Guest Blog post by Sonia Ashmore. Jamdani is an endangered species of textile. Designated an ‘intangible cultural heritage’ by UNESCO, historically, jamdani was one of the finest, most expensive fabrics produced in the Indian subcontinent, woven from fine cotton with a supplementary weft design brocaded in by hand. Although still produced in Bangladesh and in different forms in West Bengal, the future of fine muslin and jamdani is vulnerable since production is laborious; a sari can take three or four months to make by hand. Besides the problem of obtaining fine enough cotton yarn, there are few weavers left with the experience to weave it. Much modern jamdani is crudely worked on Jacquard looms. Two lengths of jamdani incorporating historic jamdani motifs were commissioned by Muslin Trust last year from weavers in South Rupshi village, by the River Lakshya near Dhaka in Bangladesh. The clattering of the looms can be heard in the village streets. In small, tin-roofed buildings with dirt floors, weavers work in pairs at pit looms, their equipment essentially unchanged for hundreds of years. In other workshops, men and boys thread warp threads through reeds; on a piece of open ground, the warps are stretched onto a frame. In a nearby village of tin houses built on stilts as a protection from flooding, one family makes reeds from immaculately cut slices of bamboo laced into a frame with string. It is a fragile economy, where delicate fabrics are made in the most basic conditions. A new London-based charity, Muslin Trust’s objectives include promoting contemporary awareness of muslin fabrics and supporting their preservation and production in Bangladesh. A grant from Awards for All and the Big Lottery Fund enabled it to run a project based at London College of Fashion’s Hackney campus. School age students aged 16-18, with no experience of sewing, were taught to design and hand-make two historically inspired garments using the specially woven fabric. It was a big challenge for students and tutors, but the results were gratifying. After being shown in London, the garments were modelled before a large audience at the Muslin Festival in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in February 2016. The fabric had made a round trip. Muslin Trust will develop projects to promote the potential of jamdani muslin as a fashion textile for both global and local markets and support producers in Bangladesh and seeks strategic partnerships with interested stakeholders. www.muslintrust.org
Photographed by Nurun Nahar Nargis. Images are copyright of the Muslin Trust.