Process and Techniques

Spinning yarn on the ‘charka’ in Chandina, Cumilla, Bangladesh

India was the ancient seat of the cotton manufacture in the East, and the country from which this branch of industry was introduced into Persia and Egypt, and thence into Europe. Throughout India, the art of spinning and weaving cotton fabrics has been practiced from remote antiquity; but in no part of that extensive region have they been carried to such perfection as in Bengal.

The process of manufacturing muslin was complex and lengthy.  The process maintained clearly defined, customary roles among those involved so that while the spinning of the yarn was done by women the men were responsible for the weaving.  Interestingly, this is often the case to this day. 

Professor Karim, writing in 1963, asserts that ‘Kapas though grown in most parts of Bengal, the most appropriate, i.e. ‘phuti karpas’, to weave muslin was found in places near Dhaka’.

Once the cotton had been harvested, groups and communities of skilled craftspeople would convert the raw material into the desired cloth through a painstaking process that verged on a ritual. Developed through trial and experience, the steps were performed in skilled groups handing over their product to the next in an informal choreography of craftsmanship. Historians and researchers have also noted that the finest thread was spun by women who were from 18 to 30 years old. 

The spinning could only be done in the early morning or late afternoon since during these periods the more humid air would allow the cotton filaments to stretch.  On occasion, water bowls would be placed in the rooms dedicated to spinning to increase the humidity.

It was largely a time-consuming and labour-intensive work that demanded enormous patience and skill. Months would pass as the form of jamdani’s motifs were created directly on the cloth using the discontinuous weft technique. Over time another masterpiece would roll off the loom, ready for royal use.

Most of the fine and luxury quality muslins exported by the East India Company to Europe were from the Dhaka region. According to East India Company records they were in their Anglicised names: Addadies, Cossaes, Dimitties, Jamdanees, Mulmuls, Nainshooks, Seerbands, Seerbettes, Shalbafts, Tanjeebs and Terrindams.