Tie & Dye – Warp & Weft
A small town located a mere 50 kilometres away from Hyderabad, Pochampally is an ancient Ikat weaving center in India that is known for the famed Ikat weave. It is similar to the Orrisa and Gujarat geometric weaves and Pochampally is known for its traditional geometric patterns in Ikat style of dyeing. These intricate geometric designs manifest in the form of sarees, salwar kameez, dupatas, kurtas and more. This place is a result of the Bhoodan movement by Acharya Vinoba Bhave (1951) wherein land was donated by the erstwhile Zamindars towards community welfare and hence the name ‘Bhoodan Pochampally’ which is the first village to be created by this movement.
Ikat is an ancient way of creating design by tying and dyeing. It is a kind of weaving technique where the warp, weft or both are tie-dyed before weaving to create designs on the finished fabric. The Pochampally Ikat fabric is popular as the weavers use modern synthetic colours and create designs that are traditional. Each weaver works at home with the help of all his family members for producing these fabrics. Locally, Pochampally Ikat is referred to as Pogudubandhu, Chitki and Buddabhashi and has a unique character of design, different from other Ikat weaving areas in India. In Pochampally village there are over five thousand looms producing this textile and UNESCO tentative list of world heritage sites refers to it as part of “iconic saree weaving clusters of India”. The weaving happens in the villages of Pochampally, Koyalgudam, Chowtuppala, Srirpuram, Bhubangiri, Chuigottala and Galteppala. The uniqueness of Pochampally Ikat lies in the transfer of intricate design and colouring onto warp and weft threads first and then weaving them together that is known as double ikat textiles. The fabrics used are cotton, silk and silk cotton, a mix of exquisite silk and cotton. The colours are from natural sources and their blends. What sets these Ikat designs apart is that instead of dyeing the fabric each thread is dyed in a pattern and woven in accordance with the design into the cloth which makes it a complex and long process. This is why when you look at the finished product it is identical on both sides of the fabric. The Pochampally saree received Intellectual Property Rights Protection or Geographical Indication (GI) status in 2005 and is the registered property of Pochampally Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society Ltd and the Pochampally Handloom Tie and Dye Silk Sarees Manufacturers Association.
The different kinds of weaves include the Single Ikat Akshara design (a close knit detailed design), Single Ikat Mungi design (a plain design), Double Ikat Onku Design, Combination Ikat Chepa design (a fish pattern) and Silk Teliya Rumal. The types of looms use in Pochampally include pit and frame looms. The pit looms where the weaver sits with his or her legs in a pit where there are two pedals that open the warp threads allowing the weft to shuttle used for shuffling the thread to pass through freely. Pit looms are more popular as less wood is required to build them. On a pit loom, the weavers’ hands are free to pass the weft shuttle from side to side and to compress the weaving as they go. The speed of a pit loom is relatively more compared to weaving on a frame loom. Frame looms on the other hand are made of rod and panels fastened at right angles to construct a form similar to a box to make it more handy and manageable. This type of loom is now popular now due to its portability.
The Pochampally Handloom weavers co-operative society Ltd. was established in 1955 and gelps market the sarees and other garments made by the weavers all over India. The fabric is marketed through the cooperative society and APCO, The Andhra Pradesh Cooperative Organization. In the nearby Handloom Park, set up by the union ministry of textiles and which employs about 400 weavers to make a host of products including bed spreads, table covers, quilt covers and bags, apart from saris, the condition of the workers is comparatively better. While designs on the saris woven in homes are mostly traditional, those in the Handloom Park have modern designs as well, courtesy a team of designers. The best part is that the village itself has many homes where you can see the weavers at work. In fact the best way to learn more about the weavers and their weaves you must actually head into the village roads (that are impeccably clean) and interact with the people who are more than willing to explain the process. There are also numerous stores that dot the main road where you can actually buy finished products as well.
The Government has initiated the Integrated Handloom Cluster Development Programme, sponsored by the Ministry of Textiles. Puttapaka, a village in Nalagonda where the art still thrives was chosen under this scheme. Thanks to the initiative, Telia Rumal sarees that were hitherto mere relics from the past hope to find a place in the markets soon. The three year Cluster Development programme implemented through the Crafts Council of Andhra Pradesh has succeeded in providing marketing facilities. Another initiative is the creation of a Pochampally handloom park that will be an integrated handloom textile designing, dyeing and weaving facility spread over 24 acres and is meant to promote Ikat designing particularly in both national and international platforms. Chenetha Colour Weaves (CCW), a weaver owned social enterprise and its brand Karghaa was initiated by Oxfam GB in 2007 as a response and viable solution to the handloom crisis. Thorough this model the role of intermediaries and middle men has been minimised in order to maximize the gains to handloom weavers. By working towards organizing and building the capacity of the small handloom weavers in the 17 villages of Nalagonda district in the state of Telangana and market reach through its brand Karghaa, CCW has brought about a remarkable change on the lives of 132 Ikat handloom weavers in terms of earnings, design, development, quality control and market exposure.
The weavers of Pochampally sari however are facing challenges continuing the craft as in spite of the fact that this is a skill, the wages are low and there is a steady dwindling being seen in the number of weavers here. A simple Ikat saree takes 4 days including the pre loom process. The silk yarn is light, easier to dye and also to weave apart from the fact that it earns a higher margin. However the cotton yarns are heavier and take more time to be dyed and woven. The dyeing is especially more tedious as it requires chemicals like sulphates and even after all the effort earn lower margins. Adding to these challenges the Pochampally saree weavers also face competition from power looms which copy their designs and the products and sell at lower prices. The silk used in Pochampally saree is sourced from Bangalore and the cotton from Coimbatore and the China silk is used by power looms has more shine which is causing a dent in the market. The traditional hand woven intricate Ikat sarees are exquisite but still do not bring much wealth into the homes of these proficient weavers making this weaving community a shrinking lot. The average income of a weaver of cotton sarees is Rs 8500 per month while a weaver of silk sarees makes Rs 12500 per month. This is why the current generation is not very keen to pass it to their children as the earnings are not commensurate with the earnings. In fact the weavers feel that the effort is so much that they do not want the next generation to work hard and not be compensated enough. This is exactly the reason why this community needs our support and patronage to keep this beautiful art alive.
This story appeared in the Nov issue of Apparel magazine: Ikat