The Art of Hand-Weaving
Picture credit - image.freepik.com
India is the only country that still creates textiles coming from the genius of its master weavers.
The world has lost the hand-weaving and loom process, along with all natural and organic processes of creating textiles. Mill-made fabrics and synthetics largely dominate fashion markets, with China as the main example.
India’s handloom industry is not the basket case it is made out to be. Its market for both saris and woven fabrics is largely the Indian subcontinent. There is no country that still has an indigenous fashion like India. Japan, China, or countries in South America or Africa have taken to clothing dictated to them by a Europe-centric, multinational-funded fashion world.
One of the miracles of India is that we still have distinctive fashion handwriting, created by our craftspeople and designed by Indians.
A large part of this miracle is due to the availability of organic textiles and their crafts. The fashion industry is not static. Along with mill-made fabrics, handloom textiles need constant innovation, design input and facilitation.
Picture Credit - hansherr.org
Textiles are the biggest employment generator in India after agriculture. The livelihoods of our weavers are an endangered part of our textile heritage and in recent years several weavers have committed suicide. The sector also provides employment to women in poorer areas. Women who initially used to only spin yarn have taken up weaving and form a unique, potentially rich, eco-friendly cottage industry.
The hour is to not eliminate what we have but to help nurture it. Handloom products must be marketed to niche clients, who appreciate the value of handmade products and are willing to pay a premium for them. In any society it is the arts that need protection, and governments need to act with sensitivity on this.
The treasures of India's crafts and textiles that once occupied a pride of place in the lives of royalty, today lie lost in the annals of time, fighting a battle of survival with the trends-driven dynamics of the contemporary marketplace.
Indian weaving traditions have existed since time immemorial and have been a representation of the many unique sub- cultures within the country.
With motifs, patterns, and techniques of woven textiles changing every few hundred km, they have given face and identity to the people of each region.
Preservation of Indian weaves is the need of the hour, not only because it has reached a point where the issue cannot be overlooked any longer if we wish to save it from where it is headed, but also because finally the world is taking notice of our immensely unique heritage, and the time is ripe for artisans and craftsmen to reap the rewards instead of giving up on it.
Picture Credit - ak.picdn.net
Today the weaving traditions are encumbered by challenges at various levels. Firstly, the younger generation does not find it financially viable anymore to learn the craft and continue in the family tradition, as the traditional marketplace (of exports, exhibitions etc.) is very limiting in its remuneration potential.
The younger generation, across weaving families, no longer sees this as a sustainable earning avenue and is ready to leave behind centuries old skill in search of other modes of earning in the modern economy. This lack of faith in the future of their family craft stems from limited infrastructure upgrades at the state, district and cluster level. In addition to this, the middlemen continue to extract maximum profits out of the little that is being produced.
Secondly, the handloom weaving industry is grappling with a burgeoning power- loom and mass production lobby that is threatening to tear down the market potential that handcrafted textiles once enjoyed. While the percentage of exports each year has gone up, the number of artisans are dwindling each year, thus pointing towards an authenticity issue in what is being pushed forward as ‘handmade’.
Thirdly, many artisan families do not have access to the design inputs that could make their traditionally woven textiles worthy of a premium price and allow them to stand apart in the marketplace as it stands today.
There also exists is a gap in awareness with respect to handcrafted textiles.
They’re seldom relegated to being the wardrobe choices of the very people who make them, thus being unable to cater to a wider audience.
Some other challenges that this community faces today are lack of adequate raw material, basic infrastructure to operate their looms and a missing marketplace for the weavers' products. For instance, a strong sericulture lobby in Karnataka has kept taxes on yarn high, leaving weavers in places like Benaras bearing the hefty costs of procurement, production and subsequent transfer of product to markets in larger centres like Delhi.
Further, the physical infrastructure around weavers needs to change to allow them to work within a more conducive environment. For example, a model cluster can be created for Banarasi weavers with access to easy procurement, design and sampling base, funds for loom upgradation, small saving schemes, craft training, etc.
In a recent interview, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “People, especially women, wear handloom clothes on social occasions, like marriages, and major festivals. We need to popularize this among the youth. This will give the much needed boost to the handloom sector.” This was his statement post his call to fashion and design institution to incorporate and focus on the country’s handloom tradition. Much needed initiatives such as this add to the confidence of the dwindling community and inspires them to flourish.
Thumbnail image Credit - Premtylerhandweaving.nz