Giving new life to leftovers
Marking the graduation of our MA Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries students, we speak to Chitrangada Goyal about her final project in which she creates new uses for fabric discarded during traditional block-printing processes.
During her BA in textile design, Chitrangada Goyal was researching emerging ecological practices and traditional textile production in her home country of India. Textile production is, and continues to be, central to the country’s cultural heritage with the industry employing over 35 million people, second only in scale to agriculture.
At the opposite end to production, Goyal was interested in the material’s afterlife post-consumer. She found ancient traditions of reuse inspiring as well as fabric’s ability to be a repository for labour and skill.
She investigated the contemporary network of recycling, land-fill and incineration that makes India the world’s top importer of used clothes and also looked to designers and innovators disrupting those systems. At the same time, she toured traditional manufacturers and workshops. At a block-printing workshop in Rajasthan she saw piles of discarded fabric: “They explained that it was the muslin padding covering the many 11-metre tables to prepare them for the printing. The leakage and bleeding dye went onto that so the muslin was like a shadow of the process. After 11, 12, 13 washes they would discard it because it had lost its strength. But it looked beautiful and cried out to be resurrected.”
Her challenge became clear: to find uses for this fabric, called achada that, more often than not, would end up destroyed. It was a challenge that she brought to MA Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries. “When I got selected for this Masters, I thought it was the best opportunity to push the project forward. The course is so open, it didn't restrict me in any way. I had that freedom to explore my own project.”
Goyal’s focus was on transforming the discarded muslin but not denying its previous life. “The fabric has so much history attached to it. I wanted to explore that aspect. I consider there’s a soul behind it, it’s still there and it tells its story.”
Block-printing is centuries old in Rajasthan, so while one piece of muslin shows the marks of recent prints it also nods to a further embedded past.
To make the brittle achada useable, Goyal experimented with shredding the fabric into strips and then braiding it. Working with an artisan, she created strong, coiled sections of material – suitable for products like coasters and mats among other things. This allows for a new use while retaining the dye of processes past.
Following graduation, Goyal will be pushing the applications of the achada including collaborating with a London-based Indian weaver: “There’s so many possibilities and you can’t restrict yourself to one. You can’t simply be aware of what’s there, you need to unbox yourself and explore further.”
Chitrangada Goyal's project was on shown in UNBOXED Festival, 4-5 December 2019.