Discovering Cotton 2/10: When Cotton Was Banned

The English East India Company imported on average around 15 million yards of Indian cotton cloth a year between 1670 and 1760. Indian cottons were sought after by European consumers because of their desirable properties. They were the first textiles whose colour could resist washing and did not fade with light. Indian cottons were also much cheaper than silks and woollens. Though not as long-lasting as woollens, cottons’ short durability was compensated by the fact that they were seen as extremely fashionable.  Their motifs and design were perceived as exotic in the same way in which Chinese porcelain, Japanese lacquer, chinoiserie, and other Asian goods were.

 The inroads of Indian cotton textiles into the consuming habits of Europeans also generated resistance. Governments too were anxious. As today Western states wish to limit the import of cheap commodities from China and other Asian countries, so in the late seventeenth century a series of legal acts came first to limit and then to ban the trade and consumption of Indian cotton cloth in an attempt to protect the interest of European woollen, linen and silk manufacturers. Cottons were prohibited first in France (1686), in England (part prohibited in 1702 and totally in 1721), and later elsewhere in the Continent. It is difficult for us to understand the animosity that accompanied the passing of these laws.

This did not however stem the cotton textile trade with other Eastern countries like Indonesia, China, Japan, Sri Lanka, who looked to India for rare cotton textiles.

Shown are three rare and exotic pieces that we today identify as the parent practitioners of modern day block printing and kalamkari. Cotton wasthe fabric that lent itself most to experimentation and therefore played an important role in art and skill development.

This red block printed cotton textile imitates a highly prized double-ikat silk patan patola.Made in Gujurat for the Indonesian market (17th Century). Both the block printed imitation and the original silk patola remain highly valued collectors pieces today.

Source: The Karun Thakur Collection - Indian Cotton Textiles

Made in the Coromandel Coast for the Japanese market (17th century)

Source: The Karun Thakur Collection - Indian Cotton Textiles

Ceremonial Hanging - Kalamkari (17th Century) Found in Sri Lanka, made in the Coromandel Coast