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Feb 14

The Many Hands of Khadi Cloth

 “Khadi is the sun of the village solar system.”-Mahatma Gandhi

Standing in the middle of a Khadi Bhandars (a khadi sales outlet owned by the government), we’re taking turns looking through a thread-count loupe magnifier at the fabric of a khadi kurta (khadi is handspun, handwoven cloth; kurta is the traditional long shirt worn by Indian men).

Looking at thread count of khadi cloth.

This may seem a bit odd to most, but ever since arriving in the state of Gujurat, our discussion on khadi, cotton, and thread count was a bit relentless. So when our extremely knowledgeable and amiable guide Gautum, who had become inspired by our fervent chatter, bought his first-ever khadi kurta it seemed appropriate to scrutinize his cloth. It was fairly smooth with slight irregularities; a thread count about 120 (60 warps/60 wefts per square inch). I wanted to compare it to my handspun, organic cotton scarf, a project of WomenWeave–mine was a bit coarser and “gudi mudi”, meaning scrunched, with a thread count of about 80.

An organic, handspun gudi mudi cotton.

Please consider that we’re spinners and weavers in the land of Gandhi and khadi.  Without saying it out loud, Gautum intuited that we were on our own version of a pilgrimage because he added multiple cotton-related stops into our already brimming four-day schedule in the region surrounding Ahmedabad. This shop was just the first one.

Gandi, Khadi and the Swadeshi Movement

Our next stop was a visit to Gandhi’s ashram on the Sabarmati River—an oasis of tranquility. Here we were invited to sit and spin on the charkha (we didn’t partake), but spent our time instead in the small museum and photo gallery learning more about the Father of India.

Statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the Sabarmati ashram outside the city of Ahmedabad; a skein of khadi cotton forms a necklace.

Not knowing how to spin or weave, Mahatma Gandhi learned the skills and spun on the charkha wheel every day. Khadi cotton became a symbol of Indian unity and the most recognized symbol of self-reliance. He wrote, “Swaraj (self-rule) without swadeshi (country made goods) is a lifeless corpse and if swadeshi is the soul of swaraj, khadi is the essence of swadeshi.” Khadi was no longer a mere piece of cloth but a way of life.

We Stop for Khadi

Our learning continued. We stopped at a cotton mill and saw the whole process of cotton from ginning to seed oil extraction–nothing was wasted. And our time certainly wasn’t.

Ginned cotton, ready for spinning.

Our final cotton education was at the Khadi Plaza, a facility employing about 2000 young women who handspun cotton and wove cloth. And while it was certainly a more mechanized process than what I anticipated, the khadi way of life was there. It was the start of the work day, and a low chant of voices came from an open courtyard. Walking past, I noticed a blackboard and Gautum loosely translated the wording for me: “Let my heart have good love and peace throughout the day.” Another lesson for me in understanding that khadi was a way of life.

“Let my heart have good love and peace throughout the day.”

This was our last stop on the khadi journey. And as I wear my Gudi Mudi scarf, I no longer think just about the hand of the cloth; I feel the hands of all who planted and picked the cotton, who spun the cotton, and threw the shuttle to weave it. It’s the hands of many.





WomenWeave is working on developing principles of fair trade, best value for labor, sustainable linkages with the marketplace and lasting and durable change to sustain the livelihood of women handloom weavers.

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