Heed to Handlooms
In my journey of exploration and innovation with eri silk, I have had the good fortune of working with numerous handlooms across our country in several weaving traditions, primarily Ikat, Jacquard, Uppada, Paithani, Kota Doria, Kanjeevaram and Benaras.
My ventures have reinforced my belief that our heritage weaving techniques are truly fascinating, unique and deserving of recognition. Dedicated, progressive action for the preservation and advancement of this industry is of paramount significance.
Amongst the wealth of weaves our country offers, are the Ikat, Uppada, Venkatagiri, Gadwal, Poddur, and many more in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh alone, Jamdani, Jacquard cut work, Tangail in Bengal, Tanchoi, cut work, Neelambari, rich Jacquards and more in Banaras, Paithani in Maharashtra, Kota Doria in Rajasthan, Gujarat's Patan Patola, Oriya ikkat, Kanjeevaram in Tamil Nadu, Kani in Kashmir, Muga and Eri jacquards in Assam.
In the Ikat weaving process in Telangana, the graphing of the design, the marking of the yarns , the tying and untying of the yarn with strips of old cycle tyres, the arduous dip and dye process and matching of the “Chitikis” or dots require immense skill and patience. An absolutely amazing tradition!
Another fascinating weaving technique is Jamdani, woven on handlooms in the western regions of India. The road to these villages passes by the glorious Ganga river. Along the banks of these waters, one can often see colourful yarns being dyed on sticks. This unique extra weft technique, created with different warp and weft yarns, creates surreal floating patterns.
This Jamdani technique was reinvented in Uppada Andhra, which is where I developed some fabrics of my exquisite eri fur collection. They were created adapting an age-old technique in a novel way, and then employing cutting techniques. Unquestionably, it was a challenging task, that often left the weavers holding their heads in exasperation. But, eventually, their ingenuity always came to the fore, and fabulous fabrics evolved.
These experiences have made me understand that each loom in each region has its own unique strength and limitations. It would be wise and rewarding to focus on the strengths of a particular weaver and loom, in order to create and innovate.
While celebrating this diversity in knowledge and form, it is imperative that we unify and consolidate. One of the challenges the Indian weaving industry faces is that the collective aesthetic is disjointed and confused.
Each cluster or weaver weaves random colours and designs. It would, therefore, be prudent to offer handloom weavers motif and colour guides, and mood boards for different. seasons. This would facilitate attractive merchandising, while still ensuring weaving clusters / individual weavers still have freedom to interpret and translate these paradigms in accordance with their unique ideas and skill.
I have seen many international brands eliminating the excesses of colour and design to create beautiful coordinated collections for our heritage weaves and crafts.
Quality craftsmanship lost its patronage with the disappearance of royalty. A technologically-advancing country like ours must also leverage platforms such as blockchain, in order to add value to indigenous artisan creations.
Authentication, proof of provenance and supply-chain certainty are a few ways that such cutting-edge technologies could create value, build trust and ensure quality for a discerning global audience.
We should build an ethos of sustainability in our handlooms, by encouraging use of quality materials and dyes that do not pollute. The world needs to take notice of us as nation that follows ethical and environment friendly production processes.
The availability of natural dyes, good quality yarn at subsidised rates, a universal direct to customer digital sales platform, weaver training in orphanages, prisons etc., alongside digital marketing education, will all serve as an impetus to our cherished heritage of weaving.
There is tremendous scope to create awareness around our wonderful heritage weaving techniques. They must be showcased through aesthetically-designed museums, audio visual promotions, textile tourism, and publications.
Fortunately, there has been a recent surge in pride and interest in handlooms. We must capitalise on this by encouraging young people, with an aptitude for weaving, to receive specialised training in handlooms, rather than a more general education. Handloom schools ought to be established, while the master weaver lineage still endures, to teach willing students who will carry on the legacy. I have often heard from my weavers that young girls do not fancy "a groom who sits on a loom". Weavers' children are not weaving anymore. This is deeply unfortunate, especially since I discovered most handlooms to be at the core of the weavers' home, where all family members worked harmoniously. Each one had a part to play in the weaving process, and work and home chores blended beautifully. From these hospitable weaver families, I learnt invaluable lessons about weaving, as well as insightful ways of managing relationships.
All of these proposed efforts may help sustain a fast disappearing skilled breed of artisans.
I have no doubt that our concerted efforts will help to build momentum in this rich and empowering sector. We are, after all, the keepers and guardians of India's rich heritage of handloom weaving.