To Create a Woven Identifying Mark for Handloom Varanasi Brocades

Yasmin Sethi, a graduate from Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London is a product designer, researcher, teacher and craftsperson.

July 2012, Craft Revival Trust
One of the major threats faced by Handloom weavers in Varanasi is competition from the Power loom. A majority of the cloth woven on the handloom is undistinguishable from the cloth woven on the Power loom. This has lead to a reduction in cost and value of the Handloom Varanasi Brocade. It had also lead to a reduction in the earnings of an average Handloom weaver.

A mark to identify the Cloth and Saris woven on the Handloom will help preserve the brand value and the identity of Varanasi Handloom Brocades. It will provide an easy identifying mark for those who are willing to pay a premium for handloom. At the moment due to the difficulty in identifying handloom and powerloom brocades many consumers that are willing to pay the premium for a handloom sari are getting cheated. As a result the value and the willingness of the consumer to buy handloom is getting eroded. This has also resulted in lower wages and living conditions for the handloom weaver.

Through an analysis of the process involved an effort has been made here to develop a system whereby a genuine handoom product can be distinguished from a poweloom one.

Brocades are woven on Jacquard looms. In Varanasi two main brocade weaving handloom techniques are practiced, 'Karua' and 'Phakua'.

In the karua technique the extra zari weft is interwoven with the warp in a discontinuous manner, only in areas where there is a pattern. For every area where zari is required the weaver has thin spools that are passed through the warp by hand. This technique can only be used on the handloom.

In the phakua technique the zari yarn is woven along the entire length of the cloth in a continuous manner. On the front side the pattern woven looks identical to that woven using the karua technique. On the back of the cloth however you either see continuous unwoven zari threads or the cut ends of the zari threads that have been trimmed along the outlines of the motifs.

An equivalent of the phakua technique is woven on the powerloom and the cloth produced is identical to that woven on the handloom. It is in this case that there is an urgent need to be able to identify cloth woven on handloom versus that woven on the powerloom.

It takes three times longer to weave the same pattern using the karua technique than it does to weave it using the phakua technique on the handloom. This results in a major difference in cost of a karua sari and a phakua sari. Making a karua sari unaffordable for many consumers.

The set up of the Jacquard loom for the weaving of brocades using the karua or the phakua technique is identical. It is possible to weave a motif/ a line of motifs using the karua technique in a predominantly phakua sari. As the Phakua technique can only be woven by hand this motif or line of motifs becomes an interwoven identifying mark of a handloom sari that cannot be reproduced on the powerloom.

As only a motif/ a line of motifs is being woven using the karua technique the additional cost and effort required is small. The benefits of having a mark that cannot be replicated on the powerloom is considerable.

A label and literature can be attached to the sari or cloth near the woven motif to explain this identifying mark. This will help the consumer also know that what they are buying is legitimately handloom. It will also help raise the value of handloom and over time lead to a rise in wages and conditions of the Handloom weaver.

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