Cotton yarn for the weft is purchased from Coimbatore. The specifications are: No. 80 for the normal weft and No. 2/120 for the border. The normal rates are Rs.500/kg. In one kilogram there are 250 lacchis (bundles) of thread.
- 20/22 denier single Silk is used as the warp. This is purchased from China & Koriya.
- 20/22 Mulberry Silk (2 & 4 threads) is used as the warp. This is purchased from dealers in Bangalore. The rates of silk are very high, Rs.1300/kg (as on 4 September 2004). There are three bundles in 1 kg of silk.
Zari is used mainly in weaving the beautiful borders of Maheshwar saris. This is procured from Surat (Gujarat) at a rate of Rs. 1000/kg (as on 4 September 2004).
Pigments, Coconut Oil, Naphthol This is purchased from dealers in Mumbai and Indore.
- The threads that are left over are used to make colourful cattle accessories called Fundha. People from the neighbouring villages come to buy these for Rs 50-100 per kg.
- The zari scraps are also reused. These are sold for Rs 200-300 per kg.They are melted to retrieve the silver and copper.
- Waste water after dyeing.
Tools & Technology
Taana or Warp Machine
The warp machine is made of two basic parts. One is a big octagonal cylinder that rotates on its axis (which is very different from other warp machines in the sense that this cylinder is vertical), and the other is a vertical rack on which a number of thread rolls are placed. The rolls pass to the cylinder of the machine through hooks under a constantly moving frame that helps wind the cylinder in a criss-cross manner.
Two types of handlooms are used in Maheshwar-”the older pit looms and the newer frame looms.
~ Pit Looms These are the type of looms originally used for Maheshwari weaving since historical times. These heavy, wooden looms are installed inside a pit, about 3 feet deep. The weaver has to sit on the wall of this pit, with his legs inside. The looms are permanently installed in these pits and have hardly moved from their place for many years.
~ Frame Looms These looms are the newer ones, with lightweight metal frames that constitute the main body. They were introduced hardly two to three years ago, and given their superior performance, have now been adopted by a large number of weavers.
The cost of a new frame loom is about Rs. 6,000, and it can be purchased from Malegaon, Maharashtra. This loom is superior to the older pit looms because they are lightweight and easily detachable. This helps when it needs to be shifted for rearrangements. Their pulley arrangement also gives a better finish for the sari borders.
A charkha is used for making the rolls of thread. In case of warp, it is a big motorized one, which prepares big silk rolls. In case of weft, it is the smaller wooden one which prepares thin rolls called bobbins. These are put inside the shuttle to form the weft.
These mainly include various types of dyes and the tubs in which the dyeing is carried out.
The craftsmen highly value their looms and consider it to be a benevolent provider. It is almost like an extended limb for them. For them, the looms are not inanimate objects but beings with life and feelings. Their intimacy to the loom is such that during the major festivals the looms are worshipped and smeared with ritual turmeric or vermillion. Even during festivals such as Raksha bandhan, 'rakhis' or ornamental bands are tied on the looms.
The day starts differently for the various types of craftsmen comprising the cluster. The master weavers would first design the sari based on the raw material or the order. These master weavers are the ones who not only excel in technicality but also the thinkers who chart out the design. After this, the weaving is carried out.
At this stage, the master weavers carry out the process themselves, in cases where they have their own style or brand, or are part of any organisation (Govt. handloom training centre,M.P. State Handloom Weaver Federation etc). Alternatively, there are the worker weavers, lower in hierarchy since they do purely mechanical work. They collect the designs and instructions from the master weavers and deliver the end product to them.
The traditional designs with zari borders, motifs in them and/or striped and checked patterns are mostly used. Many designers and organisations have stepped into the craft and have come up with modifications of these traditional designs too.
Once this is done, the raw materials are procured. There are various suppliers and merchants involved in this step who bring in these raw materials from outside Maheshwar. Silk, cotton and zari come from different parts of the country. These are further processed to make it easier to work with. There are local merchants too who provide yarn and chemicals.
These threads are then dyed by specialised dye technicians for the plethora of colours. There are different kinds of dyes for dyeing silk and for cotton. When the dyed and variously hued threads are sent back to the weavers, they first free them from tangles and stretch them out. These are reeled into rolls by using a large charkha and used as the warp.
Once the warp, weft and the design is fixed in the loom, the weaving begins. Small bundles of sand are seen arrayed on the loom to help keep the yarn tense.The movement of a shuttle takes the yarn of the weft across the threads of the warp. The overhead dobby mechanism is used to design the border of the sari using the gold zari thread. Once the saree is woven, it is is released from the loom and sent of to be cut into desired lengths.
These finished products are sold by both traders and big organisations. The traders buy the end product and sell it locally or to other brands. The organisations carry the fabric to the domestic market in the metro stores or in the form of expos and exhibitions.
Mostly, there is also a merger of different crafts happening after completion. These finished saris are bought by other printers and organisations as raw material for their craft. For example, Maheshwari saris are bought by Ajrakh or Bagh printers as raw material or base fabric for block printing. This feature has also popped up with the onset of Indian brands incorporating and combining various crafts.