Khadi Spirit (Taking a Walk with Gandhi)

Leaf & Blood

“The spinning wheel represents to me the hope of the masses”.

I  touched on the subject of khadi in my ever-so-slightly-tongue-in-cheek blog:  How to Make Paper from your own Dung.  I used khadi paper in the mixed-media artwork on the left Leaf & Blood.

Leaf & Blood is also the name of the second novel in my mystery & suspense series The Laurel Grove Mysteries. Both are as yet, works in progress, though book one, Flint & Feather, is in agonising revison. Writing novels depends, I have found, not on the Nanowrimo mindset, but mostly on the ‘khadi spirit’:

“If we have the ‘khadi spirit’ in us, we would surround ourselves with simplicity in every walk of life. The ‘khadi spirit’ means illimitable patience. For those who know anything about the production of khadi know how patiently the spinners and the weavers have to toil at their trade, and even so must we have patience while we are spinning ‘the thread of Swaraj‘ [home rule].  The ‘khadi spirit’ means also an equally illimitable faith. Even as the spinner toiling away at the yarn he spins, by itself small enough, put in the aggregate, would be enough to clothe every human being in India, so must we have illimitable faith in truth and non-violence ultimately conquering every obstacle in our way.

The ‘khadi spirit’ means fellow-feeling with every human being on earth. It means a complete renunciation of everything that is likely to harm our fellow creatures, and if we but cultivate that spirit amongst the millions of our countrymen, what a land this India of ours would be! And the more I move about the country and the more I see the things for myself, the richer, the stronger is my faith growing in the capacity of the spinning wheel”.

Illimitable patience and Illimitable faith.  (The italics in the above Gandhi quote are mine). If I think about it, with just these two abilities, I could move any mountain. Though I also think it depends on right motivation, but that’s philosophy, not paper-making!

Khadi paper is made from cotton ‘rag’. The khadi papers for sale on are sourced from T-shirt cuttings, these being entirely made from cotton.  Cotton is what gives khadi its exceptional strength. 

The following images demonstrate this. I took these photos as part of a ‘how-to’ project I did for a magazine contest a few years ago. Can I say I was the winner, even if, as it turned out, I was the only entrant? No, since because I was the only entrant, the editor decided to abandon the contest.

In this image I’m showing that I painted the two sides of a small sheet of khadi paper with contrasting colours and the materials I used:

  • a very old brush that looks like I’ve chewed it. (I probably did). It’s very old because I don’t now, as a vegetarian, buy hog hair brushes.
  • Two tubes of cheap gouache. They were cheap because when you squeezed the tube you broke through it. The paint soon dried into concrete, rendering the purchase very expensive!

I liked that the paint on one side soaked through onto the other.  It’s more apparent in this second image, which also shows up  the paper’s textured nature. Because the paper’s handmade, its smoothness and thickness, is random. I also think it looks like cloth in this picture.

I like the unpredictability of working with khadi. Working with the unexpected is a necessary life skill, so when challenged about the usefulness of art, I can respond (with immense pomposity) that art encourages the creative thinking necessary to navigate life, and use khadi paper as an example.

Twisted Khadi Paper

This image is of some khadi I’d wrung out, having painted it, then soaked it in cold water to dilute the colour.  (I’ve also held khadi under running water to fade the colour as much as possible). This pic shows how tough khadi is. And forgiving, to artists like me, who need their grounds to put up with a lot of battering! 

Here’s me ironing the twisted sheet of khadi, having by that stage painted it on both sides, soaked it, ran it under cold water, wrung it out and then unravelled it.  Tips: 

  • Don’t use the iron you use for ironing white business shirts!
  • Don’t do this on the ironing board cover you use for ironing white business shirts!

 “The spinning wheel represents to me the hope of the masses”.  Gandhi
“The masses lost their freedom, such as it was, with the loss of the Charkha [spinning wheel]. The Charkha supplemented the agriculture of the villagers and gave it dignity… the Charkha included …*ginning, warping, sizing, dyeing and weaving. These in their turn kept the village carpenter and the blacksmith busy. The Charkha enabled the seven hundred thousand villages to become self-contained. With the exit of Charkha went the other village industries, such as the oil press. Nothing took the place of these industries. Therefore the villagers were drained of their varied occupations and their creative talent and what little wealth these bought them”.

Poster Advertising the 'Lummus Cotton Gin'

The 'Lummus Cotton Gin'

*Ginning is the process of removing foreign matter from seed cotton.

Gandhi spun khadi every day.  He wore khadi every day. Khadi became a symbol of freedom and independence through non-violent means.

I think the ability to work with khadi (any ground or medium) is enhanced by an awareness of how it is produced and its history.  This deepens and enriches the relationship with and the rapport between the artist and his material.

It’s about how we walk through our world. It’s about walking more consciously. 


Examples of khadi artwork:     at:

Research Sources:

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