Last week, I wrote a post on some of my favorite textile books and a reader asked if I could share some books on Indian textiles. I was still searching for names of books I’d come across in the past, when Meg Van Lith of the fabulous Tierra Del Lagarto offered her expertise. Meg travels extensively around the world to source treasures, both textiles and other accessories, for her family’s Arizona-based store Tierra Del Lagarto (If you haven’t read it already, the 2-part post on TDL is here). Without further ado, here is a curated list of books on Indian textiles from a textile connoisseur!
“Beautiful books on textiles are a major weakness of mine, and I have shelves sagging with the glorious weight of them. Now I must admit — I am quite guilty of hoarding them and lovingly leafing through them upon acquisition, but current life sadly has not allowed me enough time for the lengthy perusal and study that they deserve. I wish I could expound at length on the details and histories of their tribal studies – but instead I will give an abridged version as best I can. All the while I dream of days when I can study up and really learn an abocchnai from a chope, and ajarakh dying from malir – both of which cannot be confused of course with kalamkari… so much to commit to memory! Wonderfully all of these books have incredible photographs to delight the eyes and help one remember the glory of each of the tribal styes. In the case of the Anokhi books, even cuttings of block printed fabric itself are tacked onto some pages to help tell the tale of these incredible fabrics.
Let me start off with the Anokhi books. I am sure many of your readers are fans of this popular company that started in Rajasthan over 40 years ago. With dozens of stores in India, and a famous block printing museum in Jaipur, the brand is a leading force in keeping the tradition of block printing alive and well. Their dedication to the conservation of this art form, and to educating the public about its complicated, beautiful craft is so commendable. Their series of books on the different type of block printed fabrics are a great example of this. I picked up a new copy of Ajrakh – Patterns and Borders at the Jaipur main shop in July and the small book is packed full of amazing images of the people, fabric, and pattern of block print. Of particular interest is a series of pages dedicated to the process of creating true ajrakh fabric. Step by painstaking step they take the reader through the process from the days it takes to pretreat the plain cloth, to the application of the different print blocks used for applied and resist patterns, the immersion in dye baths of indigo, the endless washing… all the while including actual cuttings of fabric, allowing the reader to touch real examples of ajrakh. It’s amazing, as are all of their volumes – I always pick up a few copies as gifts whenever I am in India.
On my previous India trip last November, we got to visit Ahmedabad for the first time, in Gujarat. I picked up a gorgeous book, Shifting Sands – Kutch: Textiles, Traditions, Transformation – and love the close up look at this famous center of tribal textile creation. Kutch fabrics have been revered for thousands of years, prized for their vibrant, intricate design. This book delves into the history, culture and craft of this important area of India – but the emphases on textiles is obvious with page after page of wonderful saturated photos of tribal fabrics. The Textiles of the Banjara just came out a couple of months ago and I immediately snapped it up. It delves further into the history and craft of this semi-nomadic tribal group than any book has that I know of. This intensely colorful, recognizable group is renowned for its distinctive costume – and produces some of the most popular and collectable textiles that come out of India. The book takes the time to study the group in earnest and chronicle in detail the various traditional vestments faithfully made by its people. I can’t wait to really dive into this one in earnest.An old favorite, Uncut Cloth– published in 1999 as a companion to a show at the Paisley Museum and Art Galleries on “Saris, Shawls and Sashes,” this book focuses on the unstitched cloth that is at once an everyday staple, and a sacred tradition. It focuses on everything from the ubiquitous sari to turbans, lungis, shawls of all description, coverlets and canopies with lovely full page photos. The stories of the many ironies in trade with the west are included in the second half of the book – like the Kashmiri paisley pattern getting its most famous name from the textile producing town of Paisley in Scotland of all places. Another great book that’s been in my collection forever is simply named Traditional Indian Textiles, and has a good overview of the most prevalent forms of textile production in India. Split into regional sections, it tackles the myriad forms of textile production with maps and photos of colorful pieces, and their artisans.” – Meg Van Lith
Indian Textiles by John Gilllow and Nicholas Barnard (pictured above, pink cover) is available here. Isn’t that the most tempting list?! Words like Kutch, Banjara or Ajrkah are like a siren song, aren’t they? I don’t think I’ve ever read any of my textile books from cover to cover either, but every tea time, i will take one out, read a page or two and be transported to a world of art, color, prints and patterns.
Image credits: 1) Studio OUATT; 2)Pictures of all the books taken by Meg Van Lith.
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