If you like fabric – woven, embroidered, block printed, dyed; silk, cotton, wool; ancient, Victorian or modern; made into clothes, shawls, wall hangings, carpets or tents; if you love colour and India – this is a marvellous exhibition which I would heartily recommend. If you can’t get to London have a look at the V&A website and watch the videos. (All pictures from V&A website)
The exhibition is summarised by the V&A;
The highlight of the V&A’s India Festival, The Fabric of India will be the first major exhibition to explore the dynamic and multifaceted world of handmade textiles from India, spanning from the 3rd century to the present day. Showcasing the best of the V&A’s world-renowned collection together with masterpieces from international partners and leading designers, the exhibition will feature over 200 objects, many on display for the first time. Visitors can expect a stunning range of historic dress, heirloom fabrics, and cutting-edge fashion.
I went with a friend Sam Tennakoon (whose family originates in Sri Lanka). There is a great deal to see – and while it is an expensive exhibition if you are not a member – we loved the exhibition and felt you really get your money’s worth.
The exhibition starts with an explanation of Indigo dying, showing a dress, a turban and other items. Then we move on to red fabric – some of it dyed with madder, some with insects. And then a big display of yellow items – deriving their vivid hue from pomegranate skins and turmeric. There are lots of tiny, intricate tye dyes which is fascinating. The block printing (a particular interest of mine) held my attention, especially the video of how the wood blocks are made by a whole team. For a while I have been thinking about going to India to learn more about block printing. This company offers some amazing, although rather expensive, tours.
I was also wowed by the embroidery on show. A shawl is embroidered with a map of the area, including trees, lakes and houses. The tent was stupendous and we sat under it for a while, imagining what it must have been like to rest inside it, in the desert, the embroidered trees making it seem like we were in a lush forest.
And there were clothes too. The modern looking tie dye turban was so fresh (from the 1880s!), and the beetle wings embroidered into a Victorian border were stunning too.
There are really some amazing things to see. At the end there were some modern versions of the Sari. The blue one was tie dyed with indigo to look like moons. The lemon sari was embroidered with a running stitch to look like differently shaped pebbles. The orange sari had crows printed on it. Sam told me that Ceylonese saris are worn quite differently to Indian ones. Something I need to find out more about – maybe I can persuade her to do a blog post for us.