‘India’s destiny lies not along the bloody way of the west, of which she shows signs of tiredness, but along the bloodless way of peace that comes from a simple and godly life. India is in danger of losing her soul. She cannot lose it and live. She must not, therefore, lazily and helplessly say, ‘I cannot escape the on rush from the west.’ She must be strong enough to resist it for her own sake and that of the world.’ Mahatma Gandhi (1926)
The Glorious Past
India has had a love affair with weaving since time immemorial. History tells us of the fascination that, the spinning weave had and it was common for people to make their own cloth because of the abundance of the raw material. In the ancient world, India had trade with Rome in the early years of the Christian era. There is evidence that cotton was sent to Egypt in the fifth century. Silk was also sold through the silk route in better times. India was sending her silk, cotton or chintz to European countries.
The spinning wheel
India’s foray into weaving is ancient; it goes back to about 3000 B.C. Each area of India is unique in terms of cuisine, language, and also agriculture. The quality of wool, cotton or silk varied from state to state. Of course, then it was region to region. Khadi united us in our freedom struggle. This symbol was an intrinsic part of our culture. Cloth was spun with the available raw material in the region. While the north had the pashmina and light silk sarees. From the light silk woven on looms to gorgeous sarees, to be so light that it was, as if nothing, was worn! The daccai muslin or from Bengal, Bihar or Odisha were very popular. Abundance of raw material and unlimited obsession, was the reason that each region developed its own speciality.
Spinning and weaving
Spinning, that is, yarn was spun into threads and then woven in looms to make sarees thus spinning and weaving went hand-in-hand. Weaving paved the way for varieties of weaves on the loom. The hand looms were now weaving designs to make dhotis, turbans and sarees. Some of the finest silks, velvets, linen, and carpets are woven on handlooms. The first step in weaving is to stretch the warp, or longitudinal, yarns, which must be very strong. The weft, woof, or filling crosses the warp, binding the warp threads at either side to form the selvage. The three essential steps after the warp is stretched are: shedding, or raising every alternate warp yarn or set of yarns to receive the weft; picking, or inserting the weft; and pressing home the weft to make the fabric compact. Mats and baskets were made. After some time, frames for keeping the warp evenly stretched and devices for throwing the weft came into use. Millions of looms are in use in India. Ikats from Andhra and Odisha, Patola from Gujarat and Kotadoria from Rajasthan, brocades from Banaras. Daccai from West Bengal and Chanderi from Madhya Pradesh. The weft and the warp or tana bana are essential to be in tune with each other to create a beautiful cloth.
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What started as a non-violent revolution, became a source of income later. Then it was practiced in separate homes as a sense of self reliance and resistance later they started doing it for others. They learned the way to weave, the much in demand products and the saree was of course, in demand as it is, our national dress and every woman needed a saree! Thus what started in minuscule propotions propounded into a massive network. Today, thanks to spinning, we have a large treasure chest of handloom sarees to be proud of.
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