Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.


Copyright by Liz Williamson.


Global trade, design influence and inspiration are central to the history of Indian textiles. Estimates vary but it appears Indian textiles have been traded for over 4500 years. Indian expertise in dyeing, weaving, embroidery, printing has been internationally recognised and sought after in all parts of the globe for centuries – it dominated this global trade with double ikat patola traded to Indonesia; Indian chintz’s and Kashmiri shawls to Europe. Indian textile production and trade has been well documented by many researchers and in recent exhibitions such as the Fabric of India at the Victorian & Albert Museum, London in 2015. In the first part of this paper I discuss my research into Fustat1 fragments, a specific type of textile traded over centuries, fragments of which have survived, been collected, conserved and researched; they are block printed, mordant and resist dyed textiles that were traded between India and the Middle East. The second part of this paper discusses the Cultural Textiles course I conduct in Gujarat, India with students from my university, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia. In summary, one part of this paper involves global trade, textiles existing because of trade; the other references cross cultural influences, translation of ideas, education and exchange. The enquiry into Fustat fragments began with a purchase of a scarf from Dr Ismail Mohammed Khatri workshop in Ajarakhpur, near Bhuj in the Kutch area of Gujarat in 2014. Sufiyan Khatri, Dr Ismail’s son, commented that the design I was purchasing was one of their ‘Fustat’ pattern.2 The scarf was printed on fine cotton had a wide border pattern with repeating motifs in the centre field. Purchased originally in a square format, I discussed with Sufiyan commissioning the design being printed onto a series of rectangular silk scarves with natural dyes of indigo, Indian madder and iron. The scarf illustrates the successful translation and expertise in block printing onto fine silk, an adaption from the traditional Ajarkh on cotton for apparel. I recognised the name Fustat from visits to the Calico Museum in Ahmedabad, Gujarat and their outstanding collection of Indian textiles. The tour guide regularly comments that Fustat textiles are the oldest Indian textiles in existence having been traded from Gujarat and in found in Egypt. She also brings Lothal, an Indus or Harappan (2500 BC to 1500 BC) site south of Ahmedabad into the story as the port where textiles left the region prior to Surat becoming the key trading centre under British rule. So, an interest in Fustat lead to a series of searches, visits, investigations and amazing observations of these intriguing and ancient textiles. This project was assisted by a residency in the UNSW apartment in the Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris in 2015 and the opportunity to examine selected Fustat fragments in the Guimet Museum, Paris, the V&A in London and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, UK. This enquiry draws on published research by leading academic and museum curators; in-particular by Ruth Barnes on her outstanding research documenting fragments in the Newbury Collection at the Ashmolean Museum; and publications by John Guy 1998: Noorjehan Bilgrami 1998; Eiluned Edwards 2014 and 2016; and Tapi exhibition catalogues from 2002 and 2005, plus others.