Making the Invisible Visible: Conservation and Islamic Art

April 2–August 4, 2013

Featured Textile: Chadar

Janina Poskrobko
Conservator, Department of Textile Conservation

Dye analysis provided by Nobuko Shibayama
Associate Research Scientist, Department of Scientific Research

Metal thread analysis provided by Mark Wypyski
Research Scientist, Department of Scientific Research

Chadar, ca. 1700. India, Mughal period (1526–1858). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1941 (41.19)

This chadar—used to cover the head or wrap the top of a woman's body—is an exceptional example of textiles of its type. It features a lustrous gold background with contrasting dark cotton-woven stripes and colorful silk tapestry–woven borders depicting animals, birds, and flowers within floral scrolls. Like the majority of Indian textiles woven in this style and technique in a combination of fine materials, it may have originated in the cities of Chanderi or Paithan.

Similar to Paithan saris, the borders of this textile were woven separately and then stitched together with the other parts. The chadar's components thus vary in technique—from simple plain weave for the main and end panels to tapestry weave with double-interlocking for the borders. The beige warp harmonizes with the gold wefts of the end panels and borders, while in the main panel, dark and sheer blue stripes contrast with denser stripes of silver- and gold-metal thread (fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Fragment depicting three contrasting units of the chadar: gold end panel, striped main panel, and tapestry-woven borders. Photograph by Julia Carlson

To create the multicolored borders, individual wefts of polychrome silk were double-interlocked with each other or with the metal-thread weft used in the background (fig. 2a, b). The effect is a clear, straight join on the front and a chainlike join on the back (fig. 3a, b).

Fig. 2a, b. Detail of border, front (left) and back (right). Photographs by Julia Carlson

Fig. 3a, b. Detail of tapestry double-interlocking, front (left) and back (right). Photographs by Julia Carlson

Traditionally, very fine cotton and silk were used in all types of Indian textiles. In this example, cotton is employed for the warp and for some wefts in the main panel (fig. 4). Metal thread, or zari, was used to embellish more luxurious textiles. This chadar employs two types of metal thread, composed of a strip of metal wound in a Z direction around a silk core. To ensure that the exposed area of the silk core matched the wrapping strip, and to enhance the color of the metal thread, orange silk was used in combination with gilt-silver strips, while white silk was used in combination with silver.

Fig. 4. Detail showing cotton warps and silk-and-metal wefts. Photograph by Julia Carlson

High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) confirmed that cochineal dye, made from crushed cochineal beetles (Dactylopius coccus), was used to create the silk's red and pink colors, while a mixture of safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) extracts and an unknown yellow dye (probably flavonoid dye) was used to make orange. Safflower and turmeric (Curcuma longa) were used to dye the orange core of the gold-metal thread.

Additional Reading

Barnes, R., S.Cohen and R. Crill, Trade, Temple and Court. Indian Textiles from the Tapi Collection. India Book House PVT LTD, 2002.

Dye III, Joseph M., The Arts of India: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts/Philip Wilson Publishers, 2001.