Malkha stands for a decentralised, sustainable, field-to-fabric cotton textile chain, collectively owned and managed by the primary producers – the farmers, the ginners, the spinners, the dyers, and the weavers.
Started in 2003, the Malkha initiative presently includes spinners, dyers, & weavers engaged in understanding & evolving the practice of collective working. Once ginning is introduced, farmers and ginners will also be a part of the initiative.
The idea of Malkha comes from the history of cotton cloth-making in the Indian subcontinent, which talks of a pattern of textile production that was embedded in diverse local culture & customs. These practices, however, were subverted by the Industrial Revolution model that respected neither nature nor society.
The Malkha way of making cotton cloth is an alternative to the present industrial model where ghettoization of the worker and pollution of nature is the norm. Malkha is an attempt, the first in modern history, to make yarn specifically for the handloom, to rid the artisanal textile chain of its dependence on large spinning mills that distort the small-scale, village-based nature of handloom cloth making.
The Malkha process explores technology that responds to the needs of primary producers, does away with unnecessary and wasteful processes in its journey from plant to cloth, is ecologically sensible, and is least damaging to the intrinsic properties of the cotton.
The Malkha fabric reflects its heritage in its distinctive texture, drape, and feel as the contemporary standard bearer of the Indian handwoven cotton textile tradition.
The Making of Malkha
Malkha combines thousands of years of Indian experience of cotton with modern engineering skills.
Cotton cloth made on a small scale, in dispersed locations, using locally grown cotton, was what made India the world leader in cotton textiles for thousands of years. However, with the huge scale of operations of modern spinning mills and powerlooms leave no scope for diverse and decentralised modes of textile production.
The Malkha process explores an alternative to the present situation where small-scale yarn-making units replace large-scale spinning mills. Thus, it provides the missing link in a fully rural cotton textile industry using local raw material and local skills. It evolves a way in which both farmers and weavers benefit from each other, and in which spinning also becomes a rural occupation. It allows people to work near their homes rather than having to move to the ghettos of the mill or powerloom textile hubs, thereby creating a strong link between farming and local textile production which empowers the rural society both socially and politically.
The tremendous response to Malkha is a reflection of people’s feel and appreciation for its unique qualities – the swing, the drape, its breathability, its absorbency, & its color retention. The Malkha process plays a big role in imparting these qualities to the fabric. By handling the delicate cotton fibres gently, and by avoiding the force and violence of conventional processing, it retains the springiness of the live fibres all the way into the cloth. To understand and appreciate how this is done, let us look at the Malkha cycle of spinning, weaving, dyeing, and printing.
Malkha, produced by a group of decentralised, primary-producer-run cooperatives, is a pure cotton cloth. A Malkha product derives its distinct identity from the following features that characterize its making:
- Cotton lint that goes into the making of malkha yarn is subjected to neither baling nor unbaling – processes that destroy the elasticity, absorbency, and lustre that are natural to cotton.
- Handloom weaving.
- Treatment of yarn and fabric using natural, non-toxic dyes.
The outcome of this process, carefully designed to preserve the intrinsic properties of cotton, is a fabric with a slubbed texture that holds its colour, a saree that falls beautifully and retains its lustre, a garment that keeps its shape, all the while getting softer and more comfortable with each washing.