Muslin is not a Persian word, nor Sanskrit, nor Bengali, so it is very likely that the name Muslin was given by the Europeans to cotton cloth imported by them from Mosul, and when they saw the fine cotton goods of Dhaka, they gave the same name to those fabrics. 

The marketing of muslin

Aggressive marketing is key to the revival of muslin. The romance of the fabric and its legendary lightness and distinctive motifs have to be promoted both in the urban and rural areas. The approach for both these areas are different and unique. The photograph (left) shows the spanking new showroom opened in Kolkata to promote muslin in an urban setting. Rural outlets are being opened too.

PROJECT MUSLIN GALLERY