India celebrated the 7th National Handloom day, last Saturday. Why handloom? Does it make any economic sense to handcraft clothes in this industrial era? The reason is that handloom resonates with Indians with the act of being self-reliant. Mahatma Gandhi had adopted it to dismiss British textiles in favor of locally spun khadi, during the freedom movement. Well, handloom resonates further differently with me.
Ours is a weavers’ family. My ancestors weaved for a living. In our lineage, my father is the last one who knows how to operate a handloom machine, although he chose to be a school teacher. My connection with this craft is limited to the memories of watching my grandfather weaving, during our visits to him during summer vacations.
Although my grandfather worked at a cooperative society of weavers, he also occasionally weaved at home on his own loom. It all started with big bundles of thread in different colors. Some processing preceded the actual weaving on the loom. my grandmother, uncle, and aunt all chipped in to do that.
The threads were first soaked in flour solution and then dried to stiffen. The stiffened thread was spooled on big reels with long handles, made of bamboo.
One handle of which was kept in between the toes of a stretched leg and the other end was spun with hand. This thread went on to the spindles.
Weaving is all about crisscrossing threads in two directions which are technically called warp and weft. The warp yarns are stretched in the longitudinal direction. The weft is the thread from the spindle, that goes laterally under and over these warps. This is what is done on a loom. My grandfather had a pit loom. The pit had paddles that he operated with his feet while moving both of his hands in coordination. A rhythmic sound and a nice fabric were the outputs of this hard labor. I saw him weaving nice bedsheets.
One peculiar habit of my grandfather that did not miss my eyes, was, no matter whatever is the setting, if he saw a new fabric, he always touched it with his fingers to check the fiber and the weaving, almost involuntarily!
My father had learned to weave in his younger days and worked routinely as he grew up to support the family. He has an interesting story to tell. When he did his B Ed. (Graduation in Education), they had to take up an optional practical course and he obviously picked up weaving, when he saw that as an option. His instructor was shocked by his weaving skills. After few sessions, he simply asked the rest of the students to simply learn from my father.
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