Handloom is a dying skill, rapidly being replaced by Power-Loom. Power-loom produces fast and at cheaper rates. Power-loom productions are merely a six-yard of fabric, hardly personalised, all workers are just a part of the machinery, a mechanical system where repetition is the savior and uniqueness brings doom. As masses are drawn to the attraction of low rate, left with no choice, many weavers have unwittingly adopted power-loom but still, there are quite a handful of humans in the remote areas who refuse to give up their tradition and what they stand for.
Struggling to make their ends meet and fighting for survival, to make a handwoven saree, the whole family sweats it out, taking turns to weave so as to increase their output and earn more money. Not only is everybody collectively involved in the job work but also are equally responsible for the running of their family unit. Not only this, a weaver has his/her own creative inputs to offer in the making of a handwoven saree. And there’s no limit to his imagination either! It’s a team work. And finally, it also gives them an opportunity to interact directly with the buyer, giving them an exposure to a different world making them grow too. These weavers are small entrepreneurs in their own right and as such, they command and deserve dignity and respect.
Born creative, they inherit the skill from their forefathers. It runs in their genes. To be forced to comply with the changing face of society is not something they need. They want to stand upright with dignity, holding on to their identity. And so they refuse to give up their inheritance!
Fortunately, there are still patrons of handloom who value art and give weight age to the time, effort, creativity and skill that goes into the making of the textile they wish to drape for it connects them with its spirit and it ceases to be merely a piece of matter!
Handloom sarees are woven by hand and power loom sarees by machine, powered with the steam engine. Hence, the structure differs in comparison. For those who wish to identify a genuine handloom, it becomes important to know how to differentiate a handloom from a power-loom and following are a few pointers –
1. A handloom, by its very nature of being handwoven, is bound to have a rugged uneven surface giving it an ethnic appeal. Knots, thread pulls, near the border are a commonality in handwoven sarees. Even if woven with the same yarns, a power-loom saree will be even in texture and flawless, lacking the allure of handlooms.
2. Handloom sarees are woven by pinning the saris to the loom. They often have pin marks or holes on equal distance on top or bottom of saree or near borders, known as selvedge. In a power-loom this is not so, they are flawless and smooth. So to identify a handwoven saree, look at its Bevar or edges.
3. Handloom sarees are soft in texture and more resilient whereas a power-loom saree will be stiff and hard in feel due to compact weaving and even spreading of the weft which happens in powerloom. To test the softness & its malleability, one must drape the saree and check its feel. Handloom sarees drape well.
4. Handloom sarees often have extra threads left at the end of the pallu, which can be used for making tassels.
5. The reverse side is a replica in a handloom whereas in a power-loom lot of loose threads or floats will be hanging on the reverse side, as it’s not possible to weave them in if woven on power-loom. So to test, one must turn over the saree and check the backside, especially the pallav as more work goes into the pallav design.
Handlooms have a certain advantage over power-looms too. And to know this is useful, as this throws light upon their design possibilities, durability and strength. So here are a few facts…
1. Artisans work arduously to weave minute details. The level of intricacy and sharpness of design cannot be matched in a power loom saree. Authentic handlooms are decorated with intricate, traditional Persian patterns like Amru, Ambi and Domak. Machine-made weaves don’t usually use these traditional patterns or carry the level of detailing that handlooms do. Certain kinds of weaving techniques are only possible on the handloom. For instance, the banarasikadhwa weave cannot be replicated on the power loom.
2. Power-loom exerts a unique pressure which thins the fabric and thus a handloom saree with same raw material used, will weigh heavier & will have more body. When you hold a saree, you can feel the body strength.
3. Due to loose weaving of handlooms, which also makes them more resilient as mentioned earlier, they breathe, allowing air to pass through whereas in power-looms you experience a feeling of blockage.
4. Due to uneven weft weaving of handloom, they have better recovery from creases or wrinkles as compared with power-looms.
5. Due to the thinness of the saree woven on power-loom, caused by speed resulting in abrasion, the weaker fibre breaks and sometimes a group of short or broken fibres on the surface of the fabric become tangled together in a tiny ball and a pill is formed. This reduces the strength of the fabric whereas in a handloom saree this does not happen. In a handloom saree the knots are subdued and near the border, whereas in a power-loom it can happen anywhere and it protrudes out.
So when you drape a handwoven saree, remember, it is not just a six-yard of fabric that you drape, but you embody somebody’s thought process, somebody’s creative skill, somebody’s toil and hard work and moreover a family lives and tradition thrives empowering millions!