This platform is ideal to debate the whole Handloom story. While all of us have and are contributing in our own ways it’s also important to understand how this entire system works. The beauty of our country and its heritage is reflected in the fact that each state has its own weaving cluster. The weaves have a rich cultural and geographical influence in additional to religion influence that noticed in the motifs, etc
Having worked with weaver’s day in and day out and practically lived with them to understand how this industry has grown there are a few insights that I can share.
Starting with the very basics, the handspun yarn was the only thing that existed before the industrial revolution. The number of weavers was significantly large second only to farming as an occupation. People had simple living. The silks and brocades were woven for royalty and the Zamindars and the weaver was a much respected part of the community.
Circa Modern times – The Britishers came and exported nearly 40% of the cotton produced in India to other British colonies. Mechanization happened and people got exposed to modern fabrics and machine woven yarns that were cheaper and much faster to produce. Also alternate and better paying professions emerged.
Unlike spinning where large industrial units have been set up by business houses, weaving still remains much of a cottage industry with multiple layers. The person actually sitting on the looms in almost all cases is a daily wager earning anything from Rs. 250/- a day to Rs. 1000/- a day depending on his experience, skill and complexity of design.
This person at the lowest level in hierarchy does not own a loom and works for someone who owns a large number of looms – often called as a master weaver. It is this master weaver who makes significant investment on the looms and the taani bana or the yarn. They often have different arrangements with different weavers. In some cases it’s only a daily wage that they pay and provide the yarn and zari as well while in some it’s more of a partnership where the weaver buys the yarn etc himself and the design is given by the master weaver.
In addition to the weaver and the master weaver there is also a Grapher or Nakshaband who is very critical part of this ecosystem. The Nakshaband puts down the design concept on paper and gives a visual look as well works on the colors. The grapher gets design ideas from the retailers or designers who follow fashion trends or work on reviving the art. Once the graph is ready it is then translated in the form of a punch card or a jacquard as it is commonly known as. It is through this Jacquard (patta) that the threads pass through and the patterns are woven.
Then there is the Yarn shop retailer. Most yarn is now imported from China by stockists who sell through the dhaagawalas in different clusters. The yarn is sold by weight, quality, and the denier (density). The dhaagawala sells both the yarn as well as the zari.
From here it’s the dyer who comes into a picture playing an extremely important role in the whole cycle. Silks and cottons are dyed and then woven and fabrics like chiffons and gorgettes are dyed after weaving.
The warping of the loom or tying the Warp is another intricate process that involves specialists. All Weavers do not do warping themselves and seek help from these specialists. The women folk in most households help in making the spindles for the weft and are involved in the weaving process.
Then there are people who make the charkha for spinning the spindles and the people making the spindles or bobbins.
The weaving itself starts after 4-5 such processes and is the most time consuming and intricate of all. The finished product is then sent for polishing and roll press as it is called in the local language.
The finished textile / saree is then deposited with the retailer or gaddidar or designer who does a QC and pays the master weaver as per agreed payment terms or credit arrangements.
The investments by and large are done by the retailer, the master weaver and the designer and all possible losses wrt the saree having stains or getting spoilt during the weaving process are also absorbed at these 2 layers. The weaver by and large is protected from all of this and more.
Also another very important factor is that a weaver cannot make every design. He is skilled in a particular are form and therefore cannot provide the variety a customer may really be looking for. He is often dependent on the master weaver for designs and fashion trends.
So yes, in this whole cycle the weaver is only one end of the spectrum. The sector touches many lives. Also the government is taking a lot of interest in this sector and setting up skill development centers in all weaving clusters and also regulating the labour rates. The weaver is very central to all initiatives and has a keen focus from all parties.