I could feel nostalgia. I had been here earlier. I could relate to each and every bit of the process, and while I was busy missing college and my textile design days, my better half was busy clicking pictures and listening to all the stories from the locals.
Fulia town in Shantipur district could easily be called the “handloom weaving centre’ of West Bengal. Even though there are more weaving towns nearby, Fulia is more familiar as it is always mentioned by a lot of saree shops.
It is believed that many experienced weavers from Dhaka settled in the region after partition and revitalized their inherited occupation.
The entire belt of Shantipur yields glamorous sari and fabric designs and keenly woven feather-touch textiles. Our daylong visit was confined to Fulia, which is famous for jacquards and jamdanis.
This town at once did not look very different from other small towns and villages in India, but once we stepped into the interiors, the magic of the craft started unwinding. Almost every house owns handlooms and their proud owners take immense pleasure in showing them off to the visitors.
Bundles of yarns, dyed warps, wooden looms, sample designs, and woven saris and fabrics are a common sight complemented by the sound of weft beating while weaving.
Weavers and their families are very warm and welcoming and do not hesitate to explain the process of Handloom weaving.
One of them even showed us how they change cards and prepare a jacquard loom.
Most of the weavers also sell out the saris, stoles and dress materials they make directly from home to the visitors at extremely affordable prices.
India has an exceptionally rich inheritance of handloom products and the origin of weaving almost dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization. It has been a matter of pride for India to have the world’s largest number of handloom weavers and the country specializes in not one but several styles of handloom weaving.
Apart from the efforts taken by the Government to promote handloom textiles, Indian fashion designers have taken it on their shoulders to take the handloom industry global and save the weaves from the ocean of power-loom fabrics.
Designers have made serious design interventions and launched sustainable businesses with weaving clusters, thereby bringing an urban compassion towards the craft.
Handloom clothing tops the list of ‘Must Buys’ for a lot of men and women as people are looking forward to ecological fashion. Designers work with craft by applying an array of techniques like dying, printing, embroidery etc., to fashionize the traditional weaves and create affordable fashion for distinguished clientele.
Different states in India have different weaving styles with local artisans trained in the craft through ages. Handloom weaving is an extremely tedious and time taking process and demands precision. The most complicated design patterns are usually done by jacquard weaving which requires cards with designs punched in the form of holes.
Each card has a number, they are tied together and fitted to the loom. The card keeps changing with each passing weft.
Yarns usually are while naturally so that they could be died as per the designs.
Once the yarns are died in the desired colours, it is time to create the warp or the base of the fabric. It requires quite a few tools like bobbins, cones, pirns and a lot of patience to wind the thread.
The warp, that is, the lengthwise threads in the cloth, must be measured out to the correct length and the threads must be kept in order so that they can be wound onto the loom properly.
Then begins the winding of the warp onto the loom. The most important part of the whole process is threading the warp through the heddles on the shafts. Each warp thread must go through the eye of a heddle attached to the appropriate shaft, according to the pattern design.
The warp for saree border are prepared and put separately on the loom.
Warp should have adequate tenacity to hold the fabric and not break while weaving.
Weavers in villages usually work with pit looms in which they sit with their legs in the pit where there are two pedals for shuffling the warp to open up for the weft threads to pass easily.
Weft is the width wise thread of the fabric. It is inserted with shuttles which has pirns fitted inside them. With each passing weft, the fabric gets woven and the design comes up.
Extra weft technique is used to create individual motifs.
The looms are quite heavy and are therefore tied very cautiously to avoid any injuries to the weavers.
Most of the weavers make to order and their interests are taken care of by the cooperatives, whole sellers and various undertakings, which take up bulk orders from stores, designers and big brands. A lot of their products are sold in various renowned shops in Kolkata, other parts of Bengal and other northeastern states.
The living condition if the artisans is quite miserable because of the decrease in demand due to high prices. This affects their income and livelihood.
The major problem that the handloom industry is facing is the ever-rising price of the raw materials and scarce skilled labour as the coming generation does not want to take up the craft.
On our trip their, a humble man, Shibu da guided us and our friends through the process.
Shantipur and the adjacent towns are approximately 85 kms from Kolkata and could be easily reached by trains, taxi or even self-driven cars. It is a good option for a day-long activity and budget getaway for experience seekers as mud houses and green farms soothes eyes and are a relief from the concrete jungles that our cities have become.
So, while I decide which one to buy, you can plan a quick trip. Which one is better? Red or Purple?