A real look at handloom: Experts talk on India’s finest weaves and share tips to identify fakes
The power of the skilled craftsmen is inherent in every hand-crafted and hand-woven beauty one gets to witness. From lush brocade silks that have an innate royal feel, to luminous, featherweight chanderi cottons — finely-crafted handloom pieces will always win the creative battle over all things machine made. But, while one loves to invest in artisanal creations, often, it gets difficult to spot the difference between the real and the fake. Experts decode that, as they speak about some of the most popular weaves. So, what really is handloom? “By definition, a handloom is an equipment used for weaving, utilising manual power. A loom was a household furniture in ancient Greece, which later became an occupation,” says designer Divya Sheth. Adds designer Madhu Jain, “A handloom textile is exactly what the word suggests: a hand (or foot) operated loom is used to weave textiles. It is the oldest textile production technique and goes back 2,000 years in India! It is a highly skilled profession.”
Brocade: Payal Khandwala
It’s the sheer genius of the technique, its infinite possibilities and the sheer intricacy that’s hard not to fall in love with. Brocade is luxurious, looks dramatic, feels soft to touch, its light, and it’s comfortable. In that sense, it truly unparalleled. Brocade fabric is made on a handloom with the traditional warp and weft, in addition to a third weft that floats above the textile to weave the motifs. This is done typically in a metal thread (zari) but it doesn’t have to be (can also be done in silk or cotton). The motifs can be woven in two ways. Fhekuan, where the metal threads go from one edge of the fabric to the other, creating floats on the reverse of the fabric — these surplus threads on the back can be trimmed as needed. And, Kadhuan, a more process intensive and tedious way to weave where each motif is woven independently so there are no floats in the back. This makes the fabric comfortable to touch and better to drape, but can also make it far more expensive.
Reality check: The best marker is the price. If you’re getting one for very little money chances are, it’s a fake! Brocade saris in silk are expensive to weave. You can ask for certificates now that they have an industry mark. If you are confident, turn it around to see how the weft floats across. But try this only if you have some experience in buying brocade saris and can tell by technique. Some powerloom products can be difficult to spot. I think however, the best way is to buy from a retailer, weaver or a brand that you trust. That you know works with authentic artisans and that is proud about its heritage and cares about the craft. That is really the only way to know that you’re not buying a fake.
Banarasi: Ritu Kumar
Handwoven Banarasi silk sari is crafted by local artisans and characterised by their gold or silver brocade or zari, the finest quality of silk and opulent embroidery and motifs. Often people fall prey to the low cost fake Chinese made Banarasi sari, mistaking it for a real one. Banaras offers an amazing repertoire of decorative designs ranging from the geometric to highly stylised floral and fauna representationsfrom the late Mughal period, arguably one of the richest eras in India’s history of textiles. The craft was also known for its intricate weaves like the kinkhaabs, gold and silver meenakaari brocades which camouflaged the repetition in the design, thereby giving it the effect of a continuous flowing pattern.
Reality check: One of the basic ways one can tell the difference is to simply see the reverse of the sari and check for floats between the grids of warps and wefts on the sari – only in a true banarasi will you be able to see this technique. Another way to differentiate is a technique called a kedwa weave which defines a handloom from a powerloom.
Jamdani: Gaurang Shah
Jamdani, a discontinuous extra weft technique of weaving takes no help from machinery. A hand drawn artwork design is kept under the warp in the loom, and is replicated by the weaver to the finest details. The weaving technique is such that there is no repeat, which means there is a scope for each flower to be a different shape, a different colour or a different texture.
Reality check: Remember, Jamdani, a weaving technique, will not have yarn floats on the backside, and moreover the extra weft yarns are interlocked with each other and not ‘cut’ to make it look like a jamdani.
Chanderi: Nishant Malhotra, Founder weaverstory
The original weave from chanderi will have two distinct handwoven features. The weave is embroidered (kadha) and there will be no cutting behind the motif, unlike some other clusters. The weaves will have occasional running thread left uncut. Chanderi is mostly woven in cotton and combinations of cotton with silk etc. This makes it more affordable. Also the colours and motif are different as each weaving cluster has its own inspiration and form of depiction of flora and fauna. The loom set up is different and structure allows variation to be faster. Saris are normally made with blends of cotton and silk. This is back of a boota showing embroidery and running weave.
Reality Check: The wrap in powerloom will mostly have a synthetic fiber and zari used is plastic so the border will be shinier and less flexible.
Paithani: Gautam Gupta
Paithani dates back to the 17th century. It was one of the richest weave that India has. A traditional paithani sari with zari can take more than two years to be fully made. The distinctive features are the pallus — they are 20-28 inch long with exquisite work. These elaborate pallus have motifs like peacock, and lotus as they are considered auspicious and rich. The saris are made with mulberry silk that is sourced from Bangalore mostly and zari that comes from Surat, even if one uses the same loom, no two paithani saris can look and feel the same.
Reality Check: The reverse side of theses saris with be same as the front and if the zari used is not good quality, it will turn dark. when exposed to the sun. One can also test a silk sari by burning the open threads, once they catch fire, nothing will be left as they are biodegradable.
Patola: Madhu Jain
Patola is a double Ikat, the most complex Ikat weave. In India, it is woven in Naglonda district of Andhra Pradesh, as well as in Gujarat, where it is known as Patan Patola. Even the finest of Ikat weavers cannot render Patola, unless they have been tutored in the fine balance of dyeing both the warp and weft. To give you an idea of the labour involved: a Patola sari can take up to a year to weave! Globally, only four countries produce double Ikat: Indonesia, Guatamala, Japan, and India.
Reality Check: It is important to buy Patola saris from a reliable source. Very few weaver communities are trained to produce these, so it might be a good idea to check the veracity of the claims of the seller. A ‘real’ patola sari is reversible – it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the front and the back.
A handloom is an equipment used for weaving, utilising manual power. A loom was a household furniture in ancient Greece. It was a household fashion which later became an occupation. It was carried by a class of citizens called textores from which the modern word textile came. Divya Sheth, designer. A handloom textile is exactly what the word suggests: a hand (or foot)-operated loom is used to weave textiles without the use of electricity. It is the oldest textile production technique which goes back to 2,000 years in India! Handlooms – on either pit or frame looms – require a deft, practiced hand, and the skill is passed down generationally. It is a highly skilled profession. Madhu Jain, designer