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5 Handloom Processes Explained for the Die-Hard Handloom Lover

In an era of power-looms, we are trying to keep the loyalty for fine quality alive by turning to India’s age-old traditional handloom industry. Yes, it is an industry, but without the use of power supply! Probably the only such in the world!

Over the centuries, India has been home to the most unique styles of fabric production via the handloom. As the name (Handloom) suggests, it is operated through the skilled hands of the weavers on a wooden structure - mainly resembling a wooden vertical shaft.

The yarn is the basic material which is woven and operated on the handloom to produce a given fabric. The lengthwise yarns are called the WARP yarn and the widthwise yarns are called the WEFT yarn. The fine-ness of the yarn count also determines the quality of the produce coupled with the dexterous weaving abilities of the artisan.

Dyed yarns in an alley in the weaving town of Maheshwar, home to the famous Maheshwari weave

DYEING- Once the yarn has been chosen, it is dyed to get the desired colour. The process of dyeing involves an exploration of different colours depending on the produce in an old-fashioned manual process, which involves the dipping of the yarn into the coloured water and drying it. Dyed yarn can be in two forms, hank or cone form, based on the dying machine. Cone dying form is generally used in the markets and it has less wastage.

The next important process in weaving process is DRAFTING. The weaver needs to pass the warp (length) threads through the eyes of the 'heald' according to the weave planned. The method starts with the warp threads passing alternately through a heddle, and through a space between the heddles (the shed), so that raising the shaft raises half the threads (those passing through the heddles), and lowering the shaft lowers the same threads—the threads passing through the spaces between the heddles remain in place.

WARPING - This is the process of loading the loom with warp yarn, passing each thread through heddle eyes from over the beam taking a comfortable angle, and then over the lease rod. If done continuously, it would take around 4 hrs to make the beam and around a day and half to set the whole loom up. The rest of the procedure until the threads reach the weavers seat takes a whooping day and a half. Depending on the length in metres of the yarn that has been warped, a weaver can now make 5 to 10 saris from a single warp.

BOBBIN-WINDING: Small bobbins called pirns are filled with thread manually on a charkha. These bobbins are then loaded onto a wooden shuttle that the weavers throws horizontally along the width of the loom in order to interlace the weft yarns with the warp.

THE ACTUAL WEAVING: With the interlacing of multiple ends of the warps and picks of the wefts, the weave is formed. From the first “let off motion” to the last “take up motion”, weaving on a handloom is as intricate and precision oriented as a surgeon’s job. A whole set of shedding, picking and beating (more on these in another post!) makes one interlaced part of weft and warp of the cloth.

Know your Handlooms: There are many different kinds of handlooms based on the complexity of the weave. The Pit loom, Frame loom, Dobby loom, Jacquard loom and Loin Loom are the types most popular in India. They come in different sizes suiting the needs of the weavers.

A weaver at the Weavers Service Centre in Delhi that we visited. The Indian governemnt has set up many centres called the Weaver’s service centre throughout India, Delhi being the hub.

As we learned that this process is laborious and time-consuming. Then why not go for the power-looms instead? The answer to this is if you’re looking for good quality and a long-lasting fabric which is 100% organic then the effort and money is a total worth it. A major difference between a powerloom produce and a handloom production is that the tension in the fabric of the handloom is fairly lower and monitored as it is manual which gives it a better quality and a soft feel. There is a need to be conscious of our purchase and its origins, leaving us with an agency to make a wise decision. Furthermore, an understanding of the handlooms is a step towards an organic living as many say ‘if you feel good, you look good’ and vice versa.

About the Writers: Team Eager Beaver Weavers is a group of 5 talented students of the Young India Fellowship who share LoomKatha's passion for all things handloom. They are Priya, Leela, Kanan, Gaurang and Chitra. Read more about the team here:

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