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Handloom: The Traditional Indian Weaving Technique

Updated on June 22, 2018
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India’s textile minister Smriti Irani brought handloom into limelight by starting #iwearhandoom campaign on social media recently during the national handloom day on 7th August. Soon twitter and facebook was abuzz with people posting their photos with the hashtag #iwearhandloom. This campaign was quite a hit and was successful in its objective of raising awareness about handloom fabrics.

With the domination of power looms in India, the traditional handloom industry (fabric woven by hand) is in a pathetic condition and the weaver communities of Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are living in dismal conditions. Though in the past few years, traditional handloom crafts have witnessed a resurgence but still a lot needs to be done to revive India’s dying crafts.

The government is trying to do its best to promote Indian weaving techniques so that it can contribute to the livelihood of local weavers who are leading a pathetic life as the handloom industry is dying a slow death. Many renowned Indian fashion designers like Ritu Kumar, Sabyasachi, Neeta Lulla and Anita Dongre are working towards the revival of traditional Indian handloom techniques by featuring them in their collections. The designers are using traditional handloom fabrics for Western outfits, thus giving them a modern and contemporary appeal. The trend is to mix old designs with new techniques to create original products.

Handloom Quiz

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Khadi is the sun of the village solar system. The planets are the various industries which can support khadi in return for the heat and the sustenance they derive from it. Without it other industries cannot grow.

— Mahatma Gandhi

One needs to educate India more about handloom. Internationally when you show people how a saree is woven, they say its such luxury. I think the biggest problem of handloom is that you don’t have proper education to tell people how precious it really is.

— Sabyasachi

Handloom industry makes up for over a tenth of India’s total fabric production. Weavers across the country create a spectacular range of fabrics, from pashmina & shahtoosh of Jammu & Kashmir to the Madraschecks & Kanchipuram of Tamil Nadu to the eri & muga silks of Assam to the ties and dyes of Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Along with the artistry of weavers, the Indian handloom industry portrays the rich and diverse Indian culture. Over 4.3 million people are directly involved in the production, thus making the handloom industry as the second-largest employment provider for the Indian rural population after agriculture.

Handloom is a simple machine which is used for weaving cloth without any electricity. Hand weaving is done using pit looms or frame looms which are installed in the homes of the weavers. This traditional art form has got a boost as many famous designers are now including handloom materials in their designs. Indian handloom fabrics are perfect for India’s tropical climate as they are breathable and skin friendly. Handloom fabrics allow more air penetration which in turn makes them cooler, softer and more absorbent, thus making them an ideal wear for Indian Summers.

Handloom fabrics are a bit expensive but one should not forget that apart from the cost of the raw material, handloom fabrics also include wages for the weavers who weave the entire fabric by hand as opposed to the power loom fabrics which are woven using machines and are produced in bulk. Indian handloom products are known for their finesse and unique designs.

Do’s and don’ts

  • Handloom fabrics have to be taken extra care of as they are more sensitive than power loom fabrics.
  • Make sure that the handloom material you buy is an original and not just a power loom replica. It’s easy to recognize an authentic handloom fabric as it will always have a glitch effect i.e. a raw or unfinished feel.
  • Handloom fabrics can’t be stretched and so don’t use them to make tight-fitted clothes.
  • Always check the reverse side of the handloom material for its finish. Sometimes after weaving, the loose threads are not finished which may damage the fabric in the long run.

Khadi is only seemingly expensive. I have pointed out that it is wrong to compare khadi with other cloth by comparing the prices of given lengths. The inexpensiveness of khadi consists in the revolution of one's taste. The wearing of khadi replaces the conventional idea of wearing clothes for ornament by that of wearing them for use.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Some ideas to pep up your mom’s old handloom sarees

  • A peplum jacket can be created using your mom’s silk brocade which you can pair with palazzos or silk skirt.
  • You can make a gown for formal events using a handloom raw silk saree.
  • A silk organza cape will look elegant when layered on a bustier worn with high-waisted handloom cotton trousers.
  • A Benarasi georgette handloom saree with geometrical motifs can be used to create a drape dress.
  • You can create short dresses for formal functions using old brocade sarees.
  • A maxi or dress made out of Chanderi cotton silk saree will look not only stylish but would be comfortable to wear too.
  • Try a shirtdress out of a Bhagalpuri silk saree.
  • Convert your old silk saree into a lovely midi skirt and use a powdered or matte toned top balance the look.
  • Nehru coats made from your mom’s old Kanjeevaram over a crisp light colored kurta would be an ideal way to make a fashion statement.
  • Create chic long skirts out of old silk sarees and pair them with nude toned and self-colored tops.
  • Remodel your silk saris into silk kurtis for special occasions.

We must promote the use of khadi. Buy at least one khadi article. If you buy Khadi, you light the lamp of prosperity in the house of a poor person.

— Narendra Modi

Will PM Modi's request to buy Khadi get a good response from the youth?

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Handloom Textiles of India

© 2017 Shaloo Walia


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    • swalia profile imageAUTHOR

      Shaloo Walia 

      11 months ago from India

      Now you an buy hand woven cloth and outfits online too. Websites like fabindia ship internationally.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      11 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have a few of these hand woven Indian outfits. I bought the cloth in India when my husband worked there but designed dresses from them. They're beautiful cloth. I need to go back there as I can't anymore fit in what I have.

    • swalia profile imageAUTHOR

      Shaloo Walia 

      15 months ago from India

      @Bill You're welcome!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I love learning about other cultures so thank you for this education.


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