The range is stunning at this expo, where the weaver takes centre stage.

Come summer and crisp cotton fabrics rule. Blending comfort and aesthetics in warp and weft whether in casuals, formals or the ubiquitous sari, this breathing fabric scores a perfect ten. The National Handloom Expo organised by the Government of India Ministry of Textiles, Development Commissioner (Handlooms) in association with the Weavers’ Service Centre (WSC, Chennai) makes a timely entry into the Chennai scene with a mind-boggling array of weaves and textures sourced from handloom clusters and cooperatives all over India.

The USP of handlooms is that they are yarn dyed, whereas other fabrics are woven and then dyed. The focus of this expo is on cotton with some silk and silk cotton varieties, explains B.B. Paul, Director, South Zone, WSC. The response from participating weavers’ societies has been so overwhelming that there are over 135 stalls, the spill-over housed outside the main hall.

With the fabric trail mapping Jamdani, Kantha, Kota Doria, Benaras, Pochampally, Bomkoi, Tanchoi, Maheshwari, Chanderi, Mangalagiri and many more, sari enthusiasts are likely to be spoilt for choice. Many societies such as UPICA and Ponfab are participating for the first time with special items. For instance, the rare Kota Mangrol is on display. It differs from cotton kota and silk kota, in that the weave combines both cotton and silk yarn. The light-as-air 350-khat variety is block printed with exquisite motifs drawn from palaces and royal collections of Rajasthan.

“The National Jute Board brings the promise of innovative products and interesting weaves. NEHHDC showcases the unique cotton and silk textile traditions of the North-Eastern States,” says B.B. Paul. A glorious profusion of block prints embellishes saris and yardage with delicate phulkari from Jaipur and bold stripes in geometric grids vying for attention.

A ‘new age’ fabric that looks like cotton, feels like silk, drapes like a dream and is antibacterial in the bargain? “This possibility has been translated into reality in a special project implemented by WSC using regenerated yarn from bamboo. The material is extra soft and suited for the sensitive skinned, especially children,” says Paul. For teens and college goers looking to unleash their creativity on personalised beat -the-heat wardrobes, a vast range is on offer – mix-and-match kurtis, salwar sets, dupattas, stoles and yardage in colours ranging from luminous pastels and rich earth tones to vibrant solids.

Home furnishings include cushion and pillow covers, curtains, bed sheets, table and kitchen linen, bath towels, dhurries and rugs. Products of the famed Pontex brand woven from organic cotton are also featured.

Special measures have been adopted to reach out to a wider customer base, both retail houses and the public. The introduction of a large digital screen display at the venue makes computer-aided textile designs developed by the in-house team accessible to all. Any visitor can take a printout of chosen designs on the spot. This way, we share our expertise to benefit professional designers, boutique owners as well as those interested in the aesthetics of design.

WSC has taken conscious policy decisions aimed at making weaving a financially viable, sustainable craft. To promote greater productivity and nurture creativity, WSC in-house designers work in close collaboration with weavers. “We ensure that exhibition spaces have good ventilation and lighting. Clean drinking water, fans, tables and chairs are provided for sellers in each stall,” says Gautam Basak, participating weaver, vouching for the efforts taken by the WSC. “In summer, the preferred destination for weavers is the South. A two-week exhibition generates high-volume sales. I am participating for the third year because of the excellent amenities and sales revenue,” he adds.

Each society fixes a specific discount percentage for customers and follows billing procedures to enforce the ‘no bargaining’ rule. No machine-made fabrics, no middle men. Perhaps the most positive outcome of the weaver-buyer direct interface is that it has dispensed with the need for agents. The spotlight is solely on the weaver who was earlier sidelined.

The exhibition, inaugurated by National award winning artisans, is on at Valluvar Kottam, Nungambakkam from June 9 to 27 (11 a.m.-8 p.m.)