The Warmth of Handloom textiles ! ( Part - 2)
The process of creating a fabric by hand on a handloom, can be traced back, the ancient ages when the human civilizations started settling around river banks, practice of farming and cattle herding was adopted. The music of the handloom chimes each time the shuttle passes to create magic of the warp and weft yarns. Handloom weaving process is painstaking; the weft yarn is inserted between the warp yarns by hand every single time manually, and the most beautiful fabric is created pick by pick over a span of time. The hands, legs and eyes of the handloom weaver work in tandem synchronously with the handloom; which becomes an extension of their body. There are several pairs of hands involved in preparing the loom before and after the actual weaving happens like farming, spinning, yarn-dyeing, sizing of the warp yarn , setting of the warp yarns on the loom, spooling of weft yarns, finishing after the fabric is woven, washing, drying, packing, selling directly or through middle men or online etc. Depending on the complexity of the structure, number of process and weft figuring, motifs, etc the time and dexterity of the weaver will vary.
India continues to produces the finest of handloom muslins like mulmul, Jamdani, Kota Doria, Chanderi, Maheshwari textiles to the coarse textiles for home furnishings, carpets and durries. Special weaving techniques like yarn dyed Ikkat textiles from three regions: Gujarat, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, fine Pashmina wool shawls from Kashmir, Tangaliya weave of Gujarat to name few form the rich compendium of handwoven textiles. Produced for centuries and also been exporting all over the world through ancient trade routes and now through e-commerce. This vast variety of handloom textiles is rare to find in any country in the 21 st century.
Understanding the handloom weaver’s lifestyle is important, weavers often work in farms and practice weaving alongside. Women weavers have household chores, responsibilities of child-care and caregiving for the elderly and they practice weaving alongside. Most of the traditional weaving families have handloom looms set inside their homes. Slowly as weaving Karkhana (factories) developed in major textile centres, the weavers started stepping outside their home and working for the Master weaver’s Karkhana where major work was commissioned.
Eventually with industrial revolution in the 20th century mechanized power operated looms were invented and used to produce fabric faster and cheaper. These powerlooms were first used in Britain, therefore during the colonial times most the cotton fibre produced in India was sent to cloth mills in Britain and the cheap, low quality mill made cotton fabric was marketed as fashionable fabric and sold at higher price in India. The design of the authentic handloom Indian textiles was also attempted to be replicated, failing to replicate resulted in sub-standard cheap knockoffs and there by compromising on quality and aesthetics too.
This had an adverse impact on the Indian handloom sector. Therefore, during the freedom struggle Mahatma Gandhi started the Swadeshi movement to boycott foreign goods and promote goods & fabrics made in India on handlooms to protect and promote the Indian handloom industry and handloom weavers.
Subsequently post-independence 1947 onwards, lot of measures were taken to support the Indian handloom sector, however there is lot of potential for it to grow and make India the world leader. India has the advantage of very unique and versatile handloom weaving clusters across the subcontinent. Some weaving traditions are lost, we are on the brink of loosing few due to lack of patronage and many clusters are flourishing despite various setbacks in the past decades. There are a growing number of power-loom centres in different corners of India, for sake of modernization and faster cheaper production. The power-loom centres make cheap imitation textiles inspired from traditional handloom textiles
at fraction of the cost and hood wink consumers. So long as they are sold as power loom and priced accordingly and not called by the original heritage textile names, they may serve for commercial viability and not interfere with authenticity and market of the hand-loom textile.
The power-looms have weaving operators too, but their skill level is nowhere close to the handloom weaver who is a creative artisan, technician and salesperson all rolled into one person. Let’s not be mistaken when power-loom operator is called a weaver, and the fake power-loom fabric is passed off as handloom. The warmth of the handwoven fabric transcends the weaver’s emotions and creative legacy.
Let us learn to appreciate the coarse texture and subtle beauty of hand spun and hand woven cotton fabric. This handwoven fabric made of indigenous short staple cotton traps air pockets making is absorbent, warm in summer and cool in winter therefore trans-seasonal. Organic farming which is free of pesticide leads to chemical free soil and produce, debt free farmer and saves water compared to BT cotton farming.
Times have changed, however the pandemic in 2020 has hit the handloom sector adversely and it would be pertinent to support the handloom weavers and designers and pre buy handloom garments. The handloom sector is huge employer for rural India, we need to ensure that the traditional craft skills are sustained and we will achieve this only if there is sustainable livelihood for individuals and families engaged in this sector.
Let us embrace handloom in everyday life and celebrate our handwoven textiles.
Dr Vaibbhavi Pruthviraj Ranavaade