Sunday, August 07, 2016

Ode to Handloom

It is National Handloom Day here in India- second one, and I am really excited, mostly because I am taking a moment to list all the things it does for me and secondly to see some of the discussion it is engendering here in India, and hopefully further a field.

Why Ode to Handloom?
initially my response to handloom was purely romantic.... I stumbled upon a khadi shop early in my time in India and it was the quality of the cloth that struck me. It was in Rajasthan so the khadi [ google it- these is a huge story behind it] was fairly rustic and Ohhh so obviously hand made.

I am a bit of a handmade nut, always have been. My first memories revolve around leaning at my Nana Chalton's knee learning to knit... I have always wanted to make everything- food, clothing, furniture, a garden.

Coming to India that first time was like a kid in a lolly shop- almost everything you see is made by hand! I used to chortle to myself often- wow look at the work of the hand.

Well I am still here and just as happy with it all now, when I leave India I am often struck by how sterile it is [I do appreciate the lack of garbage in the street!] Sterile - with out texture, variety, almost soulless the manufactured environment can be as compared to the made by hand environment.

Back to handloom.... I can remember Warp and weft - the weft goes right to left/ the warp must be the long way.....that is about all of my technical knowledge to be truthful.

Hand loomed usually has little inconsistencies, lumps and bumps, not a perfectly straight selvedge... looks handmade, having said that the very fine work from places like Bengal it is very hard to see these little nuances, the craftsmanship is so high

Can you see the little differences in the thread widths, hand spun...those little black dots are the tiniest amount of leaf litter...the clothe came directly from cotton plant- to ginning which takes out most leaf litter to spinner to weaver to me.
Only touched by hands and worked by hand, no electricity, no bleaching or chemicals [ sorry can't talk about the method of growing- don't know].....

We soak it in Turkey oil [a primitive soap] and wash it.... such a huge task but necessary to remove a kind of waxy coating the cotton fibre has- the fabric softens, fills out, shrinks a bit more and is ready for block printing or to go to the indigo guy and finally to be made into our garments.
Lots of love and care all the way along the process and the romantic part of me thinks it is a quality that garment will take on its journey out into the world.
Our offcuts are just too good to discard so I do spend a lot of time obsessing over what the small pieces can be used in....
A romantic story...all sounds so good- doesn't it?
Truth is a bit different often
1. handweavers are often the poorest in the community, being un-educated middle men came take advantage of the work and put most of the profit in their own pocket.
2. powerloom is a small electrified loom - usually home based can weave many, many more metres of cloth a day than by hand and many people are only too happy to pass off powerloom as handloom.
Ohh the stories we could tell about being sucked in, but that is for another day.
Today is the romantic tale.....
Handloom has soul, I am sure I pick up something from the people who put the work into it.
It has texture- rub your hand over the cloth is it satisfying
it fondness is for the more rustic weaves, they are a little open in structure...think linen as probably being the closet equivalent. Why do people love linen? it wrinkles, it has a distinctive fall, it breathes, it very hard wearing...think khadi- it is very similar.
Khadi production is generally a home based industry, and is juggles with rural work...after agriculture it is the next biggest employer in India, whilst it is based in the poorest of the poor communities in our country it is one of this countries greatest riches. The luxury of handmade products.
We are a tiny workshop, out in the middle of nowhere Rural India but we try....
we use handloom almost exclusively in our cotton work and every weaver group has something different to offer.
handloom from people we know
we have been to their workshops, we put payment directly into their hands at a fair rate for their work.... we prepay for our orders so they don't have to take a loan from a loan shark to buy the cotton to make our orders.... we give clear feedback about quality and persist ...yes sometimes nagging to get quality we can use...we work hard to encourage this love of handloom in our customers.
I have such a fondness for our Rajasthan handloom- it comes from Gaffer about 60 is rather rustic but it wears so well, the weight lends itself to so many things, men's shirts, womens tops and bottoms, quilts....
We have developed a relationship with Mr Ansari of Bihar- his khadi is also wonderful- softer than Rajasthan and with a distrinct slub, his khadi dhoti is perfect for women's summer tops and dresses- light and airy but with enough body to look good.
Bengal- we have 2 groups we buy from- ohh the quality and finesse of their muslins. exquisite. it tends to be a bit light for a lot of our export work and with so much time embodied in it can become rather expensive...we generally use some of the heavier weaves but to know what they can do is such a joy.
In the next few weeks we are off to a new region of Gujarat for tour research but a big excitement is it takes in an area well know for handloom...I do so hope to find new people and a new weave to use in our work and wait with baited breath to see what quality it will have.
Handloom is fabulous!!

1 comment:

Dorothy said...

Love your story! I also have a big place in my heart for handmade. Thanks Fiona, I agree it is sterile here. Rather disheartening
You are living your dream good for you!😊