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Nobody’s correct all the time. Your blog posts, on the other hand, should be correct all the time.
Why? Because if your blog gets the facts wrong, your readers won’t take you seriously. Instead of being an authoritative resource, your blog will become a joke.
It’s harsh but true. Assuming you’re not a satire site like the Onion, you need to get your information right.
Truth be told, blogs should have similar standards for their posts as colleges have for students’ papers. Colleges require students to cite their sources in detail, and the sources have to be credible.
While I don’t think blogs should be required to quote only academic journals, I do think most blogs could benefit from higher standards of quality.
That means no poorly researched facts, no half-baked ideas, and no generalizations or assumptions.
It means thoroughly researched points, credible sources, and specific examples and anecdotes.
That’s the standard I keep for all my blogs, and I encourage my friends and colleagues to do the same.
Best of all, it doesn’t take hours to make your blog posts bulletproof.
Here’s how to fact-check your latest blog post in 20 minutes or less. Let’s get started.
Determine which facts to check
You don’t need to be super paranoid to have a perfectly correct blog post. Not every fact needs to be double-checked.
That’s why your first objective should be to comb through your post and determine which facts need checking.
An easy way of doing this is to consider whether or not the fact is common knowledge.
According to Harvard University, “Common knowledge is information generally known to an educated reader, such as widely known facts and dates, and, more rarely, ideas or language.”
For example, the fact that Barack Obama won the 2012 election is common knowledge. But the fact that Obama likes basketball is not common knowledge.
How can you tell whether a fact is common knowledge?
Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab says that, as a rule of thumb, if you can find the fact undocumented in at least five credible sources, chances are it’s common knowledge.
If your fact is common knowledge, you don’t need any source to back it up.
However, I recommend doing a quick yet thorough Google search to make sure your fact isn’t a common misconception. If all looks good, move on to the next step.
Consult credible sources
There’s a huge difference between an authoritative source and a credible source. Unfortunately, most people think they’re one and the same.
For example, most schools don’t allow students to cite Wikipedia because anyone can edit it. Even though Wikipedia is mostly well-maintained, it can’t be used academically.
Wikipedia is a perfect example of a site that is an authoritative—but not credible—source. It’s authoritative because it’s used by millions of people, but it’s not credible.
The Wall Street Journal is an example of an authoritative source that is also a credible source. Most major news publications (e.g., The New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post) count as credible sources.
Besides national newspapers, some examples of sources that are credible include:
- Personal websites (e.g., NeilPatel.com)
- Studies in peer-reviewed journals with citations
- Academic sites (i.e., sites ending in .edu)
- Government sites (i.e., sites ending in .gov)
- Trustworthy institutions (e.g., Mayo Clinic, Department of Justice)
Keep in mind that while some of these sources would be considered off-limits in an academic setting, they’re perfectly fine in our case. For example, using a personal site for a grad paper might be frowned upon, but it works fine for blog posts.
Some examples of sources that aren’t credible include:
- Social media posts/updates
- Studies without citations
Ultimately, you have to use your judgment here. If you’re using well-known, widely trusted sources, you’re good to go.
Get help from the watchdogs
There are also plenty of sites and resources dedicated to fact checking.
One of the most popular checking sites is Snopes. It has entries on all kinds of urban legends and controversial facts.
The team of researchers at Snopes always show their research, making it easy to fact-check Snopes itself.
While Snopes has gotten some criticism for its seemingly biased political articles, it’s a good resource for many other topics.
Last but not least, Google recently announced its new Fact Check tag for Google News. In a nutshell, readers will be able to check the validity of an article by clicking on the Fact Check tag.
If you’re already using Google News, this will be super convenient for you. And if you’re not using Google news, it’s a great time to start.
Create a strategy
I’ve shared a lot of information so far, but don’t be intimidated. As I promised, you’ll be able to use this info to fact-check a blog post in 20 minutes or less.
Let me take you through the strategy, step by step.
Step 1: Create a fact checking spreadsheet (1 minute)
Open Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, and create a new spreadsheet.
Don’t worry, you’re not going to make anything complicated. You’ll need only three columns.
Name the first column “Fact,” and enter all the facts from your blog post that need checking. (Refer back to the “Determine which facts to check” section of this article for this step.)
Name the second column “Sources.” We’ll use this in the next step.
Name the third column “Use.” You’ll use this column to determine the validity of your facts.
Step 2: Head to Google (8 minutes)
If your facts don’t fall into any political, social, or mythological categories, Google will be your first step in the fact-checking process.
For example, if you wanted to write about the successful use of Facebook video ads, you’d want to find a reputable source with examples.
Head to Google, and search “Facebook video ads.” One of the top results is this blog post from Social Media Examiner:
The article has lots of outbound links to support its claims, which is a great sign. There’s also a lot of media to help the user follow the strategy.
This is an excellent example of a good resource. This article would definitely back up your claims about Facebook video ads being successful.
Try to find at least two quality articles, studies, or videos to back up each statement. This way, you can go through them at the end and decide which resources will be best for your article.
When you find your sources, paste the links in the “Sources” column of your spreadsheet.
Step 3: Consult other sites (optional, 5 minutes)
If you’re writing about anything political, you’ll most likely need to use FactCheck.org, Politifact, or Snopes. And if you need to check any facts related to society, Snopes is a good place to go.
You won’t need to use these sites for every article you write, so this is an optional step. If you do need to use these sites, just run your topic keywords through the search bars.
At this point, you might be thinking, “But what if there’s nothing out there to support my fact?”
A lack of support means one of two things: You either need to support the fact yourself or eliminate it from your article.
Since these are polar opposites, you’ll have to use your judgment here.
For example, if you’re arguing that studying the Renaissance can improve your marketing, you probably won’t find much out there that connects the two. But you can probably make a strong case for why it’s true.
On the other hand, if you’re arguing that the Loch Ness monster’s favorite color is blue, you won’t find anything to support that. And you probably can’t create a convincing case that backs up your statement.
Overall, if you have a hard time backing up a fact, you should leave it out. You are better off being safe than sorry when it comes to fact checking.
Step 4: Weed out the bad facts (2 minutes)
Take a final look at your spreadsheet. If you found at least one credible source for a fact, you can use that fact. Enter “Yes” in the “Use” column.
If there are any facts without sources, you’re better off not including those facts in your article. As I mentioned above, if you can make a compelling case for a fact, go for it, but be careful.
You’ll come across a few duds every now and then, and that’s okay. When it comes to facts, always choose quality over quantity.
There you have it—a complete strategy for fact-checking your newest blog post that only takes about 17 minutes. (And in many cases, even less.)
While this is a quick-start guide, don’t be afraid to spend a little more time on this process. Getting your facts straight can mean the difference between a success and a flop.
And keep in mind that the longer the blog post, the more research you’ll have.
To give you an idea, my posts run anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000+ words, and I typically spend about an hour or so on research per post.
Of course, the most important part about writing a blog post is making sure the content is awesome. Write to solve your readers’ problems, and be passionate about it.
Thanks to the Internet, fact-checking has never been easier. Take a few minutes to double-check everything, and you’ll never have to worry about misleading your readers.
What’s your favorite fact-checking tip?
This week’s blogpost is from another participant of the workshop – Moira Dato, who is a graduate of Universite Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, and is currently studying at the University of Glasgow.
I discovered Joubert in the first year of my masters, through my research in secondary sources in which he was quoted numerous times: he was referred to as an author, a designer, but as an ‘inventor’ (for the moire). He appeared therefore, as quite an important person to look at!
I had the opportunity during the workshop in London to share my experience with Joubert’s manual: having previously written two master dissertations about French silks of the eighteenth century, the Dessinateur gave me access to both general knowledge and specific aspects of the subject.
It provided me with precious information on design, but also, in a broader respect, on the creation process through commission and commercialisation: Joubert does not only give names of silk shops in eighteenth-century Paris, but also emphasises the relationship and communication between designers, merchants and customers.
For instance, he quotes mercers such as Barbier, Nau or Buffault, whose shops gather the best and most fashionable production of Lyon, a great source of inspiration for the designer and a means to not replicate what has already been done in the past; but he also recalls, in the damask’s chapter, that a drawing must above all be made according to the commissioner’s will and taste.
Therefore, the translation of this manual is a wonderful project offering numerous possibilities. For example, images of surviving textiles supporting the text could be used as one of the various methods that will bring it to life.
J’ai eu l’opportunité lors du workshop organisé à Londres de partager mon expérience avec le traité de Joubert : lors de l’écriture de deux mémoires de master portant sur les soieries françaises au XVIIIe siècle, consulter Le Dessinateur m’apporta à la fois des connaissances générales et des informations plus précises sur le sujet. Celui-ci me procura de précieux renseignements sur le dessin, mais aussi plus largement sur le processus de création à travers la question des commandes et de la commercialisation : Joubert nous donne non seulement les noms de marchands de soieries dans le Paris du dix-huitième siècle, mais il porte également l’accent sur les échanges entre dessinateurs, marchands et acheteurs. Il cite notamment des marchands tels que Barbier, Nau ou Buffault, dont les boutiques rassemblent ce qui se fait de mieux à Lyon, et qui se révèlent être un lieu idéal pour trouver l’inspiration et éviter de reprendre ce qui a déjà été fait ; mais il rappelle également, dans le chapitre sur le damas, que la réalisation d’un dessin tient avant tout du désir du client auquel le dessinateur doit répondre. La traduction de ce traité est donc un excellent projet qui amène de nombreuses possibilités. Ainsi, l’usage d’images de fragments de soieries pourrait être l’un des procédés qui sauront mettre en valeur ce texte remarquable.
This week we welcome Amrita Ravimohan, a representative of the of Indigenous Terra Madre 2015 event. She brings us fascinating details about eri silk weaving and kheng embroidery in Meghalaya, accompanied by some sumptuous images!
North East Slow Food & Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS) Shillong has been working closely with weavers with the support of Craft Preservation consultants to produce high quality silk products that will be showcased during the Indigenous Terra Madre 2015 (or as it locally known as – the International Mei-Ramew). This event, held in Meghalaya, India between 3rd & 7th November 2015, will celebrate the wonderful cultural and biological diversity of indigenous communities as primarily expressed through food, but also their songs, dance and dress that have evolved through generations of close interaction with nature. NESFAS, one of the organizers of the ITM 2015, in collaboration with the Department of Sericulture and Weaving, Meghalaya and GIZ will host at the event, a vibrant multi-faceted exhibition of unique fibres and fabrics of eri silk from Meghalaya.
Meghalaya has a rich variety of hand-woven textiles, with unique characteristics that reflect the state and its skilled artisans. The state produces three varieties of silk – Eri (locally known as ryndia from the castor plants the silkworms feed on), Muga and Mulberry. The Ri-Bhoi District is one of the main regions of Meghalaya where eri-culture and handloom weaving is still practiced. All the materials involved in the process are sourced from the district itself.
The creative process is completely organic, and ryndia is also called as “ahimsa” (non-violent) silk: extracted from cocoons without killing the larvae inside. Eri-culture and weaving are also important activities for generating supplementary income and providing a much needed opportunity for women to contribute further to the family, especially for the elderly and the young mothers who are not able to go out to the fields. Unlike other parts of India, where much of the spinning and weaving is in the hands of men, in Meghalaya it is the exclusivity of women and their families. This traditional knowledge is passed down through generations. Kong Kwickstar Tmung, from Diwon says “My mother is a natural dyer and weaver. I learned everything from her and through my hard work and dedication I have become better and better every day. I also teach others who want to learn the skills so that they can also earn a living.”
The eri silk artisans are also involved in agriculture & use their spare time for eri related activities. However, they are understand that keeping these fading traditions alive is an important investment for the future – an activity which through continuous practice they can keep doing long after they have lost their strength to contribute on the fields. For instance, Kong Loin Nongpoh, from Umtnang says: “I am a very old lady living a simple life. I rear, I spin, and I weave eri silk, but now because I am old I only rear and spin to provide for my two disabled sons and my four grandchildren. I am poor, but I have enough food for a day. Eri silk is a blessing from our heavenly fathers.”
Silk weaving in the North East region is traditionally done on floor looms although now frame looms are also used due to the possibility of increased production. The traditional floor loom is completely made of bamboo, including the reed used to beat the cloth during weaving.
The loom and its components are hand-made by the village women themselves. The heddles are made from string, tied on manually every time a new warp is put on the loom. The floor loom produces one scarf per warp, whereas the frame loom offers possibilities of increased production.
Intrinsically linked to eri is Khneng embroidery, practiced uniquely in Mustoh & the Shella region of Meghalaya. The embroidery is traditionally done on a handspun and handwoven eri silk shawl, creating the pattern by counting the warp threads. The traditional clothing of Shella is the shawl (jainkup) and wrap round (jainpein), a red and yellow square check fabric, embellished with geometric patterns in black acrylic wool. The embroiderers are nowadays being encouraged to experiment with different natural threads such as cotton and eri silk. Up until early 2015, there were only three women practicing the craft of Khneng embroidery. Recently, through training programmes, nine women have begun to learn the technique.
This embroidery technique is an expression of local cultural identity, and an important physical illustration of historic trading routes in the state of Meghalaya. The eri base cloth has traditionally been woven in Ri-Bhoi and sold to embroiderers in Mustoh through traders moving between the two districts. Interestingly, there are a number of woven eri shawl designs that are also typical of the traditional dress of Shella, though woven in the Ri-Bhoi district. The most characteristic facet of the embroidery is the graphic (almost contemporary) nature of the design, which is very different from the usual flora and fauna based motifs of Indian embroidery.
Though Khneng embroidery requires urgent support to prevent the knowledge of the craft from being lost, eri silk is slowly coming into the mainstream thanks to the efforts of some local fashion designers from the North East, who have taken it upon themselves to contemporize the use of the fabric for a broader market.
The author is part of the Communications Team for Indigenous Terra Madre 2015 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hello again! This week we welcome Gopika Nath, a textile artist and writer living and working in Gurgaon, who shares our passion for kantha embroidery in both its traditional and contemporary forms. Read on for a blog post you can almost touch…
There is a nip in the air and it’s time to take out the silk sarees from their summer-long cupboard-hibernation. For a dinner party last week, I decided to wear an embroidered Kantha saree, from Malllika’s Kantha of Kolkata. The natural colour of tussar has been partially tie-dyed [wrap-resist]. The body of the saree in undyed, soft gold of natural tussar, is embellished with white, off-white and green thread. At a distance it looks as though the main body of the saree has been embroidered using the running stitch or the traditional Kantha phor, but a back-stitch outlines the creeper that covers the entire length of the saree – white thread stitched through the natural tussar, with delicate lines akin to feint quasi-quilting marks.
Kantha, or the running stitch is a favourite of mine. The next evening as I worked, pulling needle and thread through a cotton voile fabric, created by tearing, layering, stitching, and dyed with tea leaves, circling a motif in the manner of the traditional Kantha, I thought about the Kantha saree I had worn and how much had changed, and yet not. Even though the Sujani from Bihar essentially uses the same running stitch, I relate to its Bengali lineage because of the texture that the quilted layers create when the fabric puckers, lending a sculptural effect to the motif, around which the women stitch. It is the texture of quilting marks indenting the layers of fabric that inspire me. The resultant surface is evocative of the warm comfort of quilts. And, drawing from a traditional lineage, dating back to Krishnadas Kaviraji’s Sri Sri Chaitanya Charanamrita, written 500 years ago, allows for a sense of belonging which is reassuring, as much as it leads to concern regarding the fate of hand-crafting in a milieu seduced by machines and technology.
The embroidered Kantha saree is itself a twentieth century invention, or rather re-invention of the Kantha. Traditionally, ‘Kanthar kaaj’ or Kantha embroidery was done on two to three layers of recycled material, usually old and worn out sarees, dhotis or lungis. While today they use myriad shades of embroidery floss, traditionally, the embroidery threads were drawn from the border of the saree and the quilted fabric was usually in muted shades as the sarees or dhotis had been washed numerous times. As soon as there was news of a pregnancy or wedding engagement, the women of the village would get busy with making a Kantha. After completing their household chores, they would sit in groups for an afternoon chat near a pond or under the shade of Ashoka trees, Kathal [jackfruit] or perhaps a Mango tree. This scenario hasn’t changed much; they can still be seen seated this way in villages on the outskirts of Kolkata, surrounded by twittering birds and the chatter of their children, as they deftly sew one stitch after another – as the Sanskrit saying goes:
Sanaih parvata langhanam
Slowly stitch layers together, fabric old
Slowly tread the path, step by step
Steadily scale the mountain, slow
Sanskrit [oral tradition]
Stitching by hand in our fast-paced digitized lives is a labour of love. Sujani or Kantha quilts have always been a labour of love, but not in the manner in which a contemporary artist embroiders by hand because of love of the process, its ideals and more. Earlier, it was about making something beautiful for a loved one, which imbued the fabric with love and outstanding workmanship. The hours spent painstakingly tacking the layers, then drawing the motifs by hand, and working around them to quilt the fabric, thinking of the elder who would be kept warm or the new-born child that would soon grace their home, brought a whole different dimension to the finished cloth. There is no value that can be attributed to this kind of work; it is priceless. And, as Kamladevi Chattopadhya noted, the traditional Kantha was an example of bewildering contradictions whose impetus of thrift, using worn-out textiles that would otherwise be thrown away, were transformed by embroidery into something of exceptional beauty.
Durga Puja, is an important festive time in Bengal. A couple of weeks prior to ‘Pujo’, Shamlu Dudeja, posted on Facebook the picture of a recently completed canopy, by ‘SHE’, Kolkata. Richly embroidered, depicting the goddess Durga in her many forms, it was vibrant and exuded a passion that Kantha sarees, beautiful and elegant as they are, don’t have. The elaborate canopy took seven women six to eight months to complete. And the intricacy of stitch and vibrant hues speak of fervour that transcends the mundane dimensions of fashion to embody a divine passion. Though guided in respect of urban preferences, and assisted in the designing process, these women were invested in the visual creation, more so than in the sarees, made by women of the same NGO. And the difference is evident.
The repetitive movements employed in working a basic running stitch are meditative. My textile work embodies self-expression as is the practice of contemporary art, and the folk traditions of both Kantha and Sujani also speak of women embroidering pictorial narratives from their personal lives interspersed with figures from the myths and epics they were familiar with. When I think of them doing work on the saree such as I wore the other day, without much freedom of expression in this regard, I wonder if they draw the same solace from the practice as their grandmothers and great-grandmothers did. The Durga canopy does lend a glimpse, but because it is another generation, one that didn’t work within the mode of thrift transformed into a blessed gift, this aspect is difficult to gauge. This work has uplifted their lives in many ways, and a once dying craft has also been given new lease of life.
The running stitch is used by many designers and embroidery practitioners, in new and innovative ways. But in terms of re-invention of the running stitch, I think of the contemporary, Sujani inspired, embroidered garments designed by Swati Kalsi, more so than any other. It is possible that immortalized by Bengali poet Jasimuddin’s poem ‘Nakshar Kanthar Maath’ , and interventions by Rabindranath Tagore and his family, Kantha has transcended the simplicity of the recycled quilt to embody much more, while the Sujani which hasn’t been quite so glorified, has retained its more ascetic character and style – that is until Kalsi transformed it.
While there have been other interventions, it is Swati Kalsi who has virtually re-invented the way embroidery with running stitch Sujani now looks. Moving away from the traditional practice of this region, she uses the running stitch most innovatively in high fashion garments. The Sujani has similar origins as that of the Kantha in that, traditionally, both regions used old cloth recycled as quilts and covers, tacking the layers of fabric using the ubiquitous running-stitch. Both embroidery styles employed a rich pictorial narrative drawn in a naive-folksy style, disregarding perspective and realistic physical attributes. Kantha has included complex stitch formations of the running stitch in addition to other stitches. Forty-three stitches, and counting, are documented as used in ‘Kanthar kaaj’. The latest addition to this repertoire is cross-stitch which they call ‘tin phor’ because you need three steps to complete one stitch. Some of these can be seen on the canopy, but the Sujani quilts are much simpler in their visual narrative and restrained repertoire of stitches – dominated by the basic running stitch, which unlike the Kantha is always in straight lines, a chain-stitch for outlining the figure and a filler stitch.
Draped on a model’s back, a dark navy blue-black jacket is densely covered with straight stitches. It’s the running stitch in another avatar, designed by Kalsi in collaboration with the Sujani embroiderers of Bihar. They’ve invoked the age-old ritual of chatting, singing and sewing. However, their embroidered narrative is not quite as personal or spontaneous as the way the quilts of yore would have been.
Swati Kalsi’s practice, involves workshops and dialogues with the artisans to create a stitch that, at first glance you may step back from, as I did, and dismiss as being Sujani. Her lines of running stitch don’t form a pattern or motif, but are more like an abstract painting which determines what form the garment will eventually take. Most are fluid and organic, their shape evolving through the embroidered marks. There is no deliberate integrity towards tradition per se, but the stitch is used, primarily, with the rather ascetic markings of the basic running stitch. Kalsi’s process is intuitive rather than structured. It is revolutionary and effortlessly contemporary.
The sophistication of the resultant fabric and its usage in garments cannot be compared with rustic Bengali Kantha canopy. The designer’s creative input elevates the running stitch to another level. It takes vision and courage to break the traditional mould and to use Sujani in the way that Kalsi does. Equally, it takes courage and vision to keep a craft alive, as the NGO ‘SHE’ in Bengal does, keeping close to traditional values and practices.
Fingers touching thread, feeling the fabric; evolving textures and narratives through this tactile process is fundamental to any embroidery practice. Merely conceptualizing the pattern and relegating the process to another’s hand, for me, is akin to separation and fragmentation of hand-crafting process, as practiced in ancient India. Although I’m a reasonably skilled embroiderer, I choose to deconstruct fabric and stitching styles to bring another kind of attention to embroidery, devising a contemporary language, harking back to the Vedic concept of thread as a metaphor for life.
I relate to these women and the age-old ritual they incarnate as they work, singing and sewing. The rhythm of embroidery lends itself well to song. Thinking about the differing fabrics made using the running stitch, I realise that, not unlike the quilts that inspired them, these varied practices are akin to stitching together layers of history; crafting their own unique narrative.
These differing practices exist concurrent to each other in the same millennium, each drawing from history and traditions that have been through their own amalgam of influences, as traditions often are. They off-set each other and the contrasts provide insights and curiosity about the differences, adding elements and insights to the very ordinary running-stitch. It is said that the Tailor-bird uses a stalk and a running stitch to sew together its nest and that cavemen used it to sew pieces of animal skin to cover their nakedness. Buddha and his Bhikshus didn’t wear new clothes, but sewed together old fabrics they were given, with the same running stitch, to patch and wear.
All these facets add richness to the continuance and evolution of an otherwise humble stitch – whose origins arose from thrift to evolve into the extravagant Durga canopy – with vibrant colour, religiosity and passion on the one hand, and on the other, subsumed through the laborious process of constructing and deconstructing utilised by Kalsi, myself and other contemporary artists and designers – a trail of running stitch formations, from the time the needle was invented and perhaps even before. But, given the complexity of the trail, it may well be the Tailor-bird that will have the final word, as the keeper of its tradition.
- – Gopika Nath
Lest you fear our opening means the end of our blogging, be reassured. Following our opening week, The Fabric of India blog will continue to bring you behind-the-scenes perspectives, share the fascinating stories behind the exhibition’s objects, and explore handmade Indian textiles in all their varied forms. We’ll be hosting guest posts by and interviews with textile artists, researchers, designers and more, as well as offering sneak-peaks into the events of the V&A’s India Festival.
To start us off, this week we’ve invited Renuka Reddy, a contemporary chintz-maker, to share with us the story of her search for lost techniques, the challenges she’s faced as a designer-cum-maker, and how the V&A’s collection has inspired her work. Renuka’s studio, Red Tree, is based in Bengaluru.
If only I could time travel…
It was nearly two years after its publication that I got my hands on the book “Chintz: Indian Textiles for the West” written by Rosemary Crill and published by the V&A. I vividly remember my response to the spectacular plates, the desire to make something so beautiful. Little did I know how this reaction would change my life in ways I could not imagine.
By chintz, I refer to hand-painted resist-and-mordant dyed cottons. I am particularly interested in the intricate resist work of chintz exported from India to the West between the seventeenth and the eighteenth century. This is where I draw my inspiration from.
My goal was to produce chintz, which at that time meant working with craftsmen. So I went in search of one in Machilipatnam and Srikalahasti, two historic towns in the state of Andhra Pradesh where kalamkari (literally ‘pen-work’) is practiced today. I soon realized that the skill and knowledge needed to produce eighteenth-century quality chintz was no longer available. Natural dyes are still used (though often replaced with alizarin and chemical indigo) but more importantly the fineness I was seeking eluded me. The biggest disappointment was that the practice of wax resist was completely lost; no one could remember the technique. This was a huge roadblock. How could I produce chintz without those fine white lines?
Details from a hanging, Coromandel coast, about 1720-50. Museum no. IM.2-1937 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
I must admit that the unknown was as compelling as the beautiful textiles themselves. It was clear that if I was going to produce chintz, it would have to be hands-on. The cross over from designer/engineer to artisan was a significant change but I’ve discovered painting with a kalam brings its own rewards; stillness in mind and body is essential.
My first challenge was to decode the wax resist technique. How could one draw with wax lines that were sometimes finer than those that can be drawn with a pen? Most literature describes this step in a couple of sentences: “This wax may be put on with an iron pencil” from Father Corudoux’s letter on the technique of Indian cotton painting in 1742 and 1747, or Beaulieu’s account in 1734, “Traced with molten wax all the tiny lines that were to remain white. For this purpose he used a specially prepared iron pen”. I assure you it’s not that simple.
I set off to Java, Indonesia, to study Batik Tulis where the resist work is sometimes similar to that of chintz. Not surprisingly, the exact wax recipes were closely guarded secrets. I did learn, however, that a local pine resin and animal fat are added to the wax to increase elasticity and reduce cracking.
Sadly, the finest chanting (wax applicator) I could find was not fine enough. After handling different types of waxes and chantings, I observed that the wax solidified quite quickly. Too quickly to draw fine details, which must take time even for the most expert hand. While the wax works well for flowing lines, I am trying to figure out a way to reduce its melting temperature which would allow me to apply it in a precise pattern. As I continue to experiment with this idea, I also work with a resist concoction made from a combination of natural gums and auxiliaries.
When I could draw fine resist lines – though I continue to aspire towards finer lines – I started from step one in the manufacture of chintz, which is the preparation of the fabric with a mordant and buffalo milk. When milk-treated fabric is exposed to sunlight, the high fat content from buffalo milk penetrates deep into the fabric which prevents dyes from spreading. As in most steps involved in making chintz, the results can be unpredictable. It’s difficult to know if the milk has spread evenly and penetrated sufficiently until the first smudge appears, sometimes after weeks of work. I wonder if the addition of UV light or ultrasonic energy would give more consistent results; another entry in my long list of experiments to come. Interestingly, craftsmen in Srikalahasti have begun to use processed milk due to unavailability of fresh buffalo milk. I haven’t had much luck with it, and because buffalo milk is so crucial to my work I have now become a buffalo stalker.
On prepared cloth, the outlines, resist and filling are painted over many steps. Black from fermented iron, yellow from pomegranate, blues from indigo and all the shades in between from a combination of dyes. The source of red color is Indian madder roots – or is it chay roots? To be more precise; Rubia cordifolia or Oldenlandia umbellata? Due to a largely unregulated trade, it is difficult to distinguish if I am buying madder or chay – especially when purchasing dyes in powdered form. Historically, chay was the source of reds/pinks in Coromandel chintz but at some point, madder seems to have been incorporated. Whichever be the case, it is impossible to always predict the outcome when working with natural dyes as there are so many variables to the process. Surprisingly, I find working with alizarin equally challenging despite preparing elaborate swatches.
In between colors and at the end, painted cloth is washed and bleached with cow dung. This I was unprepared for; washing is back-breaking work. In my last trip to Srikalahasti, I met a washerman who I understand is the last person in the community to do washing and cow dung bleaching for local craftsmen. What a privilege it felt meeting him.
With no formal training in natural dyes or secrets passed down through generations whispered in my ear, I started this journey with a clean slate. As frustrating as this can be at times, I find an incredible joy in discovery; in making mistakes only to learn something new, or looking at everyday things and finding new uses for them. For instance, here I must tell you of my latest tool which I have grown quite fond of. In preparing the cloth for drawing, the cloth is recommended to be beaten with a round wooden pestle to make it smooth. This is quite commonly used in North India to wash clothes but is not so common in the South. I’m not a big fan of cricket but this child’s cricket bat was a perfect replacement.
Chintz is an utterly fascinating textile to me for many reasons. It was so popular at one time that Western countries banned its import in fear of economic instability in their local textile trades. And besides causing a revolutionary change in taste and fashion, it is the epitome of artistic and design exchange across cultures and continents. That from an era of such basic existence came a sophistication and technical excellence unmatched to date absolutely amazes me. If only I could time travel and see how it was done for myself.
Thanks to Renuka for sharing her chintz-making journey with us.
Annika Amundson is a student placement in the V&A Textile Conservation Studio, a part of her MPhil course at the Centre for Textile Conservation, University of Glasgow. This week she tells us about the conservation of an embroidered child’s dress in preparation for its display in The Fabric of India.
This child’s dress will be displayed in the techniques section of the exhibition as an example of Indian embroidery techniques, showing the differences between regional designs as well as between professional and home-made pieces.
The primary concern regarding the conservation of the dress is the creasing that has resulted from folded storage, which is both unsightly and damaging to the fabric. In many places the creases had weakened the cloth so far as to create splits and holes. After the creases are removed, these areas of damage will be stabilized to prevent them deteriorating further.
Removing creases from fragile textiles is a slow and gentle process. Essentially, the goal is to reintroduce just enough moisture to the fibres of the fabric to give them more flexibility and then to keep the area flat, usually under light weights, while it dries out again. Depending on the material, the ambient humidity, and the extent of the creases, the process can take anywhere from an afternoon to several months! You can see in the photo below the process of arranging the dress to place the creases on a flat surface, and then evenly weighed down by the glass weights to smooth out the folds.
With the creases reduced, I could turn my attention to the holes that had developed along the lines of creasing. These I supported with silk that I had dyed to match the colour of the silk of the garment. There are two different shades of patch material: one a yellow to match the back of the dress and the other a lighter cream to match the front where the yellow has faded away. The silk patches are stitched into place around the areas of damage, where the fabric is still strong. Then the edges of the holes are lightly attached to the support patch using couching, a stitching technique that involves ‘laying’ a thread across the area of damage and holding it down with smaller stitches along the laid thread. This technique allows the patched area the flexibility to drape while reducing the strain on the original fabric while it is handled and mounted for display.
The thread choice for the support of the damaged areas is very important, as it needs to fulfil several potentially conflicting needs. It must be strong enough to support, be small and unobtrusive, and be made of a material that will not react with or damage the object it’s intended to protect. For this situation, I chose threads drawn from Stabiltex®, an extremely fine polyester thread that is stronger than silk of the same size and will last longer under display conditions. This is a commonly used conservation thread that fulfils the three requirements stated above. The thread is so fine that I needed extra magnification to see what I was stitching.
The dress will be displayed hanging up and flat on a hidden Perspex hanger, so in addition to supporting the areas already damaged, I wanted to prevent damage that may occur as a result of the display conditions. This included putting two large patches across the inside of the shoulders, to reinforce the area where most of the hanging weight will be held, and making a copy of the shape of the garment in a stiffer fabric to hang between the dress and its hanger. The stiffer copy creates an internal structure for the dress, further distributing the hanging weight away from the shoulders. Below you can see the internal structure, shaped to be invisible while on display, and our test hang to make sure the internal support is fulfilling its mission. To see the ‘after’ picture, come and visit the exhibition when it opens October 3rd!
The goal of the student placement is to apply the skills we gain during the school year. (You can learn more about textile conservation education at the Centre for Textile Conservation’s academic blog.) During my placement I’ve primarily worked on preparing objects for display, including mannequin padding for a contemporary sari, creating a roller mount for a flat textile, and a last minute support mount for an incoming loan of a pair of shoes to be installed in Shoes: Pleasure and Pain which is now open. I’ve also helped out with current exhibitions, dusting objects on open display in the Alexander McQueen exhibition, Savage Beauty. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned during my placement is that conservation is never finished, but is an ongoing process balancing the needs of the objects, the possibility of research, and the goals of exhibition and public access.
It’s been an incredibly exciting experience to work with the textile conservation team preparing so many amazing objects for what promises to be a beautiful exhibition. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the V&A textile conservation studio for hosting my student placement. And next time you visit one the textile displays, lean in to see if you can find the evidence of conservation in action!
This week our blog post is by Sophie Richards, our Fabric of India Exhibitions Assistant, who gives us some behind-the-scenes insight into what you hopefully won’t notice during your visit!
I’m Sophie, the Exhibitions Assistant on The Fabric of India. I haven’t contributed to the blog before, but I am in the background of several photos where it looks like I am playing on my phone – I promise I’m not! I’m photographing the object, or details of the mounting, to keep as a reference and to show to any members of the team who might not be present.
I spend a large amount of time at the moment discussing the mounting of the objects. Mounting is how we display the objects, how they are held in place or protected whilst in the exhibition, and it is something that has to be discussed for each of the 200+ objects in the show. Mounts should respond to the conservation needs of the object as well as the design aesthetic of the exhibition. Textiles, it transpires, are very high maintenance. Words like sympathetic are used, things must not put pressure on an object, it must never be stressed, it should be supported and comfortable. Sometimes it is necessary for a textile to be relaxed.
Sometimes this is as simple as placing a piece of Melinex (an inert transparent film) beneath an object as a barrier to isolate it from another material such as a table top. Other mounts involve scaffolding and ingenious ways of absorbing parts of the object that we don’t have room to display.
Different exhibitions and different designers have different approaches to mounts, but frequently, and this is the case with The Fabric of India, the preference is for mounts to be inconspicuous – invisible if at all possible. This post aims to break something of that fourth wall and let you in on the discussions we have on the details that ideally, no-one will notice. Disclosure – since I began working on exhibitions and displaying collections I now can’t go into a gallery without seeing the mounts when I see the objects. This is the sort of thing that once it’s pointed out to you, you can’t ‘un-see’ it. So if you want the mounts to stay invisible, stop reading NOW.
In this post I’m going to focus on rollers – there will hopefully be a follow up post on some of the larger, more challenging mounts soon to come.
There will be loads of rollers in The Fabric of India. They are one of the ways of displaying fabric from a wall that allows the fabric to hang and drape whilst supported. This is an image of a roller in action in one of our mock ups, followed by a close up of the roller end.
We use cardboard rollers, these look like oversized kitchen roll tubes. These are covered with Melinex film, polyester padding and then with a display fabric. As part of the design process Gitta (our exhibition designer)chose fabrics that matched the walls of the different exhibition spaces. You can read more on about this process in this earlier post.
At the end of the roller is a solid circle ‘stopper’, most of this will be covered by the brackets, but it still has to be considered. It can be made from Perspex, wood, or metal, with each having pros and cons for the conservation, technical services, and design teams, who will be pouring over the samples below, to find an appropriate material and colour match. The same discussion happens for the brackets, which are subject to a different set of pros and cons. For those who are extra interested – Perspex, an inert material, easy to shape, but not a great variety of colours, vs metal, nice and thin, can be painted in a variety of shades, but the paint can scratch during installation.
There are a couple of secrets to inconspicuous mounts. In the past transparent Perspex has been popular, but transparent doesn’t really mean ‘invisible’. The trick is to find not something that the eye can’t see, but something that it doesn’t. This can mean that it blends to its surroundings, like the roller fabric, or becomes part of a visual language within the exhibition space. Our starting point has been picking a colour for all of the supportive metalwork in the exhibition, this includes the brackets for the rollers, the bases of the mannequins and any other visible metal supports. The idea is that the colour complements the objects without stealing the show and that as it is used consistently around the objects, the visitor quickly becomes used to ignoring it and so no longer ‘sees’ anything in that colour. Gitta has chosen a dark grey, on its own it is not discrete, and it doesn’t blend with the bright wall colours, but in the low lighting of the exhibition space it disappears like a shadow around the splendour of the objects.
Rollers are pretty time consuming and bravo to the team of conservators and technicians who have been preparing them for the exhibition (you can see a growing pile in the image below), but in terms of mounts they are quite straightforward once all the details are chosen. I’m hoping to spend a future post introducing the challenges of mounting more complex objects.
In the meantime, next time you’re in an exhibition – spare a thought for the details that we’re hoping you won’t notice.
The exhibitions team will be posting again soon – next time on tackling the challenges of our largest objects (THEY’RE REALLY BIG!).