Handloom, defined as “any of various looms or weaving devices operated wholly or partly by hand or foot power”, is one of the greatest sciences of India. Within the warp and the weft of the fabric is the ingenuity of the people behind the craft.
The journey of the handloom starts with the farmer sowing the cotton and then harvesting it a few months later only to be spun into thread by the spinner. The threads then make their way to the dyer who then prepares a palette of multiple colours and soaks the threads into pots of individual colour. Once dried to perfection, the weaver warps the loom with the threads that will make up the Sari. This is no easy feat requiring math, precision and technique as each thread is individually tied according to the design the weaver has in mind. Yes in mind. Not always on paper! It takes anything from a day to many more to set up the loom with the hundreds of threads. This requires time and patience and a love for making a unique garment for a wearer they haven’t seen and might never meet.
1 handloom supports 20 people. Most of them are employed in the cotton field while the others work on sorting cotton, dyeing & spinning thread, setting up the loom and weaving the garment.
The handloom is science. It dries up quickly, keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer, and is opaque so you can go about your day sans a petticoat. The handloom is a craft and must be preserved for those qualities. Weavers are craftspeople and were given high regard in the past; even accompanying a princess or prince to the new kingdom after marriage! Unfortunately, today changing tastes, globalization, cheap Chinese cotton, and domestic policies such as demonetization & GST are the bane of handloom. If you were to elevate a weaver to a master jewellery maker, it is development. But if they are being reduced to a rickshaw puller or driver, then that is not development.
Our choices influence and shape livelihoods. Our intentions have ramifications; good and bad. It’s imperative to be mindful of the power our choices and intentions have on a craft, a life, and a smile. The next time you find yourself holding a handloom Sari please take a moment to run your hands over the threads, feel the texture, notice the criss-cross of the waft & weft and experience the magic that is the handloom.