Status of Indian Hand loom Industry

Weavers family and the loom

The hand loom industry is still the largest employer in the country after agriculture, with over 7 million weaver families drawing sustenance from it, apart from the loom- and reel-makers, dyers, warp-winders, sizers and other support specialists. The industry is not confined to traditional weaving castes either.

The sector is losing its value in the recent times because of isolation of the producer group, the resulting lack of exposure to resources, processes and market and an absence of institutional support for credit, research, technology, management and market development.

For an industry that clothed not just the country but the entire world for thousands of years, is taking less than a hundred years to end up in shreds.

Reasons to assume hand loom industry is in threat

· Many weavers are leaving the profession and shifting themselves to a new livelihood opportunity.

· Looking at the next generation there are only few to take up the activity.

· Increasing cost of raw material.

· Co-operatives are shutting down due to lose.

· Master weavers get the activity running at the cost of the weaver in the competitive market.

· Production done on power looms, sold as handloom product. The fabric is offered for a very low price which handloom weaver or a cooperative society never can never compete with.

· Problems in the systems level, time constrain in the production process.

So many uncertainties in the pre-loom and post loom process

Weaver with handmade sizing brush.

Status of present weaver

Most of the employment generated in the rural areas is in the agricultural sector which is seasonal and unreliable. Most of the unemployed and seasonal workers move to urban areas in search of work and are prepared for any kind of hardships than fact hunger in their villages. As cities expand without matching infrastructure and social safety nets which would lead to the social, economic inequalities besides social unrest .

Looking at it the weaver is no better to give it a try to come to cities for his livelihood. Instead of being members of self-respecting village community they now are mere log in a machine, a part of the conveyer belt, with no control over the production but at the mercy of the market forces. Ultimately the market economy which needs more efficiency and production for increased profits will see humans thrown out as expendable and dispensable leaving the skilled artisan jobless. He cannot even go to his village back thinking of his false prestige.

Reasons to think about hand loom weaving and up-lifting co-operative weaver societies

The great strength of handloom cooperatives is low overheads and capital needs, variety and regional specialisation, versatility and adaptability, independence of generated power and smooth skill transfer mechanisms.

The best thing is the weaver is a part of the whole activity carried out and has a share in the profit made by the society.

In the Indian context the most important thing is be able to look back and see what is the best we have inherited in terms of man power, skills, resources, and technology to build links and fill in gaps at grass-root level helping more people to earn their basic livelihood and get the exposure to live a life of dignity.

In this context Technology should be understood not merely as a tool for efficient production of usable products but that which encompasses broader and better themes that includes systems, methods, and techniques to get an act done for a better human existence and living.

So there is a need to realize the need to change and need to invest in Research, Technology and Design. It is important to give emphasis on domestic production and improve local economy the process which enhances community spirit, community relationships and community well-being.

Finding Alternatives for hand loom sizing

Apart from weaver, the process of weaving is supported by many people around who are reel makers, dyers, warp-winders, sizer’s and other specialists. When we look at the extinction of the skill we usually look at only weaver and weaving, without giving much importance to others who support it. So it is very important to look into all the processes in detail and address issues that needed change.

The Identity of south Indian cotton weaving is weaving with single count yarn which needs a thorough pre-loom processing. Since last 4 years the number of weavers has come down to 60 percentages of the total members. Next generation of weavers are moving into new professions and power loom competition are not only the reasons for this decline but the support skills for weaving are getting tapered, questioning the future of hand looms.

So there is a need to rethink on the processes that fastens the practice cutting down labour, keeping the skills and quality aspects intact, especially the pre-loom processes involved in weaving a singles count yarn. This is a right time to find alternatives for the age old traditional methods which will be easy to implement and adopt for the weavers and see the handloom industry sustain.

Street sizing: Sizing (Application of size and even brushing on the stretched warp) done on the street.

Sizing is one such process on which the Weaver Societies and Individual weavers finding major difficulty to practice on day to day basis. Fabric quality has lot to do with sizing process and there is a strong need to find suitable alternatives for sizing that will not hamper the quality standards of Hand loom fabric .

So it is important to understand different methods of sizing followed in various places of our country, analise in detail and find an alternative that will be easy for any weaver to adopt and practice in any place by making little changes in the selection of locally available raw materials.

In recent times many Organisations like Malkha, Dastkar Andhra, Chitrika and Blue Lotus realised the need of a solution for the problem of Sizing to Sustain Hand loom Industry.

What is sizing?

The cotton yarn used is usually singles as it will have a better absorbency and fall than plied yarn. Singles cotton yarn has a tendency to break due to tension when stretched and to the loom to weave because of its low strength compared to ply yarn. So sizing is done to the warp to with stand strain during weaving. Sizing is the application of starch over the warp to form a thin layer on the warp stretched yarn in order to gain more strength. Weavers of different places use different compositions of starch to size the warp preferably local available raw materials. Usually the ingredients used for sizing are starches along with the softeners. The sizing starch is prepared from rice, maize, tapioca powder, tamarind seed powder etc, while the softeners used are the locally available oils like coconut oil, groundnut oil, castor oil etc.

Studying traditional sizing methods in different places of India

After looking at all the videos of the machines of Mukesh Chevli on Youtube and some detailed study of Industrial machines, our consciousness suggested to know more about our traditional processes which do not require high capital investment or power that is adopted by hundreds of weavers across the country. Whatever step we are going to take is going to affect hundreds of weaver’s lives who will follow it. So we want to do a detailed study of different pre loom processes specially sizing which is followed since many hundreds of years, materials used and their application to the yarn to make them break free and give a good finish. So we traveled to many places in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamilnadu, Kerala, Bihar and Bengal where they weave with singles count yarn which is usually sized to further weave it.