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Woven air: reviving Bangladesh's Jamdani weaving.

by Fiona Cameron 21 May 2024

In a village between Bangladesh's frenetic capital, Dhaka and the historic city of Sonargon, in peoples homes and in small workshops, there is an industrious community practising the ancient art of Jamdani and Muslin hand weaving. The highway traffic from the city slows right down as you turn off the tarmac road, into the quiet rows of purpose built houses. Colourful washing, kanthas, sarees  and other clothes dry in the sun outside homes and workshops, while children and errant wild stock wander and play in the lanes. 

This settlement is part of a government backed initiative to support and revive a treasured textile, that was granted Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity status by UNESCO in 2013, “Jamdani is a vividly patterned, sheer cotton fabric, traditionally woven on a handloom by craftspeople and apprentices around Dhaka….Jamdani is a time-consuming and labour-intensive form of weaving because of the richness of its motifs, which are created directly on the loom using the discontinuous weft technique.

 The founders of this village are part of a movement within the country re-establish the production of Jamdani, a textile with the finest thread count of cotton,  creating sheer, delicately detailed saris and ornas (shawls) as the region was once famed for. We had the opportunity to see how these traditional craft skills are being taught to a new generation of weavers,  much as they have been for centuries before.

Weaving village near Dhaka, Bangladesh.

We are here to meet master weaver MD Sobuj Mia. As we arrive, a band of young men busy past us into the workshop on their way back from prayer, kicking off their shoes in the entrance as they return to their looms.

Weavers in Dhaka

MD Sobuj Mia shows us around and introduces us to a handful of his trainees. It will take years for these young artisans to reach his level of skill. He explains that this craft is traditionally passed on from generation to generation of family members; on each loom there are 2 men, a teacher and his apprentice. In front of them, above the loom (or sometimes underneath) is a design that they have studied and memorised (to an extent). They pass the shuttle back and forth, as each artisan works on their part of the design. 

Weaving Jamdani, Dhaka

There is an excited quiet in the room; after months of work, an exquisite jamdani saree is finished as just we are lead through the looms.  MD Sobuj Mia carefully cuts the fine threads to bring this work to an end, and we are allowed to touch and admire the cloth which has been commissioned for a client. 

Dhaka Jamdani

While the knowledge of Jamdani weaving is passed from father to son, or down the male line, it is the women in the community who prepare the cotton on spools ready to weave. In houses adjacent to the weavers, groups of women prepare the cotton to mount on the loom: certain amongst them do this entirely by hand, while others are assisted by a simple machine. 

Threading bobbins, Dhaka

Jamdani is a word of Persian origin, a mix of “Jama” meaning cloth & “dana” which means a small granule.The earliest historical mention of the making of the cloth is recognised to be close to Dhaka, indeed Jamdani was originally known as Dhalai (Daccai) named after the city. It has been argued that true Jamdani can only be made in this specific region, the particularities of the cloth created of a careful combination of ancestral knowledge mixed with the unique climate and conditions in the area. 

This heritage has been acknowledged as intangible to Bangladesh but like so many crafts, it is not  a knowledge that is rooted to one place, and historical division of land and peoples mean that similar craft is practised in small weaving communities across the Bengal region of both Bangladesh and India. 

There are numerous historical accounts of fine hand loomed cloth from the region which help trace the origin of this craft. As far back as roman times accounts were written of a cloth that was as light as "woven air".* Sulaiman, a 9th-century Arab traveller, wrote of cotton fabrics made in the kingdom of Rahmi (historic undivided Bengal) which were so fine they could pass through a ring. Later, from the 12th century, Islamic influences saw the fabric adorned with elaborate motifs and colours; techniques which evolved to the craft we know today. Records from the 16th century show  English merchant Ralph Fitch noted the fine muslin he saw in Sonargaon saying it was, " a town ...... where there is the best and finest cloth made in all India".*

The first references to Jamdani itself occur in the 17th century during the time of the Mughal Empire when Emperor Jahangir (1605–1627) wore a sash of Jamdani woven with floral designs. Most of Dhaka's muslin industry was lost during the 1900s, and Jamdani weaving is all that remains of the areas illustrious weaving tradition. 

One of the major actors committed to reviving Jamdani and shining a spotlight on Bengal's heritage  artistry is  Aranya Crafts, their dynamic director Nawshin Khair told us that at  it's zenith, before the British colonisation of the region, the thread count of a fine Jamdani would have been between 400 or even 1000. When the new craft pioneers of the region started work on reviving this technique the thread count was around 80, and after years of work and training they have achieved a cloth which is around 200, but the ultimate goal is to bring back the quality of weaving a "white gold" that Bangladesh was once famed for, a cloth which was desired and traded across the globe. This is a quality that can not be achieved on a machine loomed cotton. 

Jamdani weaving heritage has been preserved by adjusting to shifting fashions and tastes, and thanks to the commitment of groups like Aranya and the Bengal Craft Society. 

Today all over Bangladesh, traditional dress is still very much in fashion, and the wearing of these prized textiles has become a matter of national pride “Weaving is thriving today due to the fabric’s popularity for making saris, the principal dress of Bengali women at home and abroad…..  The Jamdani sari is a symbol of identity, dignity and self-recognition and provides wearers with a sense of cultural identity and social cohesion. The weavers develop an occupational identity and take great pride in their heritage; they enjoy social recognition and are highly respected for their skills”*

The aim is to promote this textile across the country and beyond,  as a way to preserve textile heritage but also to create financial inclusion for craft communities. The UNESCO title will help, and it has once again brought attention to this craft, however, more still needs to be done. Imitation machine made jamdani on the international market creates a distorted notion of value and price, and so few clients are willing or able to pay the real price of such a fine hand loomed cloth, and few artisans are willing to committ to the time it will take to master this craft, but honouring and acknowledging the skill of these artisans and the beauty of their work is an important step in keeping craft alive. 



  • Dhakai Jamdani (Bangladesh): these Jamdani sarees feature the most intricate craftsmanship. It can take nine months to a year to make one of these sarees.
  • Tangail Jamdani (Bangladesh): these Jamdani sarees are woven in the Tangail district and have the customary large borders with lotus, lamp, and fish scale designs.
  • Shantipur Jamdani (India) : these Jamdani sarees are comparable to Tangail jamdanis and were produced in Shantipur, West Bengal. They have a beautiful texture, and the saree often has striped designs.
  • Dhaniakhali Jamdani (India) : These jamdani sarees, from Dhaniakhali, West Bengal, feature a tighter weave than the Tangail and Shantipur variants. Often with bold colours and dark, contrasting borders.


Hand loomed Jamdani Cotton scarf

We would like to extend a huge thanks to MD Sobuj Mia and the team at Aranya for their time, sharing their knowledge and organising our visit. 



Interview with Nawshin Khair, Director Aranya November 2023

Nawshin Khair quoting Petronius Arbiter

Interviews with MD Sobuj Mia, Master Weaver and other weavers  November 2023


Footnote : the jamdani you find on Storie's online store is made near Kolkata, in West Bengal India. We work with a family run business committed to preserving craft heritage. The artisans we visited in Bangladesh were producing exquisite saris, and no products we currently have a market for. If this is a craft you are interested in developing, get in touch.  

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