Thursday, December 10, 2009

We've been so busy coping with the problems of putting malkha production in place that we haven't been paying attention to the quantity of fabric now being produced.. and suddenly realized that it's gone up to more than double! Very exciting and gratifying, but of course it also means more marketing.. At the exhibitions and Bazars customers ask us where it is available, but we don't have retail outlets, and in any case would not be able to afford the costs of urban retail at our present margins. It would be against the principles of malkha to have high mark-ups, so what do we do? Invent low-cost delivery channels. We already supply a few customers by mail - we put photographs on the web, they choose & pay through electronic transfer, and we deliver by post or transport.

We also need to scale up our indigo dyeing since there is a waiting list for deep indigo malkha. Its not the dyeing that holds things up but the transport to and from the vat. The indigo dyers are the only remaining family of traditional indigo dyers in Andhra, and they have put up vats for Dastkar Andhra and for Charkha in Karnataka. This picture, one of several documenting the installation of the Charkha vat taken by Pankaj Sekhsaria, shows an indigo pot with fermented indigo dyebath in its newly plastered bed.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The people of rural India are skilled, intelligent and capable of producing excellent products for all aspects of a good life. Today, their access to the natural materials around them is more and more restricted. It began in colonial times with the appropriation by the State of forests, and continues today through appropriation of land and water and poisoning of the air by corporate interests supported by the State. Corporate interests see rural people as buyers of their toothpaste, biscuits, shampoos, soap and cloth... and of course now also of electrical appliances and petrol-driven vehicles. But surely toothpaste and soap does not need to be made in huge factories? Soapnut trees produce shampoo and piloo and neem trees produce toothbrushes which don't need toothpaste. Biscuits which kill childrens' appetites have replaced the nutritious snacks Indian children used to eat of puffed rice jaggery and chana.

'Development' should take as its premise the valuable repository of skills, capabilities and resources of the Indian countryside and the particular character of our varied and diverse society. Its foolish to discard ecological production practices in which we lead the world, in favour of so-called 'modern' production that is energy-intensive and polluting. That has been the guiding principle of the malkha process.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tribal Health Initiative, which provides health services for adivasis around Sittilingi in Tamil Nadu has encouraged them to grow organic cotton. Weavers' Wheel buys the ginned cotton from them and delivers it to the Kranti Chellapa Nulu Sangam, an independent malkha centre. They turn it into cloth, which is then stitched into garments designed by Altra Qualita of Italy, for the Italian market, at Gandhi Rural Research Centre also in Tamil Nadu. This is happening for the second year, and we hope that eventually both Sittilingi and GRRC will set up their own malkha units to cut out all the intermediate transport.

The clothes can be seen in the Altra Qualita catalogue, and the new range is in production.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Posting Sunny Meeta's comment, in case people miss it:

'You guys have created the freedom fabric of the post-industrial age. Its equivalent to khadi for the freedom movement but more sustainable. Its low carbon footprint, decentralised production, and appropriate technology process is actually creating a new synthesis of the dialectic of nature and technology. A synthesis that comes from the colonised south not from the all knowing western university or corporate system. Great going.'

Hope that the malkha 'synthesis of the dialectic of nature and technology', of traditional expertise with IIT trained engineering, will encourage other such efforts. Rural industries owned by rural people, using the whole gamut of natural resources which at present are sold off cheaply to corporate industry within or outside the country... traditional and new skills.. green energy..what a vista..

Thursday, November 19, 2009

nature bazar, Delhi

Dastkar's annual Nature Bazar has become a hugely popular event in Delhi's annual calendar. Folk performances and and childrens' workshops, besides the 160 or so craft stalls, on the lawns of the IGNCA, a lively mela atmosphere. Its a pity that there is little public transport, but the metro will make a huge difference next year.
For malkha it was encouraging to have repeat customers who have enjoyed wearing what they bought last year. This year most of our sales were in retail, directly to users, though some of them lamented the difficulty of finding tailors. As usual the deep indigo was a sellout. So were Sutanu's prints of swans and butterflies and the alizarin red. Our stripes do better in Delhi than they did in Bangalore, and of course this time for the first time we had different weights from the different weaving centres. Also for the first time we tried the bleached plain, which we are a little hesitant about because it's not natural bleaching [we hope to get to that in time].

One of our European customers is from Friends of SEWA and buys indigo malkha for the SEWA Lucknow women to use for chikan embroidery, sounds wonderful, hope we get to see the end product. Another great fan is Aarti, wife of Tushar of Living Blue. She wore a malkha kurta almost every one of the 10 days of the Bazar, and bought lots more. Thanks to retail, this was our best ever sale so far and we feel quite elated by peoples' admiring comments: we were asked is it was silk, or linen... just shows how wonderful cotton can be if its treated with respect. Now the question is how to make it more easily available.. we're encouraging people to order even small quantities through e-mail which we can send by post.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A frequently asked question is why our cloth is called malkha.
In the days of Indian cotton textiles' glory, there were many different varieties of cotton fabrics, and the names too were many and varied, and part of the common vocabulary: bafta, nainsukh, dosuti, moree, jamdani, mulmul, chint [morphed into chintz by the Firangs], mashru, himru, and many more. We made up the name malkha by combining the first syllables of mulmul and khadi. We hope as malkha production gets going in different places that each will develop its own variant, for example the malkha made at Magan Sangrahalaya, Wardha, wants to call itself magan malkha.

At present all the malkha produced in Andhra just goes by one name, though it is now coming from 3 different centres, with the fourth installed and soon to start production.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wow, malkha is picking up fans in Europe. Here is a note from a French buyer, a 'partner with Hermes International':

As a designer, I have been very attracted by the texture and aspect of the malka textiles, as well as the natural colors that you managed to blend in a very smart way, the subtil chiné effects.

Some of us, designers, are concern by the tendancy, nowdays, to work with products which are more man-friendly and less eco-friendly. The fact that in Malka, the cotton does not travel extensively, creating more pollution in India, but is treated locally, adds to the value of the product, its exclusiveness.

A greater number of the foreign customers are more and more concerned about environment and human issues, and Malka can meet the requirements of this market. That is why i was keen, since the beginning on using malka cottons for european market.

Samples of the garments sent to Paris last month fair met a good response, so i will develop more of these products, as top-of–the-range creations are our niche.

Congratulation to the Malka cotton developers for having created a line of products that meets our requirements, as far as quality, esthetic and ethics are concerned.

... and so to the ring-frames, where the sliver is spun into yarn. We prefer to have it handspun on 12-spindle motorized domestic charkhas, in the regions where women are looking for additional sources of income which they can manage at home...see the picture of our women spinners in the blog of Sept 19. If not, then we spin it on mechanized ring frames with 180-240 spindles.

The yarn is then wound into hanks, and sent off to the dye-house or, if it is to be made into undyed cloth, boiled for strength before going into the pre-loom processes.

About the weaving you'll hear from me later.

We're back into pre-exhibition mode, this time in preparations for Nature Bazar in Delhi at the Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts [IGNCA], Janpath, from November 5 to 14. And I hope we'll see all our old customers there who so enthusiastically bought malkha last year and wrote appreciative messages in our visitors' book, and new customers too.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Continuing the cotton-to-cloth story from the last blog:

Instead of going through the baling, unbaling and blowroom processes, the cotton that comes to malkha units comes in lint form straight from the ginning mill. [In two of the three units that are presently working in Andhra, the cotton is organically grown]. The lint is fed into our revolutionary carding machine [pictured here], where it is treated gently. Trash is easily dislodged, since it has not been pressed into the lint. The lighter-than-air fibres are hardly touched by the metal, guided rather than forced, into alignment and first form a lap, and then blanket, and then carded sliver, or loose rope form.

From here the carded sliver is fed into the second machine, the draw-frame, where 6 individual slivers are drawn into one, in the process equalizing all the uneven parts. And here is a picture of the draw-frame. What comes out is called the drawn sliver, and this goes into the flyer-frame, where it is drawn down to about the thickness of a pencil, and wound onto roving bobbins which will then be spun on ring-frames into yarn... more later

Monday, October 12, 2009

People often ask for a step-by-step lesson on the cotton to cloth process, and how malkha is different. Here goes:
1. Cotton is picked by hand [of course this entire explanation is specific to India, in the U.S. its picked by machine] [I'm not going into cultivation here] and taken to the ginning mill.
2. Ginning means separating the lint from the seed. The proportion by weight is usually around 70% seed and 30% lint. Usually the ginning mill keeps the seed as payment for ginning.
3. Now we come to the difference: in the regular process the lint is steam-pressed into bales, sqeezing the light & fluffy lint into a hard bale of about the density of a block of wood. Malkha avoids this and the following three stages.
4. When the bales arrive in the spinning mills they pass on conveyor belts through coarse, medium and fine-toothed opening. This breaks up the mass into smaller chunks.
5. The chunks or lumps of cotton lint are then blown with great force in the blow-room ... to get the fibres back to their original separate state!
By which time the fibres which started out springy, lively, and lustrous with their capacity for absorbency and colour-holding intact have become dull and lifeless and lost their springiness.
... to be continued

Sunday, October 4, 2009

We have recently installed our 4th unit in Andhra. Upto now we have been in the fortunate position of demand exceeding supply, but we don't know how far this will continue. Until new units reach a monthly production of around 1500 metres of cloth per month, their running costs exceed their incomes. The first unit took several years to reach this stage, the second and third will take about 2 years, and the third possibly only a year.We bridge the gap with the margins on the cloth that we sell, which makes our cash-flow extremely tight! Most of our customers are exemplary in settling their bills immediately, some even pay in advance, and this is what keeps us going. We're learning the hard way that successful marketing is not just a matter of sales but also of managing cash flow.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nature bazar Delhi, November 09

Taking part in Fairs and Bazars is always a lot of work, before, during and after. In its short existence malkha has shown twice at the Nature Bazars organized by Dastkar in Delhi and Bangalore. Now the next event is due and we are into the usual flurry of preparations. New this time will be 2 of Sutanu's print designs [see pics]as well as the unbleached plain production from two new centres. Of course old favourites, the natural dyes and pin stripes will be there too. In the pipeline but not ready yet is a portfolio of new weaves by Satish of Kora India.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

malkha spinners

At one of our malkha centres there are 24 women who are spinning in their homes on motorized 12-spindle charkhas. More are waiting to join them, but we are not able to produce enough sliver because of the swingeing power cuts - recently from 10 am to 6 pm!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

a malkha warp

Before a cotton warp can be mounted on the loom, the limp threads must be made stiff enough to stand the passage of the shuttle holding the weft. This is done by sizing the stretched warp with starch, and in the traditional handweaving process it is done by hand, laying out the warp along the street ['street-sizing', which is the reason traditional weaving villages are laid out along straght lines], spraying on the starch and then spreading it evenly with a sizing brush. In different parts of India different starches are used - wheat, millet or rice. Sizing usually happens in the early mornings before the sun is too hot.
Here are some pictures of a malkha warp being rolled up after being sized by the weaver family.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

the malkha advantage

Vishu Singhal, student of Textile Technology at IIT Delhi explains the malkha advantage:
".. the baler compresses the cotton into a rigid cubic structure.. bale density varies from 23-28 lbs per cubic ft. This is a highly compressed structure with a lot of inter fibre entanglements...The condensed bale can't be spun... During the blowroom opearations the fibres are literally torn apart from each other by mechanical action. This degrades some properties of the fibre like lustre and feel...

In contrast, the Malkha process bypasses the whole need of the baling process...the carding machine is ingeniously designed to treat the fibres very delicately...The end product, hence, has a better lustre and a softer feel".

Thanks Vishu.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

a snippet from history

John Forbes-Watson was sent out by the new textile industry of Lancashire to find out why Indians still preferred their own to the English cloth, and what were the processes that made even fine Indian muslin durable, unlike the English. After discussing fibre diameter, length, and the number of filaments and twist in English & Indian yarns he says [p 63] "... it being well known that for wear these very fine machine made muslins of Europe are practically useless, whereas the very finest of the hand-made ones from India are proverbially lasting, and bear frequent washing, which the finest English or European muslins do not." [ The Textile Manufactures and the Costumes of the People of India, 1866].

In my personal experience the fine Khadi made from desi cotton, Gossypium arboreum or Kondapatthi as it is known in Andhra, is amazing in its softness and durability. The malkha process aspires to retain these qualities in its cloth, though we have not yet used traditional varieties of cotton.

Friday, August 21, 2009

more about the Bangalore bazar

Many of the visitors to the Bazar were attracted by the look, feel and drape of malkha, and several asked 'Is it khadi?'. We explained that malkha was not handspun, but that its special quality was due to the gentle pre-spinning process unique to malkha. Customers asked if we had a retail outlet in Bangalore, to which we had to say a regretful no. Some people who seemed to like it found malkha 'too pricey', as a comment in our visitors' book says. Of course, compared to powerloom cloth, malkha is much more expensive, but we're confident that it will wear and look much better too.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back from Nature Bazar

We came back today, tired but happy, after 10 days of Dastkar's Nature Bazar in Bangalore. This was the first one they had held in Palace grounds, and attracted a wider customer base than the Chitra Kala Parishad, which is a better known location. In spite of spells of rain, some heavy, and several afternoons of burning sun - the bazar was outdoors - our stall did well - see attached video. This was our first exposure to Bangalore and, judging from the response, malkha will be popular there... more about the Bazar later

Saturday, August 1, 2009

demand for malkha

Malkha production is at present around 1500 metres a month, though we expect it to go up to 2000 very shortly. Customer demand is currently ahead of production, and orders are booked for 4 months' supply. The deep indigo is the most popular, followed by the natural unbleached kora, and the indigo fine stripes. So far we have not taken orders for any of the other natural dyed fabrics, though they sell well at the Bazaars. Surprisingly, the pale yellow of harda weft with unbleached warp is one of the most popular colours. Because it is yarn dyed, malkha can be woven with different colours in warp and weft, adding interest to the colour.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"I bought your fabric at Exhibition in Agha Khan Hall.
I am wearing this since last four months and very happy with it.
I need more of this fabric, can you suggest me from where I can buy.."

At present we don't have any outlets for malkha, but can supply to order. You can write to us by post or e-mail; postal address:

Malkha Marketing Trust

201 Sadaf Habitat

Chintal Basti, Khairtabad, Hyderabad 500 004.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

... Indian handloom cotton childrens' clothes seem to be popular in Norway!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Preparations for Dastkar's Nature Bazaar in Bangalore are in full swing: train tickets booked, stock almost ready, invitations being e-mailed. At the Malkha stall we hope to have about 2500 metres of fabric, plain, printed and natural dyed - all malkha of course - from our 3 Andhra centres.

The Bazaar is at Gayatri Vihar, Bangalore Palace grounds, from August 7-16.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Here is a picture of our indigo fabric, yarn-dyed in the traditional fermentation vat using no chemicals.

It's a great favourite with malkha customers and there is a long waiting list of customers who have ordered it.

We'll have some on sale at our stall at Dastkar's Nature Bazaar in Bangalore at Bangalore Palace grounds, from August 7-16... see some of you there..

Sunday, July 5, 2009

"I LOVE the butterfly print! It is sooo beautiful!" says Line Berg... They have been having wonderful warm & sunny weather in Norway and little Leo is wearing his Indian cotton handloom kurtas & pyjamas, much admired in his kindergarten

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The first picture of Sutanu's print was rather dark, so here is a better version which he has kindly lightened.

We also use this block for monochromatic prints, which gives a totally different effect. Altogether we have about 15 different variations of this popular design

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Useful comments from Sri & Yash.. Sri, the pictures of process on the site are in response to customer queries, people really want to know the story behind the cloth. Photographs of the fabric don't really do it justice, it needs to be seen and felt, even better, worn

Yash, would like to add a shoutbox, but don't know how...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A customer who has been buying malkha from Dastkar Andhra Marketing Association writes:

"We have been using and absolutely love the khadi fabric that you make. We would like to purchase more of this fabric - both in the natural as well as in the indigo."

Good to hear..

Monday, June 15, 2009

Handloom weaver households do not have time to make breakfast, since the women are busy with bobbin winding. Little eateries like this one serve dosas and idlis which can be eaten there or taken home. This is our breakfast hotel when we visit Chirala.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

malkha travels

Just back from visit to Wardha, where a malkha unit is running. They’re going to make organic malkha khadi spun on hand-operated charkhas from local cotton and I hope they’ll dye it in the lovely natural colours that Mukesh is producing right next door. They want to call it 'magan malkha' from Magan Sangrahalaya where the unit is housed

Thursday, June 4, 2009

...and don't forget to check out our website:

hello from malkha

Hello customers and friends of malkha, we’re starting this blog to hear from you, to give you backstage news from the production end, to answer FAQs and keep you updated on forthcoming events.

Malkha is expanding… besides the senior production unit we now have two more in Andhra, so 2500 metres of malkha, plain, or yarn-dyed in natural colours is now coming off the looms each month. Happily our marketing is keeping up with production and our order book is full.

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