Time Travel Textiles
More on 18th century small India goods
Home | Store | Authenticity | Essays & Tips

India has a long tradition of producing smaller textile pieces, in addition to yard goods and saris, both for domestic use and for export.

Smaller Indian fabrics such as lungis, pullicats, and rumals are among those advertised by Boston merchants in the 1770s.

A lungi, then and now, is a one-piece garment, wrapped like a sarong, worn by Indian men. Click to see some modern-day lungis at SariSafari.

Pullicats are named for Pulicat, a city in South India just north of Madras that was a Dutch possession before being ceded to England in 1784. You can see an 18th century painted and dyed cotton square from Pullicat in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s online images by searching under Museum Number IS.166-1950 (or the word Pulicat).

Romals or rumals are decorative or ceremonial fabric covers, made in a variety of materials, styles, and dimensions. SariSafari has some modern-day romals for sale, too.

We don’t know exactly how 18th-century American merchants used these words, but Florence Montgomery, in Textiles in America gives evidence that, in Anglo-American hands, all these fabrics were types of neck-cloth or handkerchief. Lungis were likely to have yarn-dyed (woven) checks or stripes; pullicats could be striped or printed; and “romal” seems to have been used, both by itself and with either of the other terms, to denote handkerchief-size pieces. They could be silk, cotton, or a mixture of the two.

The dupattas for sale in the store can be used in 18th-century dress in several ways. Most can be cut and hemmed to yield two triangular neck-handkerchiefs with border on the two short sides. The multi-striped ends can be cut into strips to provide decorative edgings for other items -- New York merchant James Alexander ordered similar patterned-stripe prints for this purpose from his London supplier in 1749 (shown in Montgomery's Printed Textiles: English and American Cottons and Linens, 1700-1850, , p. 19). At 36 by 84 inches, there's plenty of fabric for a basket cover or a special-occasion apron. And with careful piecing, they may be large enough for a lady's jacket or child's gown.