The Fashion and Textile Museum presents us with a wonderful opportunity to explore the methods, rich meaning and modernisation of the fabric Chintz. This intricate, floral cotton simultaneously succeeds in familiarity and exoticness, captivating us with its technical craftsmanship and closely guarded history. The exhibition highlights the journey of the Chintz industry through generations, leading us to contemporary artists who make the most of its ancient techniques.
Originating in India, Chintz wasn’t brought over to Europe until the Seventeenth century when The Dutch East India Company traders introduced it to the Netherlands. It isn’t hard to see how the elite of Europe had their hearts captured by the alluring patterns of this new sensational silk-lustre fabric. The quality of cotton was coarser in Europe and so the cherished and practical Indian material hadn’t yet been equalled.
The processes behind the fabric were tricks of the trade well-hidden until the eighteenth century by the Indian artisans, creating mystery behind the magnificence. Their secret was understanding the cleverly exploited chemical reactions between metal salts and vegetable dyes. Learning about the processes of allowing the material to absorb the dyes and repeated steps of starching/bathing the cloth truly amazed me with its intricacies.
This child’s dress was a captivating piece in the exhibition. Traditional in shape, yet comprising more than 70 pieces of differing Chintz. In the 19th century poorer classes gave cotton a new lease of life as linings for blankets, bed capes and cloaks. An aspect of Chintz history our current industry could vitalize to aid more sustainability in textiles.
In our current times, Chintz is still maintaining its colours. Texteil Factorij, a team of contemporary artists, filmmakers and designers, travelled to India in 2017 to work alongside the artisans there. Combining both the ancient traditions of block printing with the latest modern techniques, their purpose was to breathe new life into its history; illustrating how it is still a source of inspiration.
The exhibition further displays the relationship between contemporary art and Chintz methods with the amazing artist Annie Phillips’s vivid works, using batik.
These pieces jump out at you when you walk through the gallery doors; a treat for your eyes! Phillips had studied this Ancient Egyptian style of wax-resist dyeing in Ghana and Indonesia. Her grasp of balancing hues links her work to the historical pieces on display, harmonious to the colourful block prints of the seventeenth century cottons, yet contrasting with her modern twists.
Alongside the time-consuming processes of Chintz, the cotton displays layers of exquisite plants from far away countries and comforting botanics that remind you of homely interiors, all keeping the viewers continuously captivated throughout the entire exhibition!
To visit this exhibition, head over to the British Fashion and Textile Museum website to book your tickets online! It is open until the 12th of September and prices vary from £11.50 for adults, £9.50 for students and children get in free. The museum is located on Bermondsey Street London, just around the corner from the Shard. Enjoy!
Words and Images by Ellen Anderton