Arts and crafts

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Today, as also in the times past, the mention of Chanderi brings to mind not the town but the fine, silken fabric woven here. With a loom in virtually every home, weaving is literally the heartbeat of the town; the streets reverberating with the incessant beats of the khatka. The fortunes of Chanderi have always been entwined with the fortunes of its weaves. Hence, the history of the town will remain incomplete without a look at this artistic tradition.

The weavers of Chanderi have been conferred with several awards including the President’s award for craft, State award for and Kabir award. The most recent fame received by Chanderi’s fabrics was during the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in Delhi. The winning athletes were gifted a Chanderi stole, multi-coloured and woven with the logo and mascot of the games.

 

Development

The cloth is composed of the tana, which is the warp or the length-wise, stretched out set of threads through which the bana or the weft is woven back and forth.

Since the commencement of weaving in Chanderi, till about the 1920s, only white and off-white cloth was woven with its ends fringed with zari or golden thread. Only hand-spun cotton thread was utilized, even in the tana, even though it was barely strong enough to be held under tension. The then weavers were highly skilled workers as they had to be extremely careful while handling the delicate cotton yarn. An assortment of garments including safas, pagdis, dupattas, lugadas, normal length saris etc. were produced. The courts of the Princely states of Gwalior and Baroda were major buyers of the fabric. In Baroda, a 120 feet long pagdi, was part of the royal ceremonial dress for the princes and maharajas.

Ram Narain Mishra, a prosperous sari trader, writes in his autobiography that he was the first to introduce coloured yarn in the production of Chanderi fabric. Initially the coloured threads were used only in the bana while the tana thread continued to be white. Hence, the resultant fabric was pastel coloured. Gradually, coloured threads were used both in the tana and bana so that richly coloured fabrics were created.

Today, raw silk, which is 20-22 deniers thick, is used in the tana in almost every sari. Silk does not only impart a lustrous finish to the fabric but is also stronger and hence much easier to work with. Sometimes zari is used with silk in the warp to make a full tissue sari but these are not woven very often. The thread count in the tana can vary from 4000 to 17000 and this will depend upon the quality required. More the thread count more will be the thickness and hence superiority of the fabric. In the bana, cotton, mercerized cotton, raw silk or kataan is used.

In the borders and bootis, mercerized cotton, silk and zari threads are utilized. The zari, which is sourced from Surat in Gujarat, can either be real or tested. It comes in three different shades: copper, silver and golden. Earlier the looms known as the Throw-shuttle pit loom were in use. Weaving on this was a very time consuming process and it required two weavers to sit side by side on the same loom. The Nal Pherma saris were woven on this loom which had one colour in one border, another in the other border and a different one in the body of the sari. Nowadays, however, only the Fly-shuttle looms are in use and these are operated by a single weaver.

One of the earliest innovations in sari design were the Do chashmi saris which had one colour on one side and another colour on the other i.e. the saris were reversible. These were exceedingly difficult to make. Two months were needed just to set the loom to begin weaving and it took as many as 45 days to complete one sari.

The 1970s saw a revolution of sorts in the designs of Chanderi saris. Innovative borders such as the Ganga Jamani, Mehndi Range Haath, Sada Saubhagyawati Bhava became extremely popular and began to be demanded by women from all across the country.

DSC_0263The borders popular today include the Adda border which consists of a highly intricate design, the Nakshi is similar except for the outline of the border pattern which is done with a different coloured thread and the plain zari Patela border. Piping border is similar to Patela but has thinner stripe of zari or another coloured thread. The yarn for weaving was earlier coloured with only natural dyes, but today both natural and chemical dyes are in use. Many of the names of the colours used are derived from natural things like fruits, vegetables, flowers, birds etc. Totai is parrot green while Mor Gardani is the blue-green of a peacock’s neck. Tamatari refers to a bright tomato red, Pyazi is onion pink, Neembo Turanji is lemon yellow and Gajari carrot red. Angoori or grape-like is pale green while Naarangi is a shade of orange. Kesari is saffron, Badami almond-coloured, Chutney is sap green and Surmayi, a grey hue.

A trip to Chanderi will remain incomplete without a purchase of the town’s enchanting weaves. In Chanderi, saris and other textile products can be bought from either the shops that abound in the main market, Madhya Pradesh Handloom Department and other government agencies or the various self-help groups. However, it’ll serve many purposes for the tourists to shop from the various self-help groups formed by the weavers. Firstly, they’ll be able to see exactly how much effort goes into making the material and understand its true value. As the consumers and weavers will be face to face, there will be no price escalation by the intermediaries.

Consequently, not only will the consumer buy the product at a competitive price but more importantly, the earnings will reach those who have laboured to create it.

Technique

For Tana

In Chanderi, the process of weaving starts with the arrival of raw silk lachhis which come from Bangalore and Pune. This yarn is white and the first step taken towards making it into a sari is to dye it. Once the yarn is dry, it is rolled to form the pindi or dauga using a charkha. The dauga is made for around twelve to fifteen saris at one go. From the dauga, the yarn is rolled on to the tur which is a cylindrical wooden part of the loom.

This work requires a lot of space and is hence carried out outside in the streets. This tur is referred to as bhim ka tur and it is fitted on the opposite end from where the weaver sits. At this end, the tana silk threads for the border of the sari are stretched taut using bags filled with gravel. The weight in these is assiduously measured as the balance has to be just right. A good quality sari has to have around ten thousand to seventeen thousand tana threads.

For Loom

IMAG2819Before weaving can be started, certain parts of the loom are prepared. These are the raach and the phani or kanghi. Every loom is fitted with two raachs which are responsible for lifting up and putting down two separate sets of the tana threads. The raachs are attached to pedals or pawdi to be operated by the foot.

The processes referred to as raach bharna and kanghi chedna are carried out by the people in Nayapura locality. After the raach is set, the naka threads are tied. These are meant for the bootis made on the body of the sari and their arrangement changes according in the change in design of the bootis. The threads used in the raach and naka are allstrong nylon threads as these are constantly kept stretched and get abraded with the continuous passing of the tana threads. From the naka, the tana threads go on to the phani and through each gap

For Border

The threads usually utilized in the border are mercerized cotton, degummed silk and zari. When fed into the loom, these are not rolled on to the tur like the silk yarn which makes the main border of the sari. This is because the cotton threads do not slack as the silk threads and hence have to be held tight separately. The design to be woven on the border is executed using the jacquard machine which is sourced from Varanasi.

A graph is traced, according to the design decided upon, in which each graph square is either coloured or left blank. Using this graph, the puttha plates are pierced with the help of the jacquard plate where each piercing corresponds to a blank graph box. Once the entire design is punctured, the puttha plates are attached together and fed into the jacquard machine which is installed above the loom. When the weaver operates the jacquard pedal, the stencil moves forward one notch to the next line. With successive pushes of the pedal, the design is created. When one cycle is finished, the stencil starts over and this causes the border design to appear as a continuous series of the initial graph pattern.

Usually the other border of the sari is left plain for the first three meters after which the harness is attached for this end as well. This is because when worn, the first half of the sari is tucked in at the waist and does not show. If the border design is smaller, and less complicated, the jacquard is replaced by the dobby which serves the same function. Its only shortcoming is that longer border patterns cannot by made using it.

For Bana

To weave in the bana thread is the final step in making the fabric. The bana yarn is also treated in the same way as the tana yarn, that is, it is dyed and then rolled on to the palita. Using the charkha, from the palita, the thread is rolled on to bobbins. Bobbins are fitted into the shuttle which in turn is inserted into the peti. A tug on the handle pushes the shuttle to the opposite end which takes along one strand of the bana thread. This action combines all the divergent tana threads. The bobbins are kept in water so that the bana thread is wet when woven. This gives the woven fabric a slight sheen and better finishing.

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