The growth of textile arts through the centuries in this area was influenced by the ease of access to raw material, the quality of the land, its climate, the available skills, the inherent sense of aesthetics and appreciation of beauty, a predilection for colour and the prevailing beliefs and customs. While today the Pakistani weaver’s ability to adapt their traditional skills to the demands and tastes of contemporary society has stood the test of time and resulted in a new vibrancy and energy in the sector.
There is evidence to believe that in the 16th – 18th centuries a sizeable textile production emerged from Lahore, Thatta, Lahari Bunder, Sehwan and Karachi which were counted among the large industrial and commercial centres in the subcontinent. The artisans employed at the workshops in Lahore made a name for themselves with fine silks, brocades and velvets. Twenty varieties of woollen cloth were exported from Lahore to different parts of the subcontinent and abroad. For weaving shawls alone it is believed that there were over one thousand karkhanas.
Numerous references to weavers and weaving in classical Punjabi poetry also point to the place the craft held in village societies.
Cotton has been grown in abundance in the plains of the Punjab and Sindh for centuries and the climate has dictated the use of light-weight cotton textiles which accounted for the bulk of cloth production in theses areas. The climate also determined the choice of colors and launched the weavers on a course which led them to produce malmal khas.
For hand spun fibers form a large portion of the weaves in this area. Most of the weavers work on the traditional pit loom. Here the unwoven warp is wound in a big hank and released when needed, and the completed yardage is rolled on the front beam. Bamboo harnesses with string heddles swing from a pulley system. Generally a hand-propelled shuttle is used but an increasing number of weavers have introduced a jacquard system which is manually manipulated with treadles. Here the complex patterns are woven with manual pick-up devices that have been introduced. Where handloom products have been standardized, or a unit is specializing in a particular variety, automatic fly-shuttles and dobbies have been attached to handlooms to create semi-automatic weaving system.
The laying of the warp is also done in different ways. The most common method is to stretch the warp threads between the loom and stakes driven into the ground. At some places warps of than one hundred meters are laid in this manner. In the larger workshops warp is wound over wooden drums suspended horizontally. The dressing of the loom is done in the traditional manner and as most of the weavers find the production of a single pattern more convenient, they avoid dressing the loom every time a piece of cloth is completed. They leave the ends of the warp threaded to them and pull them through the heddles.
A greater part of Pakistan’s handloom cloth is made from indigenous cotton which remains a major cash crop of the country. Despite sharp fluctuations in output caused by the vagaries of nature and the international market, Pakistan has retained its place among the top six cotton producing countries in the world.
In the Sind area coarse cotton cloth (bist dasti) and woven cotton bedding (khes) is produced in Kach and Kalat. Finely woven cotton tied on the head in a variety of ways (dastar) helps to distinguish between tribes.
While in the Punjab area woven cotton and silk, embroidery and block-printing have all been major elements in the textile production. All of these have undergone huge changes over the last hundred years and some have died out completely in some areas. As cotton is a major crop of the Punjab, and woven cottons have traditionally formed a very significant proportion of its textile output. These were generally of a somewhat coarse type for local use (although some cotton cloths were exported to Kabul) as garment pieces, like the plain khaddar cloth, and bedding, like khes. Khes was once produced in huge quantities by hand, but it is now mostly woven on power-looms.
Cotton Khes Weaving
One of the widest uses of unstitched cotton textiles is in the form of the khes – a patterned and bound double weave cloth. Evolved centuries ago to meet the need for a cotton blanket it was an important item of export during the Mughal period. The term khes is today often used both in the West and in Pakistan as the specific name for the thick, checked cotton fabric of Sindh and Punjab, although this has not always been the case with the silk khes still being woven in several parts of Sindh and Punjab. At present khes are used throughout Pakistan as bed covers curtains table-cloths, floor coverings, and chadars (shawls). Of late they have begun to be used to tailor women’s garments.
Its local usage seems to be generic one of a thick cotton fabric with a twill weave used as bedding, and in some areas also for a particular type of plain white cotton cloth with a simple blue stripe along the borders. All the examples of cotton khes selected by J. Forbes Watson for his sample books, competed in1867, are from Sindh rather than Punjab weaving centers. Although simpler varieties are produced throughout Punjab and Sindh, the best known khes come from Multan, Sargodha, Gumbat and Nasarpur. Each centre displays in design and color scheme a distinct tradition of its own. The Multani khes generally has a bold, two-color geometric pattern with similar motifs on both vertical and horizontal borders. Traditionally the most popular color scheme was indigo and white. Combinations of mustard and black, yellow and orange, and green and orange are common. Sometimes a third color is added. The color schemes favored by weavers in Jhelum and Jhang are green and red, and yellow and black. The patterns are often created by repeating geometric forms, floral motifs and by combining the two. In the khes woven in Sukkur, Gumbat and Nasarpur, the main field is filled with tiny patterns, usually a diamond enclosed in a box and crossed with a third color. The wide horizontal borders are filled with bolder patterns alternated with vertical stripes. They are intricately woven, composed of many colors and create and attractive contrast to the overall khes design. The khes are traditionally woven in pairs and stitched together to create a 66″ width and three-yard lengths.
While the khes is used today in the Punjab in the general sense of thick cotton bedding fabric, the more complex fabric woven in double-cloth technique with a distinctive checked design is specially called chandni khes or majnu khes. This type of geometrically patterned double-cloth came into its own, with the adoption of the lacquered-loom, apparently from Varanasi in India early this century, which enabled complex designs to be woven more easily and on a more compact loom than the traditional pit-loom. A closely related type of checked cotton cloth with a woven diamond pattern is called gumti khes. Gambat and Kandiaro in northern Sindh, and Nasarpur and Sehwan in central Sindh, continue to produce fine quality cotton and silk khes. This densely woven cotton or silk-and-cotton fabric continues to be woven in traditional geometric patterns on a pit-loom using a twill or double-weave technique. The main field is filled with a small repeating pattern, usually a diamond, a triangle or a polyhedron enclosed within a square. The end borders are wide and combine a number of narrow and broad stripes in complex permutations of the forms seen in the field. Khes are generally woven in sets of four pairs end to end, cut and then stitched together to produce the requisite width. A khes with two panels joined measures about 2 m in length and 1.5 m in width. The most popular colors are deep yellow, red, black, blue and green (white being regarded as neutral). Individual names are derived from the weaves or color combinations used, such as pabara (lotus), billi butho (cat’s face), bagglo (stork), tikygul (dot and flower), kuthay paer (dog’s paw) or panj gulo (five flowers). The number of warp threads also help to determine the density and hence the quality of the khes: these range from 2400 to 4800 threads per piece, the finest quality being described as bulbul chashm (nightingale eyes), using five colors in the weft and up to 4800 threads in the warp. Khes from areas in the north of Sindh generally use bold two- (or a maximum of three) color patterns use a number of colors in both silk and cotton thread along the borders and as highlights in the field pattern. Traditionally, women would arrange and fasten the warp threads but men are now responsible for this task and for the entire weaving process. As khes are labor intensive and expensive to produce, finer weaves in Gambat are made only as private commissions.
Sussi Cotton Weaving
Sussi is the general name given to multicolored, striped cloth. The pattern was evolved centuries ago as this variety of cloth is mentioned among the exports in the pre-Christian era and its production in sizable quantity in the seventeenth century has been recorded. At one time sussi cloth made in Multan was highly valued in England but now the leading production centers are Gumbat and Tando Mohammad Khan in Sindh. In recent times there has been a trend away from pure cotton sussi and cotton and silk or cotton and synthetic blends are commonly used. Traditionally sussi cloth has been used to tailor shalwars for Sindhi women but now it is also used for shirts and curtains.
This is finely woven striped cloth in which the warp threads conform to the colors of the stripes, often multicolored, while the weft threads are made up of a single color only is woven on a pit-loom, but a large number of power-looms are currently employed in Nasarpur, Khohra, Gambat, Hala and Kharpur. Weaves were originally restricted to specific colors but this discipline has largely disappeared and large number of colors and patterns are being used together. Garbi and ailacho are terms used to differentiate soosi woven entirely from silk. Mothro describes a type of weave in which individual solid colored stripes are edged with fine black-and-white toothed lines. When a silver or gold thread is included in this pattern it is referred to as chumki or taar waro mothro. Other mothro combinations include Halaki mothro, Matiari mothro, gharo mothro (red), bito sao mothro (double green) and zanjeer mothro (linked-chain pat tern). The most popular traditional weaves are the sao popat (‘green butterfly’), mor khumb sao (green peacock feather), karo kukar akh (black chicken eyes) and khoonbi wal (red vine). An average soosi shalwar can use from five to twenty meters of cloth; synthetic yarns and imported dyes are now popularity used in its manufacture and it is no longer worn by men in Sindh.
The art of sussi weaving lies in the placing of the stripes in different colors, determining the widths of the stripes and the number of colors accommodated on a piece. Two varieties of sussi cloth have separate names – ghabi and mothra. The former variety is woven of silk or a cotton and silk blend, and the latter simply involves the use of black and white warps to separate the colors.
Khaddar Cotton Weaves
The simplest cotton weave, khaddar, described generally as coarse cloth, has retained its peculiar charm through the ages. Till about a hundred years ago it was among the region’s major exports to Central Asia. After having fallen off the export list for several decades it has gain found an overseas market. At home the shalwar/kurta combination of khaddar in natural produced all over the country the finest qualities are woven in Peshawar in the Frontier Province, Lahore, Multan, Jhang, Sargodha, Kasur and Jhelum districts in the Punjab, Thatta, Mirpurkhas and Karachi in Sindh. Khaddar made for shirting, often called khadi, is sometimes made of 60/80 count yarn in Multan, Sargodha, Peshawar and Hala. Malmal khaddar is fancied for the traditional kurta and pagri. Khaddar also comes in a wide range in thickness, texture and design and is marketed as yardage for upholstery and drapery, and finished into household furnishings such as bed-covers and jackets may have replaced the quilted khaddar jackets and pajamas in the cities but in villages they are still considered the best protection against cold. Far more common are the khaddar quilts.
Solid khaddar is available in different colors. Wefts of various thickness and colors are combined to create plaids and stripes of rich textures. The designs on bed-covers and upholstery are often enhanced by off-setting the plain weave with woven patterns arranged in stripes.
In recent years great progress has been made in the production of tapestry weaves and Multani craftsmen have won fame at home and abroad with tapestry cloth used mainly for upholstery and bedcovers. Its appeal has been enhanced by the use of patterns and borders in pleasing color schemes. Some of the varieties are specifically designed for use as curtains and wrap-around skirts.
Cotton Lungi Weaving
The tradition of draped clothing has been sustained in Pakistan by a number of factors – easily notable ones being the climate and the artisans habit of attending to their work mostly in a squatting position. The image of a village bell in the Punjab is not complete without a shimmering lacha (a sarong like wrap around) and men all over the province wear tehmand. The most colorful tehmand is the lungi produced on handloom in a number of towns – Multan, Faisalabad, Jhang, Sargodha, Kasur, and Pind Dadan Khan in the Punjab, and Hyderabad, Nasarpur and Karachi in Sindh. In the Frontier Province a turban cloth is also called lungi and in Sindh the name has been given to bridegroom’s sash and scarf.
The standard pattern of the lungi is the charkhana (small square boxes) and bold horizontal and vertical borders. It is generally woven in pairs, each piece twenty-seven inches wide, and the two pieces are stitched together. The border and base wefts are in contrasting colors and the borders at the beginning and the end of the three yard length are solid stripes or multi-colored tapestry patterns. Sometimes, metal threads are inserted into the main pattern and the border. The quality of a lungi is determined by the intricacy of the pattern, especially on the border, the fineness of the weave, and the color scheme. Although extremely fine lungis are made at each of the above-mentioned centers, Multan has come to be recognized as the home of the most attractive varieties. These are available in bold color combinations – blue and deep rose, green and red, white and blue. A special feature is the six to eight inch border in solid color or divided by exquisitely woven stripes.
In the last few decades, lungi cloth has become quite popular with the urbanites as material for shirts and curtains, and one suspects quite a few of the chequered patterns seen on new varieties of woolen suiting were inspired by the work of lungi weavers.
Even today a wide range of woolen cloth is produced with hand-spun yarn on handlooms throughout the colder regions of the country. Weavers in a number of places in Balochistan, Frontier and Northern areas make cloth whose coarse texture is strikingly beautiful. And in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Muzaffarabad the cloth for the finer Kashmiri shawls is hand-woven.
Woolen cloth plays a particularly important part in the life of hill people, and the weaving of wool for both shawls and the narrow lengths called patti is still carried out in many parts of the NWFP. Swat in particular is a long-established weaving centre, whose blankets (kambal) are mentioned in early Buddhist texts. Today, shawls called shari are made at Islampur from local sheep’s wool (often with an additional synthetic border), and other centers in the Swat Valley, together with Peshwar, Mansehra and Muzaffarabad, produce lightweight woolen blankets with colored slit-tapestry borders which are used as shawls by men all over NWFP.
Patti is a thick solid color woolen cloth, usually a twill or herring bone weave dominated by the weft. The best variety comes from villages in Gilgit and Chitral regions. Natural tones of sheep-wool, white, grays and tans, are handspun by women on spinning wheels and woven by the men folk on a crude floor loom the back beam of which is usually a tree of a pole. The cloth is called patti (strip) because its width is between 14 and to 20 inches only. Some patti cloth is marketed as yardage but most of the production is stitched into finished products in the area where it is woven. The strips are sewn into chughas, the traditional local winter coat, waist coat – either plain or ornamented with braiding, and caps in a variety of sizes and with rolled brims that can be worn in various ways. Balochistan has its own patti tradition. A highly valued variety is the waist-coat made of camel hair patti. In the Punjab, patti cloth is made on a limited scale in Multan.
The remote village of Mogh, about 20 km north-west of Chitral in the Hindu Kush range, is well known as a wool-weaving centre. Here, local sheep’s wool is used either in its undyed state (khud rang) to make an off-white patti cloth called ishberu, or dyed with walnuts in a range of brown shades to make rugs (also used as bedding) called palesk or a brown patti called sho, used for hats and waistcoats. Walnuts, which are a major feature of the local diet, are the only dye used in this area: both the shells and the nuts themselves yield the brown dye, and the bark of the walnut tree is also used if a stronger color is required. A similar but plainer type of rug called Sharma is woven in Hunza, in the far north-east of the Province: these are usually horizontally banded in undyed brown, grey and white, using the hair of the local goats and also of the yaks that are to be found in the valley in the winter.
The fine white woolen patti cloth woven in Hunza is called zebaki, after the town of Zebak in Badakhshan in Afghanistan, the home of the wife of a former thum or ruler. Tradition has it that she introduced weaving of this high quality to Hunza. Zebaki is woven in a dense weft-faced herringbone weave, which is also used for the slightly less tightly woven cloth employed for the traditional male robe worn in Hunza, called the choga or shoka. The finest of these robes were formerly woven from the hair of the wild ibex (giri filam), now extremely rare, rather than from sheep’s wool (belish filam). The choga is of Central Asian origin, and has extra-long sleeves often seen on garments from cold mountain regions, than can be pulled down to cover the hands for extra warmth. In Hunza, however, the coat is more often won like a cape, with the sleeves being used as a scarf to wrap around the neck in cold weather. The Hunza choga is today frequently decorated with a brightly colored embroidered flower on each side of the chest. Those found in Chitral are more likely to be of plain brown patti, but with machine-worked stiff lapels in the case of the ‘Badakshani’ choga which is in popular use as result of continues contact with Afghanistan. It is also very close in shape to the padded silk chapans of northern Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
As well as chogas, the local patti cloth is also used in the making of flat woolen caps (pakol) which are seen in subtly differing forms throughout northern Pakistan. These caps are made by sewing a length of woolen cloth into a tube, adding a circular piece of cloth for the crown, placing it over a small bolster and rolling the fabric up to form a round brim. The Hunza cap is the least structure of the four main styles, with the crown of the had left rounded and unstitched. In Chitral, the rim of the crown is given several rows of stitching to make the edge flatter and more pronounced; in Swat, a decorative ‘pie-crust’ effect is stitched into the rolled brim and in the Kohistani style there is a somewhat deeper and flatter brim, which is stitched at intervals with vertical lines.
The hats are frequently adorned with ornaments ranging from simple flowers or grasses to the most elaborate feathered cap-badges (gamburi). The most sought-after decorations are those made of the feathers of the monal pheasant or murghi-I varin (golden bird) which lives in the neighboring mountains. These iridescent green feathers are sometimes augmented by the longer plumes of the white crane or the grey feathers of the snow-cock.
With the great famine in Kashmir in 1833, shawl-weavers were forced down to the plains, where their skills gave impetus to the shawl-weaving industry in several centers, particularly Lahore. The Punjabi shawls never attained the quality of their Kashmir equivalents, partly because of the lack of the fine pashmina goat’s hair to weave, but plainer woolen shawls were produced that were of reasonable quality. One of the more attractive woolen products of Lahore was the plain, undyed shawl with narrow red or green silk borders which appears to have died out. The bright green border of the traditional plain shawls of several centers of the North-West Frontier, notably Swat and Peshawar. The felted woolen cloth called malida used for garments and furnishing were also produced in Lahore and exported all over India.
Beautiful woolen shawls or wrap for men, called khatho, are also woven in Tharparkar. Khatho are usually worn by Meghwar and Rabari men and woven in halves. These are traditionally white, brown or black and woven from undyed wool, although brightly dyed versions in orange appear to be very popular. They often have plain fields with colored woven borders.
Once the largest items of production is the chadar (shawl), worn by both men and women. Its thickness, the quality of its material and the patterns vary from region to region, depending on climatic conditions. The Sindhi khatha shawls are light-weight chadars, sometimes of cotton and woolen blend, and are most suitable for the temperate winters of the desert. They are usually white with multicolored horizontal and vertical patterned borders stripes dominated by primary colors and black. The chadars woven in the Kaghan Valley and mountain areas of the Frontier are bigger in size and heavier. The Peshawar chadars, in light shades of khaki brown and grey, offset by their tapestry borders, are popular with men all over the country. They are woven in pairs which are stitched together to create a large-sized shawl. Equally valued are Swat chadars which come in different weights and have multicolored borders and fringes. In Balochistan camel-hair shawls are among collector’s favorite items.
Another significant element of textile production in NWFP is felt-making. While often made in undecorated pieces for purposes such as tent-covering in various parts of Asia, felts (namda) made in Pakistan may be used as bedding prayer rugs, floor coverings or saddle-cloths, and are likely to have a simple geometric pattern in one or two colors. The pattern is also laid out in strips of colored wool on a reed mat the ginned or carded wool for the main field of the rug, which often remains undyed, is laid out in a large, fluffy pile on top. The whole mass is moistened, wrapped into a roll and beaten or trodden on until the fibers interlock to form a mat. Unlike many Central Asian forms of felt, those made in Swat are not stitched for either patterning or strengthening. The Swat Valley, especially the towns of Madyan and Bahrain, is the major felt making area for NWFP, but felt can be found in small workshops all over the province and is reported to be made at Arandu, on the Afghan border close to the Chitral Valley, and formerly at Khoat, Bannu, Hazara and Dera Ghazi Khan. In the districts of Kalat, Quetta and Pishin, sheep’s wool is used for felts (namda or thappur), rugs (daris) carpets (galeecho), saddle bags (khurzeen) and caps. Felts are made primarily for domestic use as floor spreads, horse and camel blankets, bags, hats, winter coats, capes and waistcoats. Here the wool is beaten with sticks and carded and waistcoats. The wool is beaten with sticks and carded until it is clean. It is then evenly spread on woven mats or dampened sheets of cloth and sprinkle with a soapy water mix. Layer upon layer of wool is built up until the desired thickness is obtained. Brightly dyed tufts of wool are then inserted symmetrically into the top layer to form patterns. The wool and mat are rolled up tightly, rotated backwards and forwards using pressure, and the roll is securely tied. This manipulation allows the dampened fibers of wool to bind together or interlace in a solid layer which is then opened out to dry and harden.
Goat Hair Weaving
Goat’s hair is used to weave blankets that are stretched over wooden poles to make large tents (gidaan), and for animal trappings. Beautiful woolen rugs and bags using floating and supplementary weft techniques are made by nearly all the nomadic groups. The simplest version is the plain, narrow khat konth, used as bedding or as a floor rug and the most elaborately patterned is a long runner or curtain used to cover bedding and cushions stacked in the nomad’s tents (shifi). Particularly fine examples of shiffi are made in Kharan and Sarawan. As most of the weaving is done on horizontal ground-looms that are transported on the backs of animals the weaves are generally less than a meter in width and two separate widths are often sewn together.
Girls begin to weave at an early age as women are primarily responsible for all forms of domestic weaving. They appear to weave from memory, and work singly or in pairs on looms with tripod frames that are set up and taken down as time permits. The design repertoire is essentially geometric, with both undyed and dyed wool used in restrained but striking color combinations. White-or ivory-colored goat’s wool is used to lustrous effect in borders, or to highlight individual motifs as a contrast with the traditional dark red, blue and brown of the field designs. Baluch rugs are traditionally known for their sparing color palettes and fine repeating field designs, a particularly well known form of which includes patterned weft-faced bands alternating with bands of knotted pile. The ends of rugs are often left woven flat, a distinguishing feature. Prayer rugs usually have arch forms (mihrabs) or a small square at one end leading off from a larger central square. Ornamental borders are always a feature and vary in number and width. Today, a number of village and urban workshops produce flat-weaves and pile rugs in vivid color combinations and patterns specifically for sale in bazaar towns.
Saddle bags (khurzeen) with complex geometric patterns are woven by both men and women with camel, goat and sheep’s wool. Bags used to store grain (gwalug), flour (toorag) and salt (wadaan) are often decorated with shells from the Makran coast, woolen tassels, bindings and braids. Clothes and vessels are kept and carried by the nomads in cleverly constructed braided wool bags (sikka or takki), also known as balisht when they are woven in pairs for loading on the backs of animals. Woolen shawls for women and woolen capes and coats for men (zor or shul) vary considerably in texture and are often brightly embellished with silk embroidery. Fabric for waistcoats (sadri) made from the wool of fat-tailed sheep (ispet-nas) is woven in Turbat and Makran where it is commonly referred to as Makrani patti.