"We are right to long for intelligent handicraft to come back to the world."
- William Morris, The Revival of Handicraft, 1888
Today, on National Handloom Day, we share the story of Ethel Mariet and the little-known story of her influence on Khadi in India.
The self-taught English weaver first came to the Indian subcontinent in 1903 accompanying her then-husband Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy who had been appointed Principal Mineral Surveyor in Sri Lanka. The couple travelled to remote areas, and in parallel, Ethel carefully studied and photographed the country's crafts. Their work culminated in the seminal 1908 publication Medieval Sinhalese Art.
When the Coomaraswamys returned to England they became an integral part of the evolving Arts and Crafts circle. In their first home in Broad Campden, Ethel began to explore spinning, hand-weaving and natural dyeing. She eventually went on to empower the next generation of early Modernist weavers and designers.
In 1914, Gandhi was on his way back to India from South Africa. It was on this voyage that he met Ethel in England. He was aware of Ethel's work documenting craft techniques, and visited her workshop to discuss weaving.
Gandhi recognized in Ethel's work the revival of traditional methods of textile production in the face of industrialization.
Khadi, the humble hand-spun hand-woven fabric came to represent India's fight for freedom. The simple Charkha, the spinning wheel, emerged as a symbol of self-sufficiency, that Gandhi envisioned in every home. It placed the very act of making one's own cloth at the very centre of the agenda for freedom and the future of the nation.