Weaving is an ancient textile art and craft that involves placing two sets of threads or yarn made of fiber called the warp and weft of the loom and turning them into cloth. This cloth can be plain (in one color or a simple pattern), or it can be woven in decorative or artistic designs, including tapestries.
The majority of commercial fabrics are woven on computer-controlled Jacquard looms. In the past, simpler fabrics were woven on other dobby looms and the Jacquard harness adaptation was reserved for more complex patterns. The efficiency of the Jacquard loom makes it more economical for mills to use them to weave all of their fabrics, regardless of the complexity of the design. Handweaving, along with hand spinning, is a popular craft. Weavers use wooden looms to create rugs, fabrics, and tapestries. Fabric in which the warp and/or weft is tie-dyed before weaving is called ikat. Fabric decorated using a wax resist method is called batik.
In general, weaving involves the interlacing of two sets of threads at right angles to each other: the warp and the weft. The warp threads are held taut and in parallel order by means of a loom. The loom is warped (or dressed) with the warp threads passing through heddles on two or more harnesses. The warp threads are moved up or down by the harnesses creating a space called the shed. The weft thread is wound onto spools called bobbins. The bobbins are placed in a shuttle which carries the weft thread through the shed. The raising/lowering sequence of warp threads gives rise to many possible weave structures from the simplest plain weave (also called tabby,) through twills and satins to complex computer-generated interlacings.
Both warp and weft can be visible in the final product. By spacing the warp more closely, it can completely cover the weft that binds it, giving a warpfaced textile such as rep weave. Conversely, if the warp is spread out, the weft can slide down and completely cover the warp, giving a weftfaced textile, such as a tapestry or a Kilim rug. There are a variety of loom styles for hand weaving and tapestry. In tapestry, the image is created by placing weft only in certain warp areas, rather than across the entire warp width.
Art of weaving and dying in India
Woven textiles are one of the earliest techniques developed by people the world over. Many architects while writing the history of architecture point out that it began with fabrication or weaving together of twigs to create a shelter. Weaving of goat hair to create mobile tents of the nomadic people was the beginning of creating a mobile shelter. They could roll up their tented dwellings and move with it and set it up anywhere they could have water and shelter.
The woven cloth protected the body from the heat and cold and later developed into a form of dress, which expressed the cultural values of the people and their identity.
The art of weaving and dying of fabrics was practiced in India from very ancient times. It was such an important part of the life of the ancient times that many of its techniques gave the name to philosophical and religious thoughts. You all know about the Sutras. These are the ancient Buddhist scriptures. The word Sutra is derived from sut, the thread to string together. Granth, the name for a holy book as in the Guru Granth Sahib of the Sikhs comes from a textile term for knitting or weaving together. There are many other examples.
India from ancient times exported cloth. India was the home of cotton, which it has been cultivating from ancient times. Ancient travelers described cotton cultivation, as sheep growing on trees, for they only know white wool, which was taken from sheep. Long stapled cotton was cultivated as a cash crop to be spun or sold, as it was to be prepared by the professional carders and then by the weavers.
The centers known for very finely woven cotton were in Bengal, Varanasi, Chenderi and in the town of Uppada, Mngalagiri and Venkatagiri of Andhra Pradesh.
The Dhakai weavers of East Bengal, now Bangladesh, were famous not only for figured cotton sarees, but also for the finely woven cotton mulmul, muslin, which was used for turbans and for making upper garments. The names of different varieties expressed the quality of the cloth, e.g. shabnam, evening dew, and abe-rawan, running water. The patterned finely woven cotton was known as jamdani, a distinctive style of weaving, which is an Indian specialty. Traditionally elaborate patterns were worked in white on a white background by placing the pattern to be woven under the warp thread and using that as a guide they wove with extra weft threads. These extra weft threads, which created the patterns, were of the same fineness as those used in the fabric. They were thus absorbed into the fabric, and the design could be discerned only when it was held against the light. The jamdanis were women especially for the cotton angarkhas, once worn by the nobility all over north India, while the later day sarees are patterned with thicker colored threads.
During the time of Aurangzeb, the local ruler had to supply woven mulmul and patterned jamdani as part of his tribute to the Emperor. The specially woven fabrics were packed in bamboo containers and sent to the Mughal Court. They often had flowing diagonal lines similar to the flow of a river. The colors were also typical-deep maroon, black, indigo blue and chrome yellow. There was also the famous Nilambari saree in which the midnight blue-black background was held together by star-like flowers, as a dark star-studded, moonless night.
Weavers who migrated, weave the Dhakai sarees today in West Bengal from their original homes. The sarees woven in West Bangal also known as jamdani and follow the traditional patterns. The texture however is quite different, as the twisted yarn is closely woven together, with the result that the sarees can be washed easily and are more lasting.
Chanderi weavers weave very fine cotton sarees and shallus, wraps, worn by women over their sarees. At present the warp is of silk and the weft is of cotton, whereas originally they were woven in cotton. The sarees carry motifs of roundels or ashrafi butti on the body. The weavers of central India wove very fine cotton, and in Chanderi, Paithan, Hyderabad, Gadwal and wanaparti, pallus and borders were woven in the Paithani technique.
The spinners of Chanderi were generally women who had long, supple fingers, which could not be roughened by housework. Even today the people of Chanderi recite a couplet:
Shahi Chanderi, jaman Warda
Tiria Raj Khasam Panihara.
"In royal Chanderi, the locality of weavers, women rule and men are their slaves."
People throughout the country use Cotton being the most important material woven in India for garments. There is a wide range of techniques and designs. Texture is the most important aspect of the cloth. It varies from a fine cotton, to gossamer net structure to woven checks are stripes of threads of different counts and even different material such as silk or zari, gold thread. Leave aside variations in each region; there were variations in each center with in the same region!
The cotton sarees of Andhra Pradesh are a good example. The best known are the Gadwal, Wanaparti, Nander, Venkatagiri, Uppada and Mangalagiri. Gadwal and Wanaparti. They are known for their check body and silk border and pallu carrying the motifs in gold. Sometimes wedding sarees and some very special sarees carried a Paithani pallu, richly worked in gold.
Uppada and Venkatagiri specialized in weaving fine pure cotton sarees enriched with gold thread motifs woven in the jamdani technique. The motifs woven in Venkatagiri are stylized parrots, asherfis, gold coins, and stylized leaf-forms, woven half in gold and half in cotton threads. Uppadas masters weave fine Jamdani patterns all over. They were known right thought the Independence moment as a place from where very fine khadi sarees, woven on handlooms with handspun cotton were supplied.
Tamil Nadu developed cotton sarees, which followed the pattern of silk sarees very closely.
Weaving in Northeast India
Tribal areas of the North-Bengal, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram etc. have a tradition of lion-loom weaving. This is a simple loom, which is strapped to the back of the weaver and the end is tied to a bamboo stake, or a peg, on the wall. The weaver uses a simple bamboo container for keeping the bobbin, and polished bamboo sticks for separating the warp threads. A sword-like wooden piece is introduced for creating the shed and beating in the weft threads. Bamboo needles carry extra weft of colored threads with which the weavers weave in the design by working in the colored threads, with skilled movements of their fingers.
Mainly women who weave for the entire family do the weaving. In fact, tradition has it that a young girl has to know weaving before she can be married. Her skill in weaving determines to a great extent her popularity amongst eligible bachelors.
Each tribe, each community has its own special patterns, and even with in a tribe, there are special designs, which only a privileged person is allowed to wear. A particular warrior shawl of Nagaland, known as the Tusungkotepsu shawl, has in the centre a white panel enclosed by red and black stripes and checks. This white panel carries drawings made in indigenous, indelible black ink, of mithuns, cocks, human heads, spears, and of the sun and the moon. This shawl can be worn only by the warriors who have been victorious in battle and has taken a head.
There is another shawl, which can be worn only by a rich man, whose family has celebrated the mithun sacrifice feast for three generations. The patterns woven by the tribal people are abstract in form, with an acute sensitivity to color and texture, which is expressed in the variations of stripes to create a harmonious pattern.
Women of Assam also maintain the weaving tradition. They weave on the lion-loom, though in some homes the frame-loom has been introduced. They weave the mekhla, a type of sarong or lungi for women with intricate patterns on one border. They also weave the chaddar to be worn over the mekhla. They have the interesting custom of weaving the gamcha, long towels with intricate designs, which are presented to the elders of a family during the Bihu festival. Young girls are taught the art of weaving from their childhood. Many families preserve their traditional patterns by weaving samples of extra warp patterns introducing a warp of threads and thin strips of bamboo in place of weft threads. These are rolled up and preserved for generations.
Manipur, the isolated cup-shaped valley to the southeast of Nagaland, has culture based on tribal traditions subdued by Vaishnav influence that came from Bengal. The valley developed a sophisticated culture under the influence of its kings who reigned undisturbed for hundreds of years. The area around Imphal have a tradition of which bears the impact of this sophisticated culture. The surrounding tribal areas of the Nagas have a distinctive style of tribal patterns. The Morangfi sarees woven in white or in soft hues carry a shikhara, temple pattern on the border and dotted motif over the body. There is a belief that Goddess Morangfi created this pattern herself. People wear a variety of shawls, and have adapted a number of patterns from the tribal designs for weavings bed-covers, stoles and table-spreads. Tripura, situated to the east of Bangladesh, has a tradition of its own. Intricate patterns are woven on rihas, cloth worn by women on the upper half of the body. The background is a dark blue-black but sometimes red, and over this, intricate patterns of stars, dots, stylized floral motifs, or the swastika are woven. Weaving is a so much part of their lives that the young girls are brought up on stories built around it. The Cinderella-like story of how an orphan girl married a crown prince because of her innovative designs is often told along with the story of how a girl wove a snake to such a perfection that it bit her!
The woven riha is so important that in one of the wedding rituals the girl is represented by the riha woven by her.