Handloom in India
Inside the intricate details of the handloom industry lies a grounding part of rural employment that exists outside of agriculture. Although handlooms are loved all over the world, India has been struggling to keep the art alive due to state policies and a growing distance between mass machine production and handmade fabric. Slow economic development and increasing social injustice are building up towards rising input costs that have only created greater problems for the handloom sector. The skill of weaving by hand has begun to get lost in the excessive use of mainstream mills for yarn, leaving rural weavers to fend for themselves through other skills, losing the primal talent that has been passed down through generations.
In India, the textile industry has been an essential and integral part of the national economy, contributing to 14% of the entire industrial production. It’s also one of the most critical sectors that provides employment across villages of India, serving as a way of living for many. Handloom alone is practiced across various states, with an estimated 43 lakh handloom weavers practicing handmade weaving art.
An industry that stands on its own, handloom does not demand much capital, nor does it require robust infrastructure. With a strong domestic market that appreciates the hard work that goes into creating handloom fabric, the industry would be on a path towards success.
Various villages in India have formed a unified working system that includes a coordinated effort between the artisans and a master weaver. They work together with an understood system that operates smoothly with pre-loom activities like dyeing, which is also an integral part of creating handwoven fabric.
As for the actual weaving process, this is undertaken by a family of weavers that begin with warping, sizing, and putting together the warp and weft winding. This process takes immense skill, focus, and dedication that lies in bounds with Indian artisans, who are committed to their work and create a true masterpiece.
The women of the village also help by attaching the warp and winding thread into a bobbin. Although weaving is still a male-dominated process in India, some families practice with women as the head weavers. In an effort to bring gender equality into this industry, various NGOs across India work towards educating and training women with the skill of weaving - helping them break through a male-dominated industry while also creating a sense of independence and self-esteem.
The master weaver is one of the essential parts of the handloom process. It involves a weaver that usually heads the family and guides them towards the entire process, helping them through the journey. They often take responsibility for providing yarn or completing pre-loom procedures, and leaving the design for the weaver. Sourcing and providing raw material is also something the master weaver does themselves, leaving the weaver to carry out only their loom.
The master weaver also helps out financially by providing loans to their artisans in times of need. Because of this reason, various weavers choose to work for lower wages. Although they earn less, under the guidance of the master weaver, they are trained to sell their product. Like a helping hand, the master weaver signifies a person of immense skill, experience, and training qualified to pass down the art.
Weaving that brings together Communities
Aside from the handmade details that are admirable about handloom, the industry is also loved for the way it encourages teamwork and builds community. Weaving has evolved through generations, but the one thing that has remained constant is how weavers work together for a shared goal. The activity is carried out mainly in rural villages, where the weaving families reside together. The main loom is usually in the weaver’s home, where the entire family contributes towards creating the final handwoven fabric. Traditionally, a few pre-loom tasks like dyeing and warping were outsourced, but the sizing, attaching the warp, and weft winding are entirely done by the weaver families.
Although weaving is commended for being a collaborative process, this has declined by a significant amount as weavers began to migrate and left many families as nuclear ones. Left with no choice as the market demand began reducing, weavers were forced to pick up other skills and find different ways to earn a sufficient income. This weakened the family craft as the number of artisans available in a space together declined, needing twice the effort to create the same fabric. Although the numbers have reduced, the art within some communities continues to thrive with the support of those who love handloom.
The weaver’s co-operative
A system that encourages teamwork between weaver families is a cooperative society that is an authentic result of collaboration. The society is responsible for delegating work within the community, a sure-fire way to ensure work is provided for all members. It categorizes work like sourcing yarn, mixing dyes, and other pre-loom activities that are the foundations of handweaving. With the co-operative, weavers are given peace of mind with trivial aspects like fair wages and provision of a safe working environment. The society is also responsible for carrying out welfare measures that uplift and nurture weavers.
Once the handwoven fabric is completed and is ready to be sold, various co-operative societies across India come together as a central body and create a dynamic market. This market is also open to wholesalers, helping the art thrive and encourages cross-trading between various cities of India. Every state brings forth its own society that contributes to this budding marketplace and helps create an invigorating and stimulating weaving sector.
The next step for the Handloom sector
Handloom is the art of India that has survived generations of change and has continued to thrive even in smaller markets. To ensure that it doesn't die out, we need to be promoting the art. Not only does the handwoven fabric have a unique texture to it, but it also contributes towards sustainable production. Fabric is created by sourcing good quality yarn and is an integral part that provides rural artisans with a livelihood, unlike fast fashion that contributes to society’s significant income equality dilemma.
The sector will also greatly benefit from investment by the government. With more funding towards training, artisans improve their skills and increase productivity and efficiency. Once the state recognizes the handloom sector as a strength, fiscal as well as abstract support will help revive the old art into a thriving and hustling state. The government is also inclined to support what the people support; thus, one’s admiration for handwoven fabric is translated into a steady income for a rural family.
As for Crow, our hand is always extended to the handloom sector. We buy, praise, and admire the industry and artisans for the talent and skill that they put into their work. We source from villages across India, supporting the art of handloom and taking it all over the world.