Nineteenth Century Textile Technology in India

Art History/Craft History

Nineteenth Century Textile Technology in India


Textile technology was the first to feel the tremors of mechanization that became the tsunami of the ‘Industrial Revolution’ and it was cotton spinning that was at the forefront. While whole libraries of scholarship have been devoted to the great technological shift in the West and its social and economic outcomes, relatively little academic consideration has been afforded to its effect in India. I hope through this short note to encourage such research and reflection on the part of scholars of technology. The continuous manufacture of cotton cloth in the Indian subcontinent over a period of four millennia, and its domination of world textile trade for over a thousand years  is acknowledged to be a pre-industrial phenomenon in terms of scale, reach and variety.  India made and exported cotton textiles on a vast scale from at least the fifth century of the Common Era until the early nineteenth.  The critical point here is that the cotton lint from which they were made came from a diversity of cotton plants, indigenous varieties bred over centuries  in the different regions of the subcontinent,  each variety specific to its region, each with different kinds of fibre, differing in length, lustre, fineness, softness and colour. This diversity of material was worked by tools of spinning and weaving  that were flexible enough to manage diversity, producing a vast range of different cloths suited to varying needs of different kinds of people, fine for the rich, soft for those who led sedentary lives, durable an...


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