Brown Cotton, is a local (to Karnataka) indigenous variety of desi cotton that is recognised for it’s natural brown colour. The cultivation of several such species of naturally occurring short staple cotton has not been practiced for over a 150 years. This effort is a larger encompassing exercise that involves the environment, the economy as well as local communities.
A Brief Introduction To Brown Cotton
The antiquity of cotton in the Indian subcontinent has been traced to the 4th millennium BC (Santhanam and Sundaran, 1997). The first reference to cotton is found in rig Veda hymn (Khadi and Kulkarni, 2001). The stages of seed cotton, spinning the lint and weaving the yarn are covered in various religious texts, and thus suggesting the implicit use of cotton in India by 1000 BC (Sundaram, 1974). The fabrics dated approximately 3000 BC recovered from Mohenjodaro excavated in Sind were identified to have originated from cotton plants, closely link to Gossyppium arboreum species (Gulati and Turner, 1929), thereby confirming that cotton lint was spun and woven into cloth even before 3000 BC.
(Source : http://www.geacindia.gov.in/resource-documents/biosafety-regulations/resource-documents/Biology_of_Cotton.pdf)
The arrival of industrial-scale spinning and weaving technology, vibrant chemical dyes, and a market that supported voluminous production and consumption of white BT cotton, killed the demand for coloured cotton.
Through the years, naturally coloured cotton has appeared primarily as a last-ditch effort to meet a need. During World War II (1939–1945) for example, there was a shortage of dyes, so green and brown cotton were grown and used. Because the fibers had not been bred for length after the war, naturally coloured cotton fell out of favour again.
Naturally grown brown cottons are pest and drought-resistant.
Born coloured, the fabric is non-allergic and has excellent UV sun protection properties.
The comparison is not about colourful with colourless, one can grow organic white cotton and use natural dyes to colour it, but when the cotton is never dyed at all, it is entirely natural. With naturally grown brown coloured cotton, the entire dyeing process is eliminated, dye treatments are limited, there is less usage of water, less wastewater, less consumption of chemicals, and hence less usage of energy, making it one of the most sustainably produced cotton fabrics.
Repairing the land to loom system - The relevance of Melkote
A heavily broken land-to-loom system has not aided the the local khadi sangha to continue it’s work in brown cotton . The weavers needed work. But hands involved in pre-loom processes were already lost among migrants to cities. The farmers had long made the switch to lucrative Bt white cotton.
Janapada Seva Trust in Melukote was a natural choice as their belief system of creating a non-violent social order for a sustainable and equitable future matched with ours. This sangha is also the only khadi institute in Karnataka practicing 6 different shades of natural dye.
Spinning and Weaving in Melkote
Currently, there are 2 spinners and 3 weavers employed at Melukote, dedicated to brown cotton cloth.
The Melukote weavers are the first ones to weave brown cotton yarn on the warp and weft of a hand loom. They find the yarn holding strong and allowing for less breakage and therefore easy work continuity.
The sustainability quotient of Brown Cotton
Brown Cotton textile has been produced with maximum economic and environment responsibility. The crop is rain-fed and pesticide free with zero stress on natural resources. All hands involved in the production process right from the farmer to the weaver earn a fair price and living wages.
Sustainability of a textile is not only in the production process. True nature of sustainability becomes the responsibility of the consumer.
Establishing a value for Brown Cotton textile
From the moment the seed is sown, up until the wearer experiences the magic of this cotton – every single person involved in bringing this to life acknowledges that Brown cotton is only a by product or a point of reference pertaining to a certain way of life that is respectful of the dignity ascribed to humans who choose to live a life of peace and tolerance in rural India, one with nature and at her pace.
While paying for a piece of cloth, the consumer is taking responsibility to nurture a rare variety of coloured cotton which is rain-fed, pesticide free, and help create a market for a sustainable business.
The Impact of Brown Cotton
The number of hands employed in any land-to-loom initiative with cotton is the same. The difference here is that the farmer earns the right procurement price for the cotton he grows. All hands involved in production chain of textile earn fair living wages. The varied processes include ( but are not limited to) sewing and plucking the cotton in season, that generates more employment for over 25 women.
The Unique Supply Chain
Like every life essential, brown coloured cotton also starts with the farmer, the harvested cotton is ginned locally, slivered in Chitradurga, spun and woven in Melukote.
The Preciousness of Brown Cotton (shrinkage and feel)
The yarn made with brown coloured cotton is coarser. Fondness towards Brown Cotton textile is also a celebration of this coarseness.
As the yarn is Ambara Charaka spun, it essentially has a very low twist. This also means that once the fabric is washed, the twist in the yarn opens further which results in the suppleness of the fabric.
Ambara Charaka spun yarn is fragile, hence the yarn is starched before weaving. The stiffness of the woven fabric because of the starch is washed away with continuous wearing and washing resulting in a soft fabric.
The role of The Registry of Sarees with regards to Brown cotton Textile
The Registry of Sarees functions as a research and study centre. All profits made from Brown Cotton Textile at Yali have been dedicated towards the building of a further repertoire of handpsun and handwoven fabric in the same lines as Meanings, Metaphor. We believe that such a registry of documentation is vital towards creating a knowledge base essential to understanding textile and it’s culture in India.
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Tailoring Brown Cotton Textile and it's availability as yardage.
Brown Cotton Textile is being tailored to make it easy for us to start including simple pieces in our wadrobes. We hope to introduce short staple, desi, coloured cotton into the vocabulary of thos who wish to make it a part of their lives in however simple a way.
The textile is available in extremely limited quantities as yardage should you so wish.
All photos and information courtesy Udaanta