Threadbare Narratives

In this digital exhibition artist Madhu Manipatruni explores the story of chintz and shares her own artwork as well as work created through block printing and embroidery community workshops held at Queen Street Mill alongside items researched at several museum collections that inspired her work.

The community artwork was created using inspiration from printed textiles in the Gawthorpe Textiles Collection and block prints from the collection of the Haworth Art Gallery and Lancashire Textile Industry Collection, housed at Queen Street and Helmshore Mills. These objects are shared as part of the exhibition, accompanied by Madhu’s interpretation of them based on her experiences, recollections and research.

‘Entangled’ artwork by Madhu Manipatruni

Artist Statement from Madhu Manipatruni
As an artist and a woman of Indian origin, I draw inspiration from my roots in Indian sub-continent. My work often draws on narratives from history and folk lore.  I draw, paint, collage and use digital as material. More recently, I have been using textiles as a medium of expression. I grew up with the rich narratives around handloom textile traditions. Saree is one such tradition, preserve of South Asian women. Each visit to my home town in South India is incomplete without a visit to handloom co-operatives. I would often buy beautiful soft cotton sarees and traditional textiles woven and dyed locally. Known as Freedom fabric, Khadi is a symbol of struggle for freedom against the British colonial power. For my work, I have been drawing on the textile traditions of India.

I started to stich to cope with a terrible loss couple of years ago. Repetitive Hand-stitching provided me with a space deal with grief. This practice of slow hand stitching has become a daily meditative space. Kantha is one such tradition where a simple running hand stich is used, to repurpose old cotton Sarees. In my own work, I use handloom/hand woven cotton cloth from India. My current research is exploring the colonial legacies of cotton  textiles. With the help of a grant from Arts Council of England, I am researching into the history of Chintz fabric and its roots in Kalamkari. These are naturally dyed, hand painted or block printed cotton textiles from South India (local to my home).

Madhu Manipatruni, Artist 
Instagram: madhoo_artist

Exhibition Credits:
It has been a real privilege to visit Lancashire Museums. Really thankful to all the curators who opened their collections and archives. It has been thoroughly rewarding experience.

Colin and Brendan at Queen Street Mill  for their generosity to share their time and knowledge. Rachel Midgley, Curator at Gawthorpe Textiles Collection for sharing the wonderful textile collection at Gawthorpe Hall. Philip Butler, Curator at Lancashire Textile Industry Collection for knowledge of Helmshore and Queen Street Mills. Amelia at Haworth Art Gallery, Caroline Wilkinson and Hannah Beattie of  Blackburn Museum & Art Gallery

The Super Slow Way for the commission, especially Zara Saghir for all the support and Jack Bolton for the wonderful photos

Date: c.1780 – 1800
Origin: India
Dimensions: Length 91cm, hem circumference 307cm
Credit: Gawthorpe Textiles Collection

My current research interest is Chintz textiles and their roots in Indian painted and printed cotton Kalamkari textiles. The British East India company was set up in early 17th Century to reach India for trade in goods and spices. Initial attempt to sell British woolens in India and elsewhere was unsuccessful. One of the goods that made it back to the British shores is the cottons, dyed, painted and block printed, in the name of Chintz. This light, colour fast and washable cotton soon replaced wool as the main source of clothing in Britain. This lead to protectionist measures against the printed Calicos from India in 1700 and 1721.

Detail of Chintz skirt showing the hand painted floral motifs on a white background – a popular design in British markets.

Date: c.1880
Origin: India or Iran
Dimensions: H 93cm x W 91cm
Credit: Gawthorpe Textiles Collection

This Chintz textile made in India drew my attention, for two reasons. One is that it has the original Glaze hence has a shine (almost like silk), It is also block printed on red grounds printed on fine handloom cotton.  The red ground would have been produced with Manjustha (Indian Madder). Chintzes painted with red grounds were not popular with the British markets.

Despite the ban, Chintz remained a popular choice with women. A clip from Archers’s Bath Chronicle August 1768 claims as many as 80 women have been fined in the last one year alone.

Yesterday three tradesmen’s wives of this city were convicted before Right.Hon. the Lord Mayor, for wearing chintz gowns on Sunday last and each of them was fined 5l. These make eighty who have been convicted of the above offence within twelve months past.”

It is said that the ban on chintz fueled the local industry of calico printing. By 1760’s Lancashire has the first printing facility set up by Robert Peel. Initially Calico printing was done using wood blocks but technological innovation eventually resulted in copper plate printing and aniline dyes lead the way to industrial production methods.

The collection of wood blocks at Helmshore were made of slightly lightweight wood and the designs were more complex, multi-colour involving multiple blocks. The size is also much larger than an average wood block usually seen in India. These large blocks perhaps are an attempt at scaling up the print process.

Photo credit: Madhu Manipatruni

I was unable to assess the age of the wood blocks, but perhaps the designs could be an indicator for some one with design experience.

My hope of finding wood blocks with Chintz motifs faded really quickly although a floral theme clearly emerged from the blocks.

Photo Credit: Jack Bolton

Date: Probably 19th century
Origin: Lancashire, United Kingdom
Credit: Lancashire Textile Industry Collection, Lancashire County Council

This large wood block in the collection at Helmshore Mill is part of a complex design consisting of multiple blocks. The design is believed to depict dahlia flowers.

A pencil rubbing of the block is used to get an initial drawing. Then detailed drawings were created later from these studies. The blocks were very large, with complex patterns. Parts of block impressions were used as inspiration, especially botanical theme such as leaves and flowers for a cohesive set of  blocks.

Date: Unknown
Origin: Lancashire, United Kingdom
Credit: Haworth Art Gallery

This collection of blocks belonged to the Broad Oak Printing Company once based in Accrington; an important centre for Calico printing.

This beautiful border block was made of heavy wood and has metal inserts for a fine detail. Drawing on this process of using metal and wood a new block was commissioned with the block maker.

Photo credit: Jack Bolton

In India the textile traditions have survived the test of time. Kalamkari painting (Chintz) is still part of Indian textile tradition alongside block printing with natural dyes.

The drawings of dahlias, leaves and border were sent to a wood block maker in India.  These blocks are carved by Indian artisans using hand tools in the traditional way. The wood itself is a hardwood, Sheesham.  Excited to incorporate these new blocks into my collection of blocks and use them in the up and coming workshop.

Cotton’s long history is deeply rooted in Indian Subcontinent, it is suggested to have been found in Indus Valley Civilization (now in Pakistan) as long as 3,200 BCE. Weaving has many a creation myth and folklore associated with Saalé (weaver) communities (Saalé is translates to Spider). Hand spun threads and cloth are used in rituals marking significant life event such as birth, marriage and end of life. Perhaps rich ritual culture, folklore suggests the longevity and significance of weaving and cotton to the South Asian peoples

Photo credit: Jack Bolton

Hand loom cotton scraps, black beads, textile ink and hand embroidery

As part of the Lancashire Textile Commission, my visit to Queen Street and Helmshore Cotton Mills in Lancashire, brought a new mythical reverential figure, the ‘King cotton’.

Lancashire’s Industrial Heritage is closely linked with cotton and history of cotton is inseparable from Colonial histories. This photographs, taken during a visit to Queen Street Mill, alludes to these shared histories between Britain and Indian subcontinent.

Photo credit: Jack Bolton

Embracing tangled threads that were discarded into a corner at Queen Street Mill.

Photo credit: Jack Bolton

Indian handloom and Khadi cotton dyed with Cutch dye (natural dye), yarn from Queen Street Mill, acrylic ink

Responding to her visit to the Cotton Mill at Queen Street, and this work draws on entangled history of cotton with India, colonial legacy of industrial revolution. Cotton weaving was an artisanal practice in pre-industrial world. Indian cotton was exported and traded to the rest of the world through the ports along the Coromandel coast (South India).

The oppressive regime of East India Company prevented weavers from producing fine cottons, resulting in loss of inherited skill. In my own home town, in South India, 20,000 weavers protested against these oppressive practices with a collective resistance in 1816-17. Crippled by heavy taxes and punitive measures the weaver’s lives and livelihoods were at risk. Any protests against the company were brutally dealt with by corporal punishments (flogging).

Madder dyed threads from Queen street mill), handloom cotton, metal bells, pearls, kalam (Bamboo pen)

The Tree of Life was a common motif among the imported textiles from India in early 17th and 18th century textiles.

This artwork was co-created by Madhu with the help of volunteers and visitors to the Queen Street Mill, using the Calico cloth produced at the Mill.  Madhu also shared her research findings about early cotton printing history in Lancashire and the influence of Indian textile practices with the participants.

The finished piece combines both printing and embroidery which can be seen alongside each other in this detail.

Participants were able to try out block printing and embroidery to create a collaborative artwork.

Participants were able to add their name, which was then embroidered over to create a lasting record.



Bev Lamey

I love the combination of print and stitch in the Tree of Life artwork. It’s beautiful and delicate. I wish I could see the border as well.


I was at one of the block printing workshops at Queen Street Mill. This has opened up a completely new style of embroidery to me.

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