Sunday, 15 January 2012

Lecture: Trade between East and West

This lecture with Dr Clare Rose really opened my eyes to the true extent of how important India is and has been for a very long time in the production of textiles. From my History A Level I knew the importance of India in the British Empire due to their natural resources such as cotton and indigo which made them of great importance to the textiles trade, however the fact that their chintz printing techniques were so much more advanced than western techniques of the time was really surprising. Maybe its small minded of me to assume that western countries would have more advanced printing techniques, but I found it fascinating that India's reputation as the greatest textiles producer reached back as far as the Bible; having God's wisdom compared to gold, jewels and textiles from India. I was also surprised to find that it took Europeans over 200 years to replicate the Indian chintz printing technique, however I was not so shocked to hear how Britain eventually turned the tables so that they had the advantage. Britain studied Indian and Asian and African tastes so they could design and manufacture printed textiles to sell back to these places, thereby undercutting their local markets, a horrible example of the British Empire causing destruction by controlling and strangling the Indian textiles trade. It's a funny thought to realise that in current times a lot of local businesses and trades in Britain are ignored as there are cheaper alternatives available in countries such as India, therefore undercutting the British markets.

The V&A visit that accompanied this lecture helped me realise the massive difference in quality between the Indian and British replica textiles of the time. The Indian textiles were full of vibrant colours in beautiful patterns, all printed perfectly, whilst the European versions never quite met these high standards; the prints would be slightly offplace where the colours overlapped when they shouldn't, making them look cheap and shoddy in comparison. The popularity of these Indian textiles was also clear by how many of the furnishing displays had chintz fabrics, showing that the popularity of Indian textiles went beyond cashmere shawls to actually furnishing an entire house.

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