Bangladeshis tell their story through the rebirth of this ancient fabric
If you are a member of the beauty community or the parent of a newborn baby, chances are you are very familiar with muslin cloth – a cotton fabric that goes for all kinds of uses. and which is softer than the traditional terry towel.
The history of muslin dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when it was traded throughout the Middle East and Europe. The original muslin was produced from a specific cotton called Phuti Karpas. The plant has grown along the banks of the Brahmaputra River, which flows through Tibet, India and Bangladesh.
Muslin, at that time, was a legendary and highly sought-after fabric that at times was worth more than its weight in gold.
But by the turn of the 20th century, the chiffon industry was destroyed by abusive economic regulations. The colonial rulers who infiltrated Bangladesh at the time essentially wiped out the industry, and groups like the East India Trading Company made the fabric obsolete with its machine-made fabrics.
Today there are Bangladeshis like author Saiful Islam who are fighting to restore the true history of muslin.
“Muslin is part of our history. It occupies a place where we have a positive difference – where we have a sense of pride; we have a sense of identity, ”Islam told In The Know. “You are literally creating something so special that even with skill across the entire subcontinent it cannot be replicated.”
Islam is the CEO of a group called Drik, an internationally renowned multimedia organization based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The goal of the project is to tell the story of the origin of muslin from the perspective of the people who created it and to inspire the renaissance of “new-age” muslin.
“Bengal muslin is part of our history. It occupies a place where we have a positive difference, we have a sense of pride, a sense of identity, ”Islam said. “You are literally creating something so special, that even with skill across the entire subcontinent it could not be replicated.”
While Phuti karpas is believed to be extinct now, Islam is on the hunt for the plant’s closest living relative to revitalize the chiffon industry in Bangladesh. After walking the Meghna River, he found a plant capable of producing a good quality cotton yarn that looked a lot like muslin.
Why is Islam bothering to do this? It is part of the history of his nation. Now, with this new take on chiffon, weavers in places like Dhaka can create shawls and sarees using the same traditional techniques that were employed hundreds of years ago.
“You have all this technology, and all of it can be used, you know, to bring back so many things,” Islam explained. “Hopefully we can apply such a resurrection to lost languages, lost species, lost heritage, you know.”
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