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Five women weavers spin a collection of designer saris

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Five women weavers, part of Handloom Weaving Co-operative Society - 648 in Cherai, step out of the shadows of the traditional loom and spin a collection of designer saris

Around six months ago when designer Sreejith Jeevan of Rouka visited Handloom Weaving Co-operative Society number 648 in Cherai he was testing the waters.

He wanted to see if the weavers would be receptive to trying new things on the loom. The five weavers of the women-only weaver’s society that he worked with had been weaving kaavi (ochre) mundu. They had been weaving the mundu for years, they weren’t sure if they would be able to weave saris. Sreejith was there, as design consultant, for Chennai-based Care 4 Chendamangalam (C4C), which works with weavers of this society toward facilitating an upgrade not only of their range of products but also their skills.

The collection of 16 saris is now ready, and will be on show on November 2 and 3 at the Kerala Museum, Pathadipalam. Limited number of saris at the exhibition will be on sale, the others can be pre-ordered and will be woven. “This is more to show the saris, see how people react to them and the response, which would show us the way forward. We will know what works and what doesn’t,” says Sreejith. He adds that the saris were enthusiastically woven over the last couple of months once their inhibitions were cast aside and confidence gained. “The weaving technique used is the same. Not having too many techniques is a good thing you can experiment with what is available,” he says. Chendamangalam handloom is GI tagged.

Five women weavers spin a collection of designer saris
 

The workshop he held in May helped weavers Anitha Suresh, KP Aisha, Vinu VG, TK Siji and Deepa KM. It opened their eyes to possibilities and how they could manipulate their knowledge to step out of the box in terms of the designs they wove.

“We told them to try new things, they were initially hesitant but we told them that we would buy the kaavi mundu pieces they experimented on. That put them at ease and they went about enthusiastically suggesting things that could be done.”

At the workshop, the weavers were given five assignments among which were ‘designing’ saris with stripes, ‘plan’ a sari and plot a motif. It also gave Sreejith an idea about what the women would be able to do. As the ideas flowed, they got bold —butterflies, crosses, katti kara (thick borders), knots...the warp and weft of the loom became their canvas.

Five women weavers spin a collection of designer saris

The saris are boldly contemporary —colour-blocked, striped, with motifs woven on to them, an extra weft or dropping one, half-n-half, with kasavu, without kasavu...“after the sampling phase, all of us were comfortable,” says Sreejith. The palette is autumn — black, white, pink and teal. “This is the Kerala sari sensibility with a minor tweak and a contemporary touch . Something that can be worn to a party or cocktail, so that it is no longer just a costume.”

The white-based Kerala sari is a classic – reserved for special occasions such as Onam, wedding or special days. This is something that works against it not merely in terms of sales figures but also in terms of its sustainability as a means of livelihood. Most of the weavers, in local weaving clusters, are women. It is perceived as not being lucrative enough to pursue as a career, and could lead to the craft dying.

Creating a market is one way that demands design interventions, which would pave the way for product development using the existing skill set. During the course of their ground work C4C realised that the youngest weaver was 45, a pointer to how handloom weaving is perceived. An impact of the projects such as these is that it could result in higher wages for weavers as well as a steady market. “For the weavers to get better wages, the only way ahead is design led change to create a product that demands the price and to make sure it reaches the person who is willing to pay that price. This is one such experiment to take the product to newer markets besides the comfort zone of their own society’s territory,” Sreejith says.

The weaving started post-Onam, in mid-September, and the saris are now ready. Once the saris, woven as 20 metre yardage, started getting done the women were excited about what they had been able to do.

When the photo shoot was planned, the team wanted to make the weavers model their saris, along with some of their friends. In all there were eight models, “they were happy and so were their husbands who dropped in for the shoot.”

The Chendamangalam Cluster

The members of C4C initiative are Preetha Reddy, Vice Chairman - Apollo Hospitals, Minnie Menon – jewellery designer, Thejomaye Menon - artist, hotelier - Shekar Sitaraman and Meera Mammen, Vice President-Welfare of MRF. The Chendamangalam cluster has seven handloom weaving societies, post 2018 floods, C4C chose to work with HWCS-648 which has 42 women weavers. Based on their findings, two focus areas were identified —revival of the society that has been adopted and nurturing the next generation of weavers. The collaboration with Sreejith Jeevan is part of a three-year road map that has been planned to take the products out of Chendamangalam/Cherai and take it across the country.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 1:28:14 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fashion/five-women-weavers-of-a-chendamangalam-handloom-co-operative-society-step-out-of-the-shadows-of-the-traditional-loom-and-spin-a-collection-of-designer-saris/article29851458.ece

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