It is an often repeated story. You spot an exhibition of enticing cotton fabric and immediately start dream-designing the kurta that you can convert from desk to dinner wear. So you go ahead, buy the fabric, get it stitched as soon as you can say tailor, only to discover that it has shrunk and no longer fits you and has to be handed down to your slimmer younger sister. Then of course there is the somewhat inevitable pitfall of the colour running and turning your vibrant vermillion dupatta into a tame rust.

cotton fabrics

Variety of cotton fabrics. Pic: Meera K.

Despite everything, nothing can beat the comfort of cotton when it comes to clothes. It comes in many varieties too, from soft flannel which is used to make infant and baby clothing, sleepwear and even bed sheets to the slightly thicker Calico, the slightly fuzzy textured Chenille used widely in upholstery or warmer fabrics like twill (often used in the Kashmiri embroidered tunic called phiran), which isn’t of much use in Bangalore.

What do shoppers look for?

Mercifully, Bangalore has an anything goes weather when it comes to clothing but nothing can beat the feel of light, airy cotton. We asked around where people buy their cotton fabric, dress material and other requirements in Bangalore and the constant answer that came up among women was Commercial Street. For Western branded Western clothing cotton wearmade of cotton, there’s enough variety available across the length of and breadth of every shopping mile in the city and when it comes to men, that’s where most of them go. Most men find their shopping needs satisfied at the nearest brand showroom, women however have more of variety to choose from. 

“For T-shirts and regular clothing, people here tend to go in for 100 per cent cotton,” says designer Arati Nagaraja, who runs her own clothing company in Bangalore. She also adds that the feel and type of cotton varies according to the count and construction of the fabric. “Differences like Ikkat, Mangalagiri, Calcutta Cotton are due to the type of weave and design patterns but the basic remains the same for all,” she adds.

Sarjapur based event manager Veenu Tiwari Misra swears by Cotton World, the store on MG Road for their great styling and clothes that “last forever and ever without losing colour.” She also likes cotton churidar kurtas for herself from Good Things and clothes from FabIndia and Century Cotton for both men and women.

Vyshnavi Shekhar lives in Malleswaram and thinks Rangachari Textiles on Sampige Road is one of the best places to go for cotton sarees. “The collection is exclusive and they have lot of cotton variety like Bengal cotton, Mangalagiri, and everything of good quality,” she vouches. Chickpet, though mainly known as a silk destination, also offers good cotton fabric and saris, she maintains.

Jayanagar based designer Shivani Talwar, loves Pooja Collections on Commercial Street, for their yards of hand block printed cotton and super-soft Maheshwari fabric. You’ll also find good Maheshwari fabric at Mrignayani in Koramangala’s BDA Complex. If your love for cotton, extends to foreign brands at prices that don’t seem to touch the sky, Hum India on Church Street and a small outlet that sells GAP, D&G and other hip brands at Sanctuary on Hospital Road is a good bet. You may have also spotted exhibitions advertising Export Quality Cotton at several places in Bangalore.

Cotton varieties

Cotton comes in different types depending on the growing conditions and manufacturing process. For instance, the ultra luxurious Egyptian Cotton creates stronger yarns and is used across the world for best quality bed linen. Pima is a type of cotton grown primarily in US and is used widely in socks, towels, etc for its density and softness.

Another well known variety is Muslin, a light and finely woven cotton fabric ideal for clothing and also as lining material. Cotton twill, used in Chinos, is a lighter flannel-like material, often blended with wool. Chenille, on the other hand is a fuzzy and thick type of yarn and is used in garments and upholstery both. Then there’s combed cotton, made by specially treating the cotton fibres. It's soft yet strong fabric is a good choice for bedlinen and baby clothing.

Crinkle cotton refers to textured fabric treated to be a crushed and crinkled effect. Types of cotton also vary according to their place of origin.For daily wear, Kanchi cotton, which is a thick fabric, works very well, both for salwar kameez and sarees,” says veteran Chimmy Nanjappa, who runs the well known sari store Vimor on Victoria Layout. Venkatagiri from Andhra Pradesh, with its very fine quality (and zari threads) is best suited for special occasions, she adds, as is Upadha.

Mangalagiri dress material could be a mid-range compromise. Maheshwari cotton dress material from Madhya Pradesh makes for sober yet beautiful work wear and you could find it in showrooms like Mrignayani as well as several shops like Prasiddhi Silks. Chanderi also from Madhya Pradesh export is another airy, beautiful fabric though as we found out after calling most stores around Bangalore, most are likely to be cotton silk blends these days.

SHOPPING GUIDE
  • Zeme Organics 1025 Ground Floor 13th Main, 3rd Cross, HAL 2nd Stage, Indirangar,  Tel: 42043618 Pari’s 9th Block, Jayanagar, Tel: 22452258
  • Just Your Size T-190, 36 Cross, 16th Main, 4th T Block, Jayanagar, Tel: 41502099
  • Cotton World Ground Floor, Barton Centre, MG Road, Tel: 25589443
  • Fabindia House No. 54, 2nd Block, 17th Main, Koramangala, Tel: 25520004
  • Cottons by Century 10, 11th Main, 4th Block, Jayanagar , Tel: 41502008
  • Mrignayani 1, BDA. Shopping Complex, 1st Floor, Koramangala, Tel: 25501733
  • Rangachari Textiles 526, Sampige Road, Malleswaram
  • Hum India G1, The Pinnacle Building, # 30/1, Church Street,  Tel: 41122550
  • Pooja Collections DR Towers, # 126/127, Dispensary Road, Tel: 41513373
Please note: This is not meant to be an exhaustive guide.
Cotton maintenance

The maintenance part isn’t so difficult as well. If hand washing your cottons (never mind starching them) all the time is a problem, Kalpana Rao, owner of the Jayanagar and Church Street boutique Pari’s, suggests you put delicate items like T-shirts, embroidered garments and innerwear in a soft mesh refrigerator bag and have it machine washed without a care.

"And don’t dry in the sun ever,” she adds. Both Shivani and Kalpana deal with fabrics in their daily work and feel even if it costs a bit more, people are better off buying fabric from well established, reputed places. Certain things like colour fastness need to be kept in mind by the customer, says Shivani, who runs Just Your Size, a design unit in Jayanagar popular for trousseau design and custom made Indian wear.

“People should be aware that certain fabrics will invariably lose colour but unfortunately they don’t, and (so) come back to complain,” says Aparna Chimnani, who used to run a tailoring unit from home near Bannerghatta Road. Another problem (though it isn’t limited to cotton clothing) is sizing. “There seems to be no standard sizing when it comes to branded clothing made in India, especially for women’s clothes” complains college student Vibhuti Rao, adding that what is size M in one brand, could easily be size L in another, making trial rooms visit a pre-purchase necessity.

Kalpana, who loves advising her customers on fabric related facts advises that South Cotton has “at least 3 to 10 per cent shrinkage,” so either ask your tailor to leave a margin or have it pre-shrunk. It’s rather easily done. Just dip it in water for 15 minutes and iron thoroughly. 

“Certain fabric like block prints, Bandhni, especially Shibori Bandhni, etc., will always run colour the first few times and people need to be aware of that,” Kalpana says, adding that most good proprietors would however point these out to their customers if they want to keep their clientele.

Quality in Cotton

What’s the quick route to recognizing good cotton and how to maintain it well? When it comes to the recognizing part, there are no methods really, except for the touch and feel route which improves with experience.

Pure cotton fabric will have a different feel than a cotton-polyester blend that will feel somewhat smoother and shinier. While buying you can also crush the material in your palm and test the creases. Pure cotton tends to retain the creases. Apparently, you can also make out the difference when you iron it - blended, mixed fabrics will tend to stretch under heat.

Speaking of goodness, you could even pick up a pair of organic jeans in Bangalore. Arati Nagaraja creates cotton clothing certified by Global Organic Textile Certification (GOTS). The San Francisco trained Arati manufactures organic cotton clothing (including baby wear, maternity clothes, regular T-shirts and kurtas and jeans) under her brand Zeme and says organic cotton is grown on chemical free land and processed using bio-degradable dyes. Apart from being totally organic, the fabric is good for those with skin ailments, as well as for newborns.

So the next time you are passing that cotton exhibition, should you give it a miss even if the fabric calls out to you from a mile apart? Perhaps not. Be sensible in your selection that’s all.