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Jodhpur making

4 January 2013


One thing it is easy to get in Jodhpur is jodhpurs. There is a service in the Umaid Bahwan Palace, where we stayed. The nature of jodhpurs – their skin-tight bottom half and interconnection of three panels around the knee – means they should be made bespoke. Readymade versions use a lot of lycra.


We visited the workshop where the Palace’s orders are sent. It consists of a cutter, six men on sewing machines and five women on the floor, finishing embroidery and snipping off loose threads. Some jodhpurs are still made entirely by hand, but the cost and time means that most people go for machine stitching: that costs Rs3000 ($63) and takes two days; hand sewing costs Rs5000 ($104) and takes a week.




Indian designer Raghavendra Rathore has done a lot of research into how jodhpurs were originally made. His work led to the creation of a pattern that he distributes freely to makers and heritage centres around India. “It’s important that the panel on the inside of the knee, which rubs against the horse, is cut on the bias,” he told me. “It is supposed to shrink with the sweat of the rider, curving the leg of the jodhpur. If it’s not cut on the bias, the shrinkage is in the wrong direction.”


Jodhpur-making is a cottage industry. The workshop sends out its sewing work to 16,475 women in the surrounding villages (though most of those are doing embroidery). A bus goes out each Monday and visits a selection of them, dropping off and picking up work. Most are visited at least once a month.



Women’s jodhpurs have buttons on the calves to fasten them
Jodhpur is proud of its polo and clothing tradition. The local government has helped support the cottage-industry system with tax breaks, and in an interview the Majarajah, Gaj Singh II, told me of the history of jodhpurs and the bandhgala jacket, which was originally designed for polo players to wear after matches. (His Highness has his clothes tailor made in Jodhpur and has only ever bought off-the-rack from Europe. “I’m not much of a shopper,” he said.)


Jodhpurs were given their name by American pilots who were based at the local air force base. They wore the breeches for playing polo and for general wear – though, unlike the locals, usually with braces. When the pilots were stationed elsewhere they tried to have similar things made, referring to them as ‘jodhpurs’, but with little luck.


“I know they had some made in Japan, for example, but the Japanese versions used a heavy drill cotton or cord,” said Rathore. “The jodhpurs used a lightweight cotton, which was necessary because of the heat but also washable, which was good because the pilots had no laundry service.”


I didn’t have any jodhpurs made. I don’t think I would ever wear them, and that’s a fate my plus-fours already suffer from.