Avalon Fotheringham is curator for the South Asian textiles and dress collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. She studied fibre and material practices at Concordia University, Montréal, and the History of Design at the Royal College of Art, London. Before taking up the post of curator she worked as Research Assistant for the 2015 exhibition The Fabric of India at the V&A. She is the author of The Indian Textile Sourcebook (V&A/T&H).
Woven silk and silver-gilt-wrapped thread
Bengaluru, Karnataka, c.1867
Choosing any one favourite piece from the V&A’s collection of South Asian textiles and dress is a very challenging task. However, this sari holds a special place in my heart as the first piece in the collection I studied in-depth.
The sari was made in Bengaluru and submitted to the Exposition Universelle held in Paris in 1867 as an example of Mysore silk manufacture. The modern sericulture industry of the region was still relatively young and ‘Mysore silk’ had not yet become the byword for quality it is today. So this sari is a valuable piece of the industry’s history.
But it is the sari’s colours that make it a truly revolutionary piece; its warm and rich turmeric-dyed gold field and borders contrasting against its bright and vibrant aniline magenta-dyed checks and pallu.
Magenta was one of the earliest synthetic dyes to come onto the global market following the discovery of mauveine in 1856. By 1867 industrially manufactured synthetic dyes had begun supplanting natural dyes all over the world.
Despite its ancient and illustrious history of natural dye mastery, India was no exception. This sari demonstrates how swiftly Indian dyers began experimenting with new synthetic colours, using them in combination with local natural dyes.
The beautiful ikat transition between the natural turmeric field and the synthetic magenta pallu on this sari is therefore both a poetic and literal representation of the historic transition from natural to synthetic dyes, and the beginning of a new chapter in Indian textile history.
Chintz neo-classical overdress, re-tailored from an older sack-back gown
Hand-drawn mordant- and resist-dyed cotton with applied gold leaf
(Fabric) Southeast India for the British market, c.1770s
(Tailoring) Britain c.1770s, re-tailored late 1790s
Given by Miss T. Scarth
Beetle-wing embroidered dress piece for the European market (detail)
Clipped jewel beetle elytra and silver-gilt-wrapped thread embroidered on net
Made by students at the Hobart School, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, c.1881-2
Cotton embroidered with silver-gilt-wrapped thread and silk floss
Mughal Empire, c.1700
Muslin brocaded with supplementary cotton weft
Dhaka, Bangladesh, c.1850