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VM inspiration: V&A Fabric of India


A considerable number of VM professionals have fashion or textiles backgrounds and will find the new V&A exhibition, The Fabric of India, truly inspirational. The Asian subcontinent has long been home to some amazing textiles techniques and this exhibition is well worth a visit as inspiration for VM.

Showing fibres, dyestuffs, processes and weaving techniques, the exhibition also showcases the panoply of uses for which textiles may be employed.

A vast wall hanging, almost 17metres long, was designed to decorate an entire room for a special occasion, much as decorated marriage tents are still used in the Peshawar region of Pakistan. A complete pop-up store in-itself, it was found abandoned on a sidewalk in New York in the 1990s by an art appraiser. The techniques used indicate it is from the Gujarat area and dates from the 1920s to 1940s. It was gifted to the V&A and is now shown for the first time after specialist conservation.

On a smaller scale, a fabric similar to this narrow, ikat-woven lahariya (meaning wave) turban, with a varied pattern from the Rajasthan region, would make a wonderful ground on which to display small leather goods, footwear or accessories. It would work especially well if the merchandise contained diagonal stripes.

India has long been creative in its use of natural resources. That is shown here in the use of lac beetle wing cases, carefully hand-sewn as a kind of natural sequin embellishment to this muslin dress border, embellished with silver from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. The formal design and informally lively graphic rendition might make a series of intriguing light-box images, the iridescence of the beetle wings catching both light and attention.

This protective shirt from North India or the Deccan, printed with Quran texts, was worn to fight illness or when in battle. Dating from 1480-1520, the sweat stains under the arms indicate it was usedd. VM teams might employ something similar today, washing-line style, in a fashion window.

The skill of Indian weavers can still be seen in areas such as Varanasi, where Muslim weavers hand-loom fine textiles, using Jacquard machines for which they create their own punch cards. The city of Shiva, situated on the banks of the Ganges, is famous for its fine shawls and bedspreads. This silver thread shawl, 4.6m long with a deep border, was a gift to George V in 1911 at the Delhi Durbar - a VIP VM event if ever there was one - and is a large-scale version of the wedding shawls used in the Maratha courts in Central India. A similar image might make a superb backdrop for an Indian-inspired collection.

Finally, the original pop-up store format: a block-printed tent belonging to the infamous Tipu, Sultan of Mysore (1750 – 1799). On loan from Powis Castle, and with an area of more than 58 square metres, this printed chintz of great prestige is shown in its entirety for the first time, having been acquired by Lord Clive of India (1754 - 1839) after Tipu’s defeat in 1799.

On Sunday 8 November, from 10.30 to 17.00, there will be a drop-in session on Dazzling Rangoli; the colourful patterns that are created daily from coloured powders at the doorsteps of stores and homes throughout India.

The V&A Fabric of India runs to 10 January.2016.