Khadi refers to handwoven and hand-spun cloth, made world-famous by Mahatma Gandhi and his spinning wheel.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the leader of the Indian national movement called for a boycott of foreign cloth and promoted the weaving of khadi as a means of rural employment and a symbol of a self-reliant India fighting for its independence from colonial rule. Soon, khadi became an integral part of the movement that led to India’s Independence in August 1947 and continues to embody principles of freedom and non-violent protest to this day.
Therefore, as part the 150th birth anniversary celebrations for two years ago, the Indian High Commission in London joined hands with Khadi London and Chelsea College of Arts, of the Arts London (UAL), to create a unique project celebrating this special fabric’s resonance with modern day sustainability.
Kishore Shah, Khadi Project Leader and Co-Founder and Director of Khadi London, said: “This project feels like the beginning of something much bigger. It is part of a rediscovery of Indian handmade fabrics by the western world as fabrics with a meaning, with texture and aesthetics as a bonus.
“Khadi with its inherent idea of localised production where farmers, graziers and artisans collaborate and where crafts and technology work together can provide a pathway for fashion and textiles fit for the 21st century. I wouldn’t be surprised if khadi becomes an integral part of fashion and textile syllabus in the very near future.”
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The project was initially briefed to Stage 2 students in February 2020, with Rohit Vadhwana, First Secretary – Economics at the High Commission of India and Kishore Shah and Jo Salter of Khadi London. After a delivery of khadi materials and a fabulous round of charkha (wheel) spinning workshops from Asha Buch, the UK went into national in March 2020 and the project had to be put on hold. The students were then re-briefed at the end of October 2020 as Covid restrictions were relaxed.
Lisa Bloomer, Khadi Project Leader and Senior Lecturer – BA Textile Design, Chelsea College of Arts, said: “This wonderful project has gone through a number of iterations in difficult times and has been able to go ahead thanks to the energy and commitment of all involved, particularly Kishore Shah at Khadi London and partners in India.
“This a unique opportunity for our BA Textile Design students to collaborate with expert artisans and promote khadi to the wider community. Virtual meetings between students and partners in India have already begun and we are really looking forward to seeing the new designs.”
For much of the project, Covid lockdowns have meant that students have had limited access to the generous material supplies provided by Khadi London. However, BA Textile Design students have shown resilience and imagination, often working on ideas without access to textile workshops and equipment.
The judging panel commended the high quality of student submissions and from an outstanding array of entries, four winning students were chosen to collaborate with partners in India on the development of their designs.
“I interviewed weavers globally about their backstrap weaving practice and discovered a shared khadi mentality. By making connections with other craft people and engaging with the natural world, we can create sustainable craft production and build relations of respect between alternative communities.”
“I was inspired by a quotation from Gandhi who said, ‘In a gentle way you can shake the world’. I thought about my own practice and how I can promote positive attitudes and I took part in the spinning classes with Asha Buch, which was a joy.”
“By collaborating with local indigenous communities in India we can highlight the historical and ongoing significance of khadi, helping to preserve and safeguard skills and revitalise khadi.”
“I considered ethical and sustainable practices, using recycled yarns and yarns sourced in the UK, with an aim for the textiles to be hand-woven and translated using hand-spun yarns in fibres native to India.”