• Mitra

How the secret of making one of India's most prized possessions was stolen?



Shownotes: It originated in India, went on to dominate the Western interiors and fashion. The story of Chintz remains a chapter from the #indianhistory we seldom hear about. Well, we’re changing that and talking about the fabric called.


Namaste,

My name is Mitra and I welcome you to Tejomaya Bharat - Dazzling India - A channel to discover Bharat afresh. My commitment to you is that you’ll leave here with facts/resources and information that will give you a new view / new perspective of looking at our grand civilization.

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Our #CraftyWednesdays expert for this episode comes from the young and enterprising Malvika who is passionate about Indian handicraft. Brains behind the popular Instagram handle @Indiacrafthunt. There she tells the stories of the beautiful traditional crafts hidden in every nook and corner of Bharat. So make sure you go follow her on Instagram.


Now, coming to the fabric that sparked a revolution in global fashion - Chintz. We have already discussed the complex production process that made it so luxurious and desirable. We also looked at how the demand for Chintz had a significant influence on trade. If you missed the previous episodes, I will add the links in the description.


Today we are going to see how Europe finally got its hands on the secret of making Chintz?


We’ve already seen that only after Vasco da Gama reached Calicut in 1498, did the fabric become known in Europe. By 1650 more than a million pieces of chintz were being imported into England per year. A similar quantity was going to France and the Dutch Republic.


So if everything was going swimmingly well, why did the French and the English ban the use of this fabric? And how did they get their hands on the secret of making this fabric themselves? You see, in 1686 the French declared a ban on all the chintz imports.


Viciously campaigned against by locals, vilified this fabric as the 'Fabric made by the heathens… Made by heathens and pagans who worship the devil!" One of these vicious pamphleteers was none other than Daniel Defoe, author of the famous book Robinson Crusoe.

England followed suit and in 1720 England's Parliament enacted a law that specifically forbade the use of Chintz not just as apparel but also on any bed, chair, cushion or other household furniture.


Even though chintz was outlawed, there were loopholes in the legislation. The Court of Versailles was outside the law and fashionable young courtiers continued wearing chintz.


Indian master craftspeople and dyers had for centuries kept the secret of how to create colourful patterns. In 1734, French naval officer, who was stationed at Pondicherry, India, sent home letters along with actual samples of chintz fabric during each stage of the process to a chemist friend detailing the dyeing process of cotton chintz. His letters and samples can be seen today in the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. This was the first blow.


The knockout punch came in 1742 from a French Catholic priest, Father Coeurdoux.
Well known the horrors of conversions in India that continue to this day. Back then some Hindu craftsman who had converted to Christianity were betrayed by Father Coeurdoux, in an early act of industrial espionage. Although sworn to secrecy, he published a step-by-step guide describing the process of Chintz production - That is what gave the England and European textile mills the leg up!
Cotton - The Biography of a Revolutionary Fiber By Stephen Yafa · 2006

In the next episode, we will look at what actually happened after Europe stole our secrets. It is unfortunately a story that will break our hearts.


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These are our stories in our voices. Let’s Own it...Wear it - Be unapologetic.

Resources:

  1. Bekhrad, J., n.d. The Floral Fabric That Was Banned. [online] Bbc.com. Available at: <https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20200420-the-cutesy-fabric-that-was-banned>

  2. En.wikipedia.org. n.d. Chintz. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chintz>

  3. Fee, S., n.d. THE CLOTH THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: India’S Painted And Printed Cottons. [online] Rom.on.ca. Available at: <https://www.rom.on.ca/sites/default/files/imce/pdf/chintz_audioguide_transcript.pdf>

  4. Instagram. n.d. About Chintz. [online] Available at: <https://www.instagram.com/p/B7AOhSsJ8Xu> .

  5. Yafa, S., 2014. Cotton. New York: Penguin Books.

  6. Zanten, V., 2020. Chintz 101: A Primer For The Print That’S Back In A Big Way. [online] Vogue. Available at: <https://www.vogue.com/article/chintz-prints-to-know>

  7. New Internationalist. n.d. Cotton - A History. [online] Available at: <https://newint.org/features/2007/04/01/history>

  8. Yafa, S., 2014. Cotton. New York: Penguin Books.

  9. Zanten, V., 2020. Chintz 101: A Primer For The Print That’S Back In A Big Way. [online] Vogue. Available at: <https://www.vogue.com/article/chintz-prints-to-know>

  10. The Inside Blog. n.d. A Brief History Of Chintz - The Inside Blog. [online] Available at: <https://www.theinside.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-chintz/>.

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