Helping hand for handlooms

Handloom weaving Photo: Azif Iqbal   | Photo Credit: AZIF IQBAL

There is a common thread to the story. All over India, traditional weavers have had to reinvent and tweak their work to keep up with changing times, many a time with help from handloom warriors. There are many such handloom warriors in the city. As the #IWearHandloom campaign gathers steam, leading up to the second National Handloom Day on August 7, MetroPlus talks to designers working with weavers to learn more about their challenges to give a contemporary touch to traditional weaves and the fabric used for the Kerala sari.

Designer Sreeremya Sambath and entrepreneur Sobha Ashwin share a passion for handlooms and indigenous weaving techniques. They also have a streak of pragmatism in them. So when they set out to revive Kerala handlooms and weaves, they knew they would have to go beyond promoting Kerala saris and dhothis or selling more of traditional saris and mundu-neriayathu sets.

“One of the biggest problems is that weavers and designers working with Kerala have not kept pace with a new generation of youngsters whose ideas of clothing, convenience and comfort have changed. Their need for everyday wear or fashion was not met by the traditional weavers. That is one of the stiffest challenges that we face. To make clothes and garments that appeal to youngsters and are stylish too,” says Sreeremya.

While it is true that social media groups like Kai Thari and the ‘100 sari pact’ have celebrated the handloom traditions in India, many of the followers are not exactly the college-going crowd. Recently, Laila Tyabji, founder of Dastkar, was the toast of social media when she posted photographs of herself wearing handloom saris for a month. While many women on Facebook were inspired by her, the fact remains that the Kerala sari is usually worn only for special occasions.

“It is not the favoured dress of the youth,” says Neeraja Raman Kutty, a designer with her own eponymous label of clothing. Neeraja says that, ideally, the weavers should be encouraged to incorporate coloured threads that bring in changes in the designs and motifs. She does not think that attaching a Kalamkari border or appliqués or bringing in different weaving techniques can really make a difference. “One can use the material to bring in changes in silhouettes and give it a new look by incorporating embroidery and prints. Coloured threads should be used in the warp or weft. Once I find my feet, I would like to experiment at some point of time. That would definitely rejuvenate the textile for designers,” she believes.

However, Shalini James of Mantra does not feel that introducing coloured threads or changing the look of the traditional cream and gold or cream and coloured kara sari would be the right solution.

“After my show during Fashion Week, I was often asked why I did not use Kerala weaves when I had used weaves from many other places in India. My view is that the minute you try to give a contemporary tweak to the cream and gold Kerala sari, bring in colour or take it out of its traditional context, it somehow loses it charm.

“There is something elegant about the sari and its pristine colours. But that said, I must admit that I am stumped when I am asked if I can make it an apparel for contemporary users. It is a difficult textile to work with. Designers like Rahul Misra have worked with the fabric to create a line of clothes but there is only so much you can do with it without tampering with the soul of the textile.”

While Shalini admits that the Kerala sari is more of a costume than an everyday wear piece, she adds that the best way to promote it would be to have more people wearing it and buying it. “Instead of buying it and wearing it only during Onam and or other festive occasions, it would be great if there is a campaign to use more of our handlooms. That would be of help to the weavers.”

However, she points out that but for the Kerala sari and its weaves, there are many other weaves in Kerala that have now been given a new look and used as home linen, furnishing and so on.

For instance, Kochi-based Kara Weaves work with local weaving co-operatives in the area to create a beautiful range of contemporary home textiles. There are similar entrepreneurs in Kannur as well.

In the meantime, Sobha and Sreeremya gave a new thrust to Ayur Vastra by re-launching it as Bodha. It comprises textiles that have been dyed in turmeric and herbs and plants with medicinal value. “We have our own units in villages on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border that weave the fabrics for us. The dyeing is done in different places. There is a problem with the fastness of colours that we have solved. But we realise that merely selling it as fabric will not do. So we have designed it for use as yoga mats, bedspreads and clothes,” explains Sobha.

While the National Handloom Day focuses attention on weavers, it is also true that many weavers in Balaramapuram, once a thriving centre of handlooms in erstwhile Travancore, is hanging by a thread. The once busy looms are gradually falling into disuse with many youngsters in weaving families taking up other jobs and cutting their links to their traditional occupations.

Sobha hopes that young designers will take it upon them to encourage the weavers to adapt to a new scenario and give Kerala handlooms a fresh lease of life.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 4:44:24 PM |

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