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The millennial’s guide to understanding handloom

From the difference between handloom versus machine loom to the common myths and misconceptions, call this your guide to handloom. We suggest you keep it handy.

Handloom vs synthetic

Why is handloom a preferred product when I can buy synthetic fabrics that feel smooth and last long from the high street?

Handloom fabrics are essentially fabrics that are woven by hand on a manually-operated loom, with the most commonly used one being the pit loom. Most handloom fabrics are made using natural fibers, which feel significantly better against one’s skin as they are processed with lesser chemicals, or in some cases, grown organically without any use of chemicals—thereby making them eco-friendly and also putting less pressure on the environment, as they are easily biodegradable. The body also tends to breathe easier in handloom fabrics. Having said that, all synthetic fibers/fabrics aren’t bad as many are developed keeping a certain utility in mind.

Handloom is more sustainable and uses minimal resources like electricity without causing any damage to the environment. The handloom industry involves a community that has been practicing an artisanal skill or technique for generations, where each person has a specific role and contribution. Investing in handloom means doing your bit in preserving a traditional craft and supporting an artisanal community.

They also come from a long and ancient tradition that distinguishes different communities from each other and gives each a distinct identity. They can be as narrow as four inches in Tripura, or be woven as nine-yard saris in Kanjeevaram.

The price tag

The tag on something handmade is always followed by a few zeros. Millennials who are either young adults finding their feet in their respective fields or starting families, or perhaps still students, can’t afford the luxury of handmade. Can the price tags on these garments be validated?

Generally speaking, handloom fabrics tend to be more expensive than the synthetic mill counterparts owing to the hand labour involved and limited production capacity when compared with power looms. Not all handlooms are expensive, and it totally depends on the fabrics or the yarns being used. Sometimes, it also depends on which region the handlooms are coming from, as techniques of weaving differ from place to place.

The level of artistry and intricacy achieved in handloom fabrics is unparalleled, with certain weaves and designs still beyond the scope of modern machines. While India provides about 95 percent of hand-woven fabric in the world, sadly there is very little demand for handloom products in our country.

Handloom and the millennial mind

With the current buzz around handloom textiles, there is more demand for it [now] (some more than others) than at any other given point of time, but simultaneously the quality of handloom is deteriorating day by day. A lot of power loom fabrics are getting passed off as handloom, thus giving genuine handloom fabrics stiff price competition. For the longest time, we’ve seen Indian handloom fabrics being limited to ethnic wear. Educating the new-age customer through presentations and group travels to certain [artisan] clusters to actually showcase the painstaking work that is put into the development of these fabrics, will ensure the growth of this industry.

Every craft takes time to execute as it involves complete human involvement, so unless [the artisans] get the right buyer who is ready to pay a price for their skill, it does not lead them to earn what they deserve. So, when we choose a handcrafted product by paying its right price, we are indirectly encouraging the artisans to continue to practice the art, thus saving it from entering the endangered list.

The secret to appreciating handloom cloth is in its touch. The unevenness of the hand and the spontaneity with which patterns can be created are far more diverse than machine-made cloth.

Busting myths

A common misconception that we all believe has been alleviated in the past couple of years is that [handlooms] are only good for ethnic wear. But with the use of the right construction techniques and a good understanding of silhouettes, handloom fabrics can be used for a wider variety of clothing.

As it is a hand-woven fabric, it might have some irregularities that arise on account of being made by hand. But these are intrinsic to the beauty of the textile and should not be considered defects.

That handlooms are boring or old-fashioned and need to get sexier. We need to educate the customer better and appreciate the sophistication that a weaver embeds into traditional designs.

 

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