The Selvedge collection is made using naturally coloured Brown Cotton that is indigenous to Dharwad, Karnataka.
When the British monopolised cotton trade from the 17th century onwards, they sought to meet the growing demand for cotton that was produced by large scale industrial spinning and weaving. Rather than changing their production processes, The British adapted cotton cultivation in India to suit the machinery. As a result, the foreign varieties of long staple cotton were widely adopted in Indian cotton fields wiping away traces of desi cotton (Gossypium Arboreum, Gossypium Herbaceum) that made 97% of India’s cotton.
(Menon and Uzramma, A Frayed History; The journey of Cotton in India)
Remains of Desi cotton were found in pockets of India, one being the research station associated with the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad. The research station was set up in 1904 by the British as an establishment for cotton research and the storage of cotton germplasm. Dharwad was chosen as it was the most suited location for all four types of cultivated cotton-American cotton (Gossypium Hirsutum), Egyptian cotton (Gossypium Barbadense), Desi cotton (Gossypium Arboreum, Gossypium Herbaceum).
In 1983, Dr. Khadi of the Agricultural Research Station decided to test some of these dormant seeds at the research station. When planted, he discovered a naturally brown cotton plant growing in the midst of a white cotton field. From then on, Dr. Khadi, along with his assistants, began developing an interest in naturally coloured desi cotton. At the cotton research station, Dharwad, many coloured cottons are available. They range from off white to green. The most stable variety of cultivated coloured cotton is Dharwad Desi Coloured Cotton (DDCC1).
The Almond coloured naturally brown cotton -DDCC1 is truly an indigenous as it belongs to the G. Arboreum variety. The cotton develops its distinct colour because of the presence of proanthocyanin flavonoids in its genotype. Under the exposure of sunlight, the cotton bolls, when opening, gradually reveal their distinct colour. The shade of the colour could vary a little bit due to the changes in water, soil and climatic conditions.
Naturally coloured brown cotton is not cultivated as much since there is a fear that wild varieties of coloured cotton could contaminate the already existing white BT cotton. However, scientists from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad;Dr. Maralappanavar and Dr. Patil clarified that desi varieties cannot cross pollinate with non-desi hybrid varieties of cotton(eg- BT cotton). This suggests that coloured cotton can be grown around most BT cotton fields with no fear that it would hamper its cultivation.
The real threat indigenous coloured cotton seems to pose is at the market level as there is a possibility that it could become a competitor to other types of cotton and industries of production linked to it. DDCC1, being an indigenous cotton variety, is drought and pest resistant making it economically viable as it is cheaper in production and environmentally friendly.
Sustainability quotient of Naturally Coloured Brown Cotton (DDCC1)
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. Naturally grown brown cottons are pest, drought resistant and rain fed. Born coloured, the fabric is non-allergic and has excellent UV sun protection properties.
Repairing the land to loom system - The relevance of Melkote
A heavily broken land-to-loom system has not aided the local khadi sangha to continue its 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 ours. This sangha is also the only khadi institute in Karnataka practicing 6 different shades of natural dye.
Spinning and Weaving in Melkote
The handspinning of Brown Cotton yarn celebrates its coarse texture. Currently, there are 2 spinners and 3 weavers employedat Melkote, 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.
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 wearingand washing resulting in a soft fabric.
Recognizing the historical, environmental and economic relevance of naturally coloured Desi Brown Cotton, the Selvedge collection aims to repair the land to loom system. Eventually, it will transform into a circular economy system where its journey begins and ends with the land encountering no wastage and supporting all those who are a part of every stage in the process ofcultivating, weaving and wearing.
The key objectives are:
- Connecting the production of cotton to its cultivation: The fabric for the Selvedge collection was procured from Udaanta Trust. However, more recently, The Registry of Sarees purchased naturally coloured Brown Cotton seeds (DDCC1) from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad. The intention is to partake in conserving and maintaining an indigneous variety of coloured cotton. The process involves working closely with scientists and farmers and recognising their role in the creation ofBrown Cotton textiles.
- All hands involved in the production process right from the farmer to the weaver earn a fair price and living wages. 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. In addition, the varied processes- sewing and plucking the cotton in season, generates more employment for over 25 women.
- Create awareness of the existence of Brown Cotton and its benefits. 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.