Not just the Kancheepuram silk: The magic of the loom and South India's unique weaves

In the last few years, thanks to the much needed saree revivalism, we have started restoring and celebrating South Indian weaves.
Not just the Kancheepuram silk: The magic of the loom and South India's unique weaves
Not just the Kancheepuram silk: The magic of the loom and South India's unique weaves
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Have you ever wondered how many types of weaves the five southern states produce? Over thirty unique weaves - each distinguishable by its look and weave pattern! From dying weaves like Patteda Anchu to the very famous Kancheepuram silk, there is something that fits every budget and occasion. With the onset of liberalisation, many of these weavers found their clientele switching to cheaper mass produced garments and taking to the power loom export industry instead.

In the last few years, thanks to the much needed saree revivalism, we have started restoring and celebrating these weaves. While some of these might be unfamiliar to the Zara and Mango sporting gen-X, we spoke to the saree and handloom connoisseurs and patrons to find out more about the weaves.

Image courtesy: Kamala Iyer; Kamala Iyer in a rare Sickinayackenpet weave

Kamala Iyer, a marketing professional, who lives and works in Dubai, says “A global citizen, I travel around the world on work and leisure. My upbringing and my first job placement in South India were the primary reasons for my passion nay obsession with Southern weaves. I remain partial to them despite now having broadened my saree horizons. “

Her favourite South Indian weaves include the Kancheepuram pattuTelia RumalIlkals and  Kasavus. She has painstakingly collected many of the weaves including some rare weaves like Sickinaiyackenpet and Patteda Anchu. On her wishlist is the elusive Molakalmuru saree, a Kalakshetra revival saree and possibly rare designs in Telias and Uppadas.

For homemaker and ardent handloom lover Saraswati Raman, the love affair with sarees began very early in life.

Image courtesy: Saraswati Raman; Saraswati Raman in a Pathebad weave.

Saraswati recollects, “My mother was a beautiful woman, always dressed in the most beautiful nine-yard saree. I remember accompanying her to Kalakshetra from the time I was about 6 years old. She would sit with the weavers and design her own sarees, give them colour combinations and designs that were quite avant garde for those days. In fact, the weavers would ask if they could then replicate the designs and colours for other customers. They were so beautiful! So I suppose that was when my love for sarees was born. In college, I only wore sarees. We were on shoestring budgets back then, so I would be as innovative as I could, mixing and matching sarees and blouses, hunting for borders to brighten up otherwise plain yardage…but it all started with my mother!”

Saraswati's passion for weaves has led her to explore more than what meets the eye: “For me Kerala was synonymous with the Kasavu. But I recently read about Kasargod sarees. I recently purchased my first Pathebad saree - so light and lovely to drape. I think that any lack of awareness is just down to lack of opportunity to see and feel and buy these sarees.”

Despite the many weaves that adorn her wardrobe, she maintains that the Kancheepuram weaves hold a special place in her heart. She makes it a point to visit the many initiatives of the Crafts Council and Dastkaari Haat Samiti that come up throughout the year and sources her sarees from retailers like Malkha who have the weaver’s interest at heart.

Image courtesy: Dr Rushika Gadani; Dr Rushika Gadani in an Ilkal.

For clinical dermatologist and Ahmedabad resident Dr Rushika Gadani, the handloom journey started as recently as a year ago. Rushika says, “Though I have been a fabric and textile enthusiast since forever and loved to don a saree on occasions, I finally took the plunge - wearing sarees to my clinic daily - more than a year back, and am all the happier with my almost entirely handloom cotton workwear wardrobe. In one fell swoop, a saree conveys power and relatability, aesthetics and earthiness, and that’s where the magic lies!”

Her favourite southern weaves include Kancheepuram silks, cottons, Kasavus and the Andhra and Telengana weaves. Preferring cottons for her workwear, the sturdy Chettinad & Kancheepuram cottons are among her go to choices. She tries to maximise every saree by pairing it with unique and contrasting blouses.

There is no doubt that online retailers and handloom enthusiasts have been able to help meet the huge demand created by social media groups. Says Usha Sundarajan, who runs a home-based business called Indian Fabric Treats, “We started the business just out of sheer passion for handlooms. We primarily focus on weaves with GI tags. Our handloom collections come directly from weavers and many a time from cooperative societies. From the rare Siddhipet Gollabomma sarees to the much sought after Kanchi Cottons, IFT offers them all.”

Image courtesy: IFT; Chettinadu cotton.

If saree isn’t your cup of tea, retailers like Bengaluru based Dakshin Studio offer a refreshing range of products to choose from. Who said one needs to drape the whole 6 yards to patronise weaves after all?

Artist, entreprenuer and designer Rama Srinivasan, the founder of Dakshin Studio, says, “Belonging to South India myself and to do my bit to promote our heritage weaves, I have always chosen the "Dakhini" range of textiles including IkatKalmakari and Mangalagiri from Andhra, Chettinad cotton from TN and so on to create these beautiful line of products at the Dakshin Studio. Our designs are more based on intuitions rather than current fashion trends. Our handmade products include Hand Painted Kalamkari Belts, Madras Checks, Handpainted Kalamkari and Ikat bags, jackets, stoles and scarves in soft cottons. Almost everything at our Studio is handmade or handcrafted. The whole range of products tell a story of its own traditional craft and works towards transforming the traditional handloom weaves to contemporary garments and home accessories.”

Choices are now greater than ever before. Considering social media and e-commerce are at their best, even the rarest of weaves are accessible to everyone today. Next time you don’t find something at the mall, give our heritage weaves a try may be?

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