Traditional weavers reinvent their craft, go online, during lockdown
The Gramin’s Handloom Utsav, a five-day handloom exhibition, offers a platform for artisans working in sustainable fashion
The sari tumbles into a soft white heap when opened. The five-and-a-half metre sari feels no heavier than a stole. The muslin Jamdhani, says Prerona Rakshit, is one of the lightest hand-spun, hand-woven fabrics in India. The kora white sari that Prerona displays, is a 300-count (density of yarn), one of the finest weaves done by hand.
Hand-spun, hand-woven cotton muslin by MGGSS Foundation
Prerona is the Managing Director of the MG Gramodyog Sewa Sansthan (MGGSS) Foundation from Burdwan, West Bengal, which is working towards the revival of the traditional Bengal muslin. The foundation is displaying its fabrics at the Gramin’s Handloom Utsav, which opened in Kochi on February 11.
“Any opportunity to create awareness among the public on handloom and its ethos is one step towards supporting the artisans at the grassroot level,” says Arup Rakshit, the founder of MGGSS Foundation. From saris to stoles and dress materials, their collection showcases the crasftmanship of traditional muslin weavers of Burdwan. “The idea is to encourage people to understand handloom and its heritage and to come back to their roots,” Arup adds.
Hand-spun, hand-woven cotton dhoti by MGGSS Foundation
The Gramin’s Handloom Utsav is an education on sustainable clothing. It brings handloom weavers from different part of the country, who have been struggling to find a platform ever since the COVID-19 outbreak. “While giving a space for these weavers to display their work, we are also promoting hand-spun, hand-woven, organic clothes dyed with natural colours that don’t leave a carbon footprint,” says Ratheesh KP, founder of Gramin’s Lifestyle, a handloom clothing venture based in Kochi.
While the lockdown affected sales, artisans kept themselves busy. “We had more time on our hands and we kept on working,” says Ramesh Kanji Vankar, of Ramdev Handloom, Kutch. “We used to make saris and stoles, but the lockdown gave us time to make the dhabda, a traditional Kutchi woollen handwoven shawl. We have also added yoga mats in Kutchi work to our line,” says Ramesh.
MGGSS Foundation launched a muslin-silk as one of its lockdown experiments. “This is a combination of pure mulberry silk and cotton, which has the feel of chiffon,” says Arup.
Many of the artisans used the lockdown period to reinvent themselves online, seeking the help of the younger generation in their families to promote their products on social media platforms. “I learnt the art of handloom weaving from my father, who learnt from my grandfather. And now, my son has started showing interest. He began helping me with weaving during the lockdown. This fills me with hope. Unless the younger generation comes forward, there is no future for handloom,” Ramesh adds.
The Porgai Artisans Association from Sittilingi Valley in Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu, re-purposed scrap cloth to make bangles and dolls during the lockdown. The bangles have been displayed at the exhibition, along with a range of clothing which sports the unique embroidery of the Lambadi tribe.
Aharam TCPCL Weavers from Theni employs local women from G Kalluppatti village. “We deal only with organic cotton. From picking cotton to spinning, weaving and dyeing, each step of the process is transparent,” says M Mohanraj, chief executive officer of Aharam.
Handloom saris need not always be in pastel shades, says A Prasath, who opens out a parrot-green khadi muslin sari with a bright purple border. “This is the colour combination one would usually find in a Kanjivaram. But this here is naturally-dyed and would last for years,” he says. Textile manager of Gandhigram Khadi and VIPC Trust, Dindigul, Prasath says a sari such as this would pass through at least 15 hands. “It is labour-intensive and time-consuming, but it is a veritable work of art that sustains livelihoods and speaks of a rich handloom legacy,” he says.
The Handloom Utsav, which also has shirts, dhotis and handicrafts, is on at Ente Bhoomi Green Mall at Valanjambalam, Kochi, till February 15.