Handloom and Handicraft History

Evolution of Handlooms

India’s heart lives in its villages and the villages’ heart is in handlooms. With millions of looms engaged in weaving cotton, silk and other natural fibers, there is hardly a village where weavers do not exist, each weaving out the traditional beauty of India’s own precious heritage.

The handloom industry rolls its carpet back to the ancient times. The very first fragment of Indian handloom was excavated from the parts of Egypt. After that, finely woven and dyed cotton fabrics were found in Mohenjo Daro (Indus Valley Civilization). Indian floral prints, dating back to the 18th century A.D were discovered by Sir Aurel Stein in the icy waters of Central Asia. There were some more excavations that speak of the golden history of Indian handlooms. Even, the Vedic literature has a mention of Indian weaving. In fact, all evidence show that of all the arts and crafts of India, traditional handloom textiles are probably the oldest.

Even in the Mughal era, handlooms were prevalent. The fineness of the hand woven fabrics were such that poets of the Mughal durbar likened muslins to baft hawa (woven air), abe rawan (running water) and shabnam (morning dew). A tale runs that Emperor Aurangzeb had a fit of rage when he one day saw his daughter princess Zeb-un-Nissa clad in almost nothing. On being severely rebuked, the princess explained that she had not one but seven jamahs (dresses) on her body!

Prior to imperialism and colonization, all the natural fabrics like silk, cotton and jute were hand-woven. Khadi too was very prevalent then. Much later,mechanization created faster and better means of spinning and weaving. With introduction of machinery, the technicalities and finesse were given due care. It also helped the weavers, embroiders and hand-printers to create new designs and patterns. The export of cotton and silk that started in India during the British era enabled to showcase Indian talent and expertise in other countries as well.

Creating a special place for itself across the globe, Indian handlooms from across the many states of the county,with its many varieties and flavorshas collected a precious wealth of innovation and has been instrumental in emergence of India as the most richly cultured country.

The Indian Heritage

Pure mulberry silks from Tamil Nadu, textured ahimsa silks from Bihar, ikats from Andhra and Orissa, tie and dye from Gujarat and Rajasthan, brocades from Banaras, jacquards form Uttar Pradesh, Daccai from West Bengal, and phulkari from Punjab –No matter how unique and distinct each weave is,there has been a great deal of healthy technical and stylistic exchange.

For example, the famed Coimbatore saris have developed while imitating the Chanderi pattern of Madhya Pradesh. Daccai saris are now woven in Bengal, not Dhaka. The Surat tanchoi based on a technique of satin weaving with the extra weft floats that are absorbed in the fabric itself has been reproduced in Varanasi. Besides its own traditional weaves, there is hardly any style of weaving that Varanasi cannot reproduce. The Baluchar technique of plain woven fabric brocaded with untwisted silk thread, which began in Murshidabad district of West Bengal, has taken root in Varanasi. Their craftsmen have also borrowed the jamdani technique.Woolen weaves are equally renowned. The Kashmiri Pashmina and Shahtoosh shawls are world famous for their lightness and warmth.

The states of Kashmir and Karnataka are known for their mulberry silk. India is the only country in the world producing all four commercially known silks – mulberry, tussar (tussore), eri and muga. Now gaining popularity in the U.S.A. and Europe tussar is found in the remote forests of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Another kind of raw silk is eri. Eri is soft, dull and has wool like finish.

Assam is the home of eri and muga silk. The natural tone of golden yellow and a rare sheen that becomes more lustrous with every wash, Muga is known for its durability. The designs used in Assam, Tripura and Manipur are stylized symbols.Assamese weavers produce beautiful designs on the borders of their mekhla, chaddar, riha (traditional garments used by the women) and gamosa (towel). It is customary in Assamese society for a young woman to weave a silk bihuan (cloth draped over the chest) for her beloved as a token of love on Bohag Bihu (new year’s eve).

From Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Gujarat are the ikats. The ikat technique in India is commonly known as patola in Gujarat, bandha in Orissa, pagdu bandhu, buddavasi and chitki in Andhra Pradesh. In the ikat tie and dye process, the designs in various colors are formed on the fabric either by the warp threads or the weft threads or by both. The threads forming the design are tied and dyed separately to bring in the desired color and the simple interlacement of the threads produces, the most intricate designs that appear only in the finished weaving. The Orissa ikat is a much older tradition that Andhra Pradesh or Gujarat, and their more popular motifs as such are a stylized fish and the rudraksh bead. Some say that ikat was an innovative technique, first created in India, which wast later carried to Indonesia, the only other place in the world with a strong ikat tradition.

Using Dyes

The process of resist dyeing, tie-dyeing and yarns tie-dyed to a pattern before weaving were the basic techniques of indigenous dyeing of village cloth. Shellac was used for reds, iron shavings and vinegar for blacks, turmeric for yellow and pomegranate rinds for green.

Before the artificial synthesis of indigo and alizarin as dye stuffs, blues and reds were traditionally extracted from the plants indigofera, anil and rubia tintorum (madder-root). These were the main sources for traditional Indian dyes.

Even today, the Kalmkari cloth of Andhra Pradesh is printed with local vegetable dyes. The colors being shades of ochre, deep blue and a soft rose derived from local earths, indigo and madder roots.


Andhra Pradesh has made a significant contribution to the history of hand-printed textiles in India. Printing is native to the land, its pigments being obtained from the flowers, leaves and barks of local trees and it chemicals obtained from clay, dung and river sands.

A new technique has been developed in the northern sectors where warp threads are lined, measured and tied to the loom and then printed. The warp-printed material is a specialty of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

The ideal seasons for block printing are the dry months. Excellence is achieved only if the block is freshly and perfectly chiseled. The designs are produced by artists and the designing is kept within the discipline imposed, the type of yarn, the dyes used and the weaving techniques, by the nakshaband has (graph-paper designers).

India though is famous for its handloom saris, it also produces a range of home furnishings, household linen, curtain tapestry and yardage of interesting textures and varying thickness, which have been devised by using blended yarn.

Given the wide and exciting range of handloom it is not surprising that the rich and beautiful products of the weavers of India have been called “exquisite poetry in colorful fabrics.”


The National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum (NHHM) commonly known as National Crafts Museum in New Delhi is one of the largest crafts museums in India and is run by the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India. It was set up over a period of 30 years starting in the 1950’s and 60’s by the efforts of the renowned freedom fighter late Smt Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, when the area was envisaged as an ethnographic space where craftsmen from various parts of India would come in to work towards preservation of various traditional arts and crafts. By the 1980’s it already had a substantial collection, and in time the museum space gradually evolved and transformed into its present shape. Today the museum holds over 35,000 rare and distinctive pieces reflecting the continuing tradition of Indian craftsmen through painting, embroidery, textiles, various crafts of clay, stone and wood, all housed in a building designed between 1975 and 1990 by architect Charles Correa, incorporating traditional architectural vocabulary into a modern design.



Reference: http://handicraftsindia.org/handlooms/history-handlooms-india/



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Since the dawn of civilization, handlooms have been associated with excellence in India’s artistry in textiles and fabrics, and sari which is considered to be the most ancient piece of clothing has been inspiring generations of artists and craftsmen to weave their dreams and visions into creating exquisite handloom sarees. However with passage of time, just like the clacking sounds of the looms, the dreams and visions of these weaves too are fading away.In an attempt to bring handloom sarees back in vogue, Shatika has begun a revolution; a six yard sari revolution is a humble attempt at bringing back the lost love for handloom sarees. Dedicated to creating a unique interpretation of the age old craft, we travel to all colourful corners of the country visiting weavers,guiding them on the latest trends so they weave out the age old tradition with a modern touch and bring them online so you can savor the delights of hand picking them from the comfort of your homes.