Khadi - the "Freedom Fabric" (or the "Fabric of Independence")
Mahatma Gandhi at his Spinning Wheel - spinning khadi
Source: Internet (original photo by Margaret Bourke-White)
Khadi is handspun from natural fibers and handwoven in weaving clusters all over India. More than any other fabric, khadi is a symbol of India’s handloom industry.
It is also a hallmark of India’s independence movement which culminated in 1947 with India’s freedom from British Rule.
Why is khadi a symbol of India’s freedom movement?
Early in the fight for Independence, Mahatma Gandhi saw khadi as a way to resist the negative impact of Lancashire, England textile mills on the Indian cotton industry.
Gandhi wrote in the 1920s, “It is difficult to measure the harm Manchester has done to us”.
For a number of reasons (this is a complex topic, some of which I will lay out in another post), England imported raw cotton from India for its own weaving needs and flooded the Indian market with cheaper machine-made yarn and manufactured cloth. (America is very much a part of this complex tale too, but that is a story for another day).
This disrupted the handloom industry in India and also the livelihoods of India’s spinners and weavers, both men and women, who depended on this work for a living. Gandhi himself took up spinning, often doing so in public to inspire others to take up his cause. He also wore cotton khadi clothing. Mahatma Gandhi saw khadi spinning and weaving as a way of reviving the handloom industry and India’s village economy.
During the indpenence movement, people from all walks of life took up Gandhi’s cause, in many cases spinning and weaving their own cloth. All over India, people took to wearing khadi, and this continues today.
Although the term khadi refers to fabric made from any natural fiber including silk, it is often used to refer to fabrics made from cotton. Yes, silk khadi is also a thing!
I have always loved this fabric and always have a small collection on offer.
What is the status of khadi today?
Today, India’s designers, and in fact, designers worldwide, use khadi to create their statement ensembles. There is a resurgence of this wonderfully tactile and flowy fabric. And with this new resurgence there is innovation. It's a wonderful time for khadi again.
“Khadi is a timeless fabric – classy, simplistic and breezy, which has an authentic vintage appeal” – Gaurang Shah, well-known designer.