Monday, March 25, 2013

Fabrics of India @ Calico Textile Museum Ahmedabad

Calico Museum, Ahmedabad
Founded in 1949 by the industrialist Gautam Sarabhai and his sister Gira Sarabhai in Ahmedabad, this one of my favourite Museums in India. It is in a dark quiet haveli (private mansion) with a cowdung+straw+clay flooring but don't let that dampen your spirits. The objects have been preserved painstakingly by the Sarabhais. Even though they have bronzes and other other works of art, I will concentrate here on textiles which make it unique.

Unlike many museums where you can simply walk in the moment you arrive, one needs prior appointment here as entry is restricted to just a few visitors per day. This this done to control the relative humidity inside the museum to preserve the condition of artifacts (mainly the antique textiles).

You can call them in advance on +91 079 22865995 or +91 9979738650 and book your place for the day you want to visit it. It is free of cost. You can also contact them on-
late 19th century Silk brocade & gold zari
Farshi Pyjama (Gharara/Sharara)


The viewing is divided into two guided tours. One from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm. They take in only 20 visitors per day for this tour. You have to be at the gate by 10:15 am to enter (do not take this lightly as Gujarat is very punctual). It covers -

-Textiles and costumes of India (17th century onward).

-Textiles used in trade with foreigners (15th century onward).

-Regional embroideries, weaving, dyeing and block printing techniques.

The second tour is from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Be there by 2:45 pm. If not, your place might be given to last minute visitors as only 16 visitors are allowed in. This one covers the paintings, bronzes, manuscripts, woodwork, ceremonial artifacts, ritual arts etc.

You cannot take a camera inside. It is advisable to carry a small diary and a pen to scribble anything that you really like and would want your friends to definitely see when they visit. For example the article no.109 is something I have not been able to forget. It is a saree from Odisha in Gold & red silk which has 'Barakhadi' (the Oriya vowels) woven on its drape. Exquisite work.

Rumaal from Uttar Pradesh
Another one of my favourites is a small rumaal (handkerchief) with pulled thread work (jaali), chain stitch (janjira), shadow stitch (bakhiya), murri, buttonhole stitch, detached eyelets (hool) and satin stitch. This has been explained very well in a set of 4 brochures which is a working guide and has photographs/techniques of all the Indian embroideries you see in the museum. Approx. Rs. 500/- per brochure.

The souvenir shop has some other offerings too. Textile prints and books were my favourite. 'The journal of India Textiles' is a complete set of 7 journals with a monograph about printing on cotton in Ahmedabad. Approx. Rs. 2000/-

A coffee table book of 'Indian Costumes' from 18th to mid 20th century is quite detailed. It also has a section in the end with technical explanatory notes and complete pattern cuts to show how to replicate these designs with tailoring today. Approx. Rs 4500/-

You can see the markings and templates of an Angrakha style garment here. Something similar to what is on the cover of the book

I pride myself at being able to differentiate machine embroidery and hand embroidery but this museum crushed my pride to bare threads. They were so fine that if they weren't so old, I would have brushed them aside as machine work. Our ancestors were very hardworking, I can see that.

We had Kamalini Ben (Ben is Gujarati for sister) as our guide. She was very good and knowledgeable. You need to ask questions to know more. Children below 10 years of age are not allowed.


  1. As usual your articles are nothing short of inspirational
    children under 10 not allowed??? how sad is that?

  2. Yes it is sad....but am sure they have their reasons or past experiences must have forced them to do so.

  3. The textile industry in India is the secondlargest industry and has contributed immensely to the development of its economy. As per recent data released by the Government of India, Textile from Indian Industry contributes about 11 percent to industrial production, 14 per cent to the manufacturing sector, 4 percent to the GDP and 12 per cent to the country's total export earnings.


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