Is It Handspinning?
You probably know the story of how Mohandes K. Gandhi championed handspinning during his years as leader of India. He felt that spinning was a path to peace, and it was an important element in his philosophy of noncooperation and nonviolence. It was also part of a path to freedom – freeing India from dependence on the British textile industry. He even required his cabinet ministers to spin cotton for half an hour each day. He sponsored a contest for the design of an inexpensive, highly portable spinning device, hence the book charkha. Of course, spinning leads to weaving, and the cotton cloth produced by hand was called khadi.
Khadi was more than cloth. It became a symbol of India’s emergence as an independent nation.
Khadi is spun and woven by hand to this day in some parts of rural India, but it’s more commonly produced now in government-sponsored factories which are part of a social program that guarantees a certain number of hours of work each year at a certain wage to everyone in need. If that’s not your idea of how handspinning should work, picture this:
Young women in bright saris gather early in the morning in the courtyard of a concrete-block building. They begin the day singing and praying together. Then they enter the airy, light space and each takes her place at a small machine patterned after the original spinning jenny. It holds five cones of pencil roving. The job is to turn the mechanism with a hand crank, load new cones of roving as needed, tend to breakages and so forth, and deliver the yarn to the fly-shuttle looms being operated by other women in the factory.
Spinning jennies, fly-shuttle looms–is this khadi really handmade? You could argue that. But the work has dignity, and the cloth is both lovely and functional. I think Gandhi would approve.