Kunbi Saree ~ Goa...
Paliem, Goa, India...
The second you step foot in the workspace of the Chennimalai weavers, you get a rush of an insight that makes you realize how the life of people here revolves around threads and different handloom items. The aura of the workspace creates a buzzing visual of an endless sea of colourful threads. It is these threads that provide the weavers with happiness and sadness and act as a source of their smiles and joyful tears. They appear like the silhouettes of mountains that are held by wooden frames. It is believed that nature is translated and resided in these threads Every single thing you see here- from the sun’s rays to the smiles of the weavers, from the dust in the air to the frames of looms- everything is held by an aesthetic combination of threads.
Jacquard weaving is used for home décor items that feature multiple colourful patterns with florals, leaves and geometric patterns inspired by temple architecture. The designs used are very old fashioned and heavy and the thread used is very thick. These bedsheets made from this weave are popular among local population.
Home furnishing constitutes an important product diversification among the handicraft categories. Chennimalai is a famous cluster in Tamil Nadu that produces bright artefacts for home décor.
Sandalwood assumes cultural significance among the weavers in Chennimalai. It is often smeared to the looms of the weavers since in Tamil Nadu, because it is believed to known to bring abundance, wealth and prosperity.
Chentex is the handloom co-operative set up in Chennimalai, Tamil Nadu that sought to bring fair wages and employment to the weavers of the place. It was set by the co-operative movement leader MP Nachimuthu.
The fame of the handlooms from Chennimalai travelled far and wide – so much so that Ikea the Swedish furniture brand had sourced fabrics from Chennimalai for their home décor pieces titled Indira and Linda.
The Five P is a venture started by father daughter duo C Devarajan and D Shree Bharathi in 2013 who sought to revive the handloom town of Chennimalai. The venture hopes to “inspire a movement of sustainable production and consumption of clothing and textiles by showing that conscious manufacturing and consumption is the way to a livable future”.
Chennimalai produces a series of home décor items that can be used to decorate every item in a household. The products produced here can be categorized into two– first, simple weaving. This is used for making several bedsheets with vibrant colours and checked patterns. Second, jacquard weaving. This weaving is used for home décor items that feature a plethora of kaleidoscopic patterns with florals, leaves and geometric patterns inspired by temple architecture.
All the products of Chennimalai can be seen as falling under the ‘bed and bath category.’ This includes bedsheets, blankets, pillow covers, napkins, table mats, towels, handbags and every other possible home décor item that can come to one’s mind. Due to the large size of the looms available here, the weavers can stitch king and queen-sized bedsheets through the handloom.
The weavers of Chennimalai produce and create utility-based products. There are many skilled stitching units in the city. The woven fabrics society weavers are developing many ready to use products like table mats, table covers, bags, quilts, curtains, cushion covers etc.
The products of Chennimalai are so beautiful and of such magnificent quality that they find their usage not only in the South Indian households of India but also in other parts of India and worldwide.
Chennimalai is a fast-growing cluster with a young population of weavers who are eagerly taking up the weaving profession and incorporating contemporary patterns into their home décor items. Chennimalai has also gained significance over the years since a large number of exports of home décor items such as bed sheets, towels, blankets, napkins and other bed and bath items are sold all over the country and even abroad.
Co-optex has a major role to play in the work of the weavers and the selling of the products. This society not only aims at sales increase for the weavers of the Chennimalai cluster but also at the improvement of their working conditions and equipment.
Due to the rapid transport and network system created here and the incoming talent of weavers, the Chennimalai cluster is gaining significant acclaim and praise from all over. Moreover, since a lot of individuals in this region purchase handloom items, the weavers always have an idea of how to improve their work and capture the eyes and heart of their consumer market.
The craftsmen of Chennimalai are skilled to such a large extent that they go beyond the woven fabrics and develop many products like bags, quilts, cushion covers, curtains, and towels. International buyers also give them new exposure for international orders they receive designs from the buyers and execute it skillfully. These designs also help in developing new aesthetics and the possibility to explore new designs. Society weavers are using many types of weaving structures with a 4-5 colour combination in bright and light colours.
The handloom was devised about 2,000 years ago and was brought to England by the Romans. The process consisted of interfacing one set of threads of yarn (warp) with another (the weft). The warp threads are stretched lengthwise in the weaving loom. The weft and the cross threads are woven into the warp to make the cloth weaving remained unchanged for hundreds of years until John Kay devised the flying shuttle which enabled a weaver to knock the shuttle across the loom and back again using one hand only. The speed of weaving was doubled and a single weaver could make cloths of any width, whereas previously two men had sat together at a loom to make broadcloth. By 1800, it was estimated that there were 250,000 handlooms in Britain.
After the British captured India, they took up and nourished handloom industries for their purposes at the end of the 18th Century the monopoly came to an end. Since the 19th Century, with the advent of the industrial revolution, the English people gave up all. They started medical production in their land. During this period of foreigners, the weavers of Tamils learned all techniques and they prevailed the way for the production of furnishing factors according to the new style of demand.
Weavers of Chennimalai used to weave sarees and lungis for trading and their welfare. As the country started growing after independence and people started building their lifestyles in different ways, the weavers began making bedsheets and various home decor pieces.
M. P. Nachimuthu was a Padma Shri award winner in 1983 for his social work in the handloom field. He was responsible for introducing home decor manufacturing at Chennimalai. He was the founder of Chentex Hand Looms in Chennimalai.
Nanchimuthu, the President of Co-optex, 1953-69 devoted his entire life to the development and growth of the handloom industry in Tamil Nadu.
Today Chennimalai is one of the pioneers of the home decor industry. There are almost 33 societies that the weavers have built. Weavers never differentiate between their home and their working space, they keep their belongings around them while working so they don’t feel like they are away from home, creating a heart-warming homely aura.
It is not just the government that has taken steps to preserve their traditions of weaving by providing looms to the families. They also build relations and make connections with weavers as their own family. They take steps to create a friendly environment, take care of their welfare and preserving their skills.
Among the many designs traditionally woven in the Chennimalai cluster, the two coloured checks, jacquard motifs in three colours, and a finer fabric in a single colour are the highlights.
The craftsmen of Chennimalai are skilled to such a large extent that they go beyond the woven fabrics and develop many products like bags, quilts, cushion covers, curtains, and towels. International buyers also give them new exposure for international orders they receive designs from the buyers and execute them skillfully. These designs also help in developing new aesthetics and the possibility to explore new designs. Society weavers are using many types of weaving structures with a 4-5 colour combination in bright and light colours.
There are mainly 3 types of weaves found in this cluster, these are-
Plain Weave – The weavers make simple weaves with plain colours, lines, and bold checks. Bright and light colours are combined to make a certain eye-catching combination, based on demands in the product like bed sheets, curtains, raw material for bags or quilts etc.
Terry Plain weave– This weave has an additional set of loops woven through the surface of the fabric. These loops are then left uncut to form piles on the surface of the fabric, which is gives Terry a distinctive looped surface texture on both sides.
Jacquard Weave – Jacquard designs in two or three colours are also woven. These have bold floral designs in repeating patterns. The thread used is very thick so the patterns do not look thin-lined. These bedsheets made from this weave are popular among local Tamil people.
Artisans are skilled and societies are open to new designs and innovation.
This cluster mainly faces two challenges-
First, the government spending is mainly directed towards the agricultural sector and other prominent sectors due to which the handloom industry is often ignored. In particular, the handloom industry of Tamil Nadu faces a problem with a lack of financial facilities. Various commercial banks have failed to provide the cooperative societies with resources and this has directly failed the cooperative movement in Tamil Nadu. At the same time, there has been an unexpected sprout in the power looms which has led to a scarcity of yarn. Therefore, the main challenge is the lack of yarns. This points out the need for the government to supply yarn to the handloom industry.
Second, there has also been a sharp increase in the cost of production of these textiles due to which there has been a challenge in the process of selling. This is further worsened by the problem faced by this industry in the marketing of its products and the pressures of globalization. It has been suggested that the government must take more initiatives to modernize the power loom sector to make it more competitive domestically and internationally. Thereby, highlighting the need to improve the infrastructure in the industry.
However, several positive outcomes and suggestions have also been highlighted in the case of these weavers to move ahead and further increase their sales.
Small changes in the work environment have made major improvements. For example, a big roof utilizes the solar heat of the region to generate enough electricity that powers light and fans, and the Roof Ventilator Wind Turbine (exhaust) creates a pleasant working environment. Therefore, in the field of work environment, Chennimalai can set a great example for other handloom clusters.
There is a need for energetic and young weavers to participate in the weaving process. Weavers have to pass their skills to the following generation. Good daily wages and a good working environment can attract young people. Each society should train one person in design intervention according to the market.
A sample loom can also be installed for colour or weave explorations. Jacquard designs are very old fashioned and heavy, smaller motifs, geometric patterns and a play of shades in the same colour can be a new design direction for the weavers that can attract a large number of consumers. Giving traditional motifs a modern twist in terms of layout and placement, for example, plain bedsheets with motifs on the border can bring a new outlook to the designs. Different counts of yarn with weaving techniques, for example, Twill with colour weave and the shadow weave can be explored more.
New product categories like laptop sleeves, iPad covers, bags and table runners can be explored. A brainstorming on product range is much needed.
The process consisted of interfacing one set of threads of yarn (warp) with another (the weft). The warp threads are stretched lengthwise in the weaving loom. The weft and the cross threads are woven into the warp to make the cloth weaving remained unchanged for hundreds of years until John Kay devised the flying shuttle which enabled a weaver to knock the shuttle across the loom and back again using one hand only. The speed of weaving was doubled and a single weaver could make cloths of any width, whereas previously two men had sat together at a loom to make broadcloth.
Yarn Type: Cotton 2/17, 2/30, 2/40, 10s yarn for warp and weft society weavers are working with CO-OPTEX getting yarn from NHDC. There are many private Spinning societies in Tamil Nadu such as; Krishnagiri Cooperative Spinning mill, Ramanathapuram Cooperative Spinning mill, Kanyakumari Cooperative Spinning mill etc.
Dye: After getting yarns from NHDC or mills, they are dyed locally. The dyeing unit uses wet dye, pc active dye and Naphthol dyes. This process takes about 7-15 days and colour accuracy is 90%.
The majority of the time, chemical dyes are used to add colour to the sarees. This is done since the chemical dyes ensure that the saree has bright and vibrant colours that are preferred by the customers. As a result, natural dyes are no longer given preference. Due to this, after the dyeing process, whatever portion of the dyed water is left has to be thrown away. This contributes to the significant amount of wastage and pollution. Since cotton is widely used for the production of various home décor items, it is important to look at the wastage in the process of making these items and using them wisely.
During the recycling process, the cotton waste is first sorted by type and colour and then processed through stripping machines that break the yarns and fabric into smaller pieces before pulling them apart into the fibre. The mix is carded several times in order to clean and mix the fibers before they are spun into new yarns. The resulting staple fibre is shorter than the original fiber length, meaning, it is more difficult to spin. Recycled cotton is, therefore, often blended with virgin cotton fibers to improve the yarn strengths. Commonly, not more than 30% recycled cotton content is used in the finished yarn or fabric. Since waste cotton is often already dyed, re-dyeing may not be necessary. Cotton is an extremely resource intense crop in terms of water, pesticides and insecticides. This means that using recycled cotton can lead to significant savings of natural resources and reduce pollution from agriculture. In fact, recycling one tonne of cotton can save 765 cubic metres of water. This ensures that the wastage is curbed and environment-friendly methods are adopted.
Loom Type: Frame loom 2 to 8 paddle, 120-240 hooks Jacquard, products are home decor. Product loom size is big, On normal jacquard loom 90-inch width fabric can be woven and for a normal loom, 110-inch width fabric can be woven. For finer count weave, artisans also use pit loom at home.
Chandan or sandalwood has a prime significance in this weaving process. Owing to its auspicious properties, Chandan is smeared onto the looms of the weavers since in Tamil Nadu, Chandan is known to bring abundance, wealth and prosperity. Therefore, all looms of these weavers feature marks of Chandan and sometimes even photographs of deities or popular political leaders. The weavers seek the blessings of these individuals, touch the Chandan and only then begin their weaving process. These rituals attach an element of sacredness to the entire weaving process.
First of all, it has to be decided how many heddles and treadles need to be used to make a particular design or weave. The number of different warp and weft interlacements in the weave will decide the number of treadles and heddles required. In the handloom weaving, the weaver has to do drafting, denting, as well as tying up the treadles with the heddles according to the design required.
Drafting or drawing in after getting the warp beam the weaver has to pass the warp through the heddles (heald eye) according to the weave planned. This is called drafting or drawing in.
Denting– It is the process of passing the drawing in ends through the reed for beating purposes. There can be two ends per dent or three ends per dent as per the requirement. More clearly the number of ends per dent depends upon the number of threads required and the warp count. In the case of selvedge, the denting order may be different compared to the main body of the fabric.
Tie up – Once the weaver finishes the drawing in and denting, the next process he/she has to do is to tie the healds with the treadles. The loom parameters like correct warp tension, the proper opening of shed, reed movement etc, is to be checked to ensure whether the loom is compatible with weaving or not. If not the weaver has to make adjustments in the above as required and should take precautions, to minimize or avoid the yarn breakages. It is the weaver’s responsibility to check the shed opening by false picking and reed movement by false beating.
Pirn Winding– A simple machine is used for pirn winding in handloom. There is a wheel and a metallic shaft, which are connected with the help of rope for transferring motion. The hank is mounted on the wheel and the pirn is mounted on the shaft. The yarn from the hank is transferred onto the pirn by rotating the wheel.
Therefore, the entire process can be summarized as once all the threads are coloured and measured out to the right length and order, the next step is winding the warp onto the loom. Winding is transferring yarn from one type of package to another bobbin or Pirn. A spinning wheel (charka) is used by the handloom weavers to transfer yarn. First, they wind weft yarn onto a pirn and then the pin is inserted into the shuttle. The shuttle will carry the weft yarn across the loom, in the space created between threads that are raised and threads that are not.
The cluster employs both men and women, young men work on jacquard looms while women on a simple loom. Many weavers collect designs, warp and weft yarns from society and then work from home. On average, a single weaver weaves 4-meter jacquard & 8-meter plane fabric per day. Society groups also act together to meet the common needs and aspirations of their weavers, sharing ownership and making decisions democratically. At the Diwali festival, societies distribute the profits to their members based on the transactions with the Cooperative society. With the help of government schemes, the society also takes care of society members by providing housing loans, Insurance etc.
List of craftsmen.