[By K.M.A. KADHAR & Dr. G. HARIRAJ, Scientists, Silk Testing & Conditioning House, Kanchipuram and appeared in Silk Mark Vogue]
Kanchipuram town is also known as silk city since the main profession of the people is weaving silk sarees. The silk weavers of Kanchi settled more than 400 years ago and have given it an enviable reputation as the producer of the best silk sarees in the country. Its economy is entirely dependent on tourism and handloom industry.
THE USP A typical Kanchipuram silk saree is known for its distinguished characteristics of heavy weight coupled with classic colours and rich zari border and pallu. Two types of warps are used for manufacturing Silk sarees viz. Jari warp of 2 ply 2 fold threads and Jodupuri warp of 2 ply threads. Zari thread consists of coloured silk thread as core wrapped with flattened silver wire with gold plating. These silk sarees are well known for inter woven lace work and its lusture, which are the dexterity of the dyer and weaver in bringing the lusture and design respectively.
THE LOOM: Two types of looms are used in for the production of Kanchipuram silk saree viz. Frame loom and Pit loom. Throw shuttle is invariably used for the production of saree on the two types of loom. The main parts of the loom are: Sley, Treadles, Reed, Healds, Warp Beam, Cloth beam, Shuttle and Lease rods.
Figure below, illustrates the layout of a weaving loom used in the production of silk saree production. The sheet of warp yarn , consisting of the required number of ends wound into considerable length, carried upon a suitable device and folded and tied in such a way that necessary tension is obtained for weaving the cloth. The specification for making the warp, in addition to stipulating the type of yarn, the number of ends and the length of the warp, may also include a pattern if it is desired to produce a cloth with colored stripes but the zari thread is always used as extra warp only.
The warp threads from the ball or beam are then drawn through the healds, H1 and H2, threaded through the splits of the reed R and at the point I interlaced with the weft supplied by the shuttle S (throw shuttle). The cloth is formed at the fell of the cloth F, and is wound upon the cloth roller situated at the front of the loom CR after passing through the take up roller TR, which ensures enough tension for winding the cloth. The reed is fixed on the Sley, which moves freely. The treadle operates the healds to form the Shed. Lease rods are used to minimize the entanglement of warp threads by re grouping them.
The weaving process itself consists of three basic operations viz. Shedding, Picking and Beat-up which form a continuous cycle in the simple handloom either pit loom or frame loom. The picking and beat up operation are fixed no matter what type of fabric is being produced, but the shedding motion is variable and can be described as the heart of weaving as it is here the nature of interlacing, the weave is decided.
RAW MATERIAL: Pure indigenous raw silk is used for the production of Kanchipuram silk saree. Cross breed silk (Bivolltine X multivoltine) variety is used in silk saree production. The Filature/ Multi end fine quality raw silk of 16/18 denier is used in warp preparation and Filature/ Charka coarse quality silk of 22/24 denier is used in weft preparation. The raw silk is twisted as organzine or tram yarn for the preparation of warp and weft respectively. Both warp and weft are dyed at Yarn stage using either acid or metal complex dyes. Thus, the silk saree produced is a loom finished fabric.
ZARI: Zari thread is also extensively used as raw material for the production of silk saree. It is also used as extra warp and or weft in order to produce intricate designs on silk sarees. The main component of zari, which is predominant, is given below.
a) Silk (Dyed) - 20 – 22 %
b) Silver - 50 – 55 %
c) Gold - 0.5 – 0.6 %
d Others - 22 – 29 %
1. Winding, Doubling and Twisting: In the case of warp preparation, the raw silk is first wound on a suitable small bobbin, which is taken for primary twisting (18-20 TPI) in S direction, then doubled and finally twisted for secondary twisting (18-20) in Z direction. For weft preparation, the raw silk is first doubled and twisted (8-10 TPI) in S direction using up twister.
2. Degumming & Dyeing: Warp length is generally of three saree length and the weft is of small hanks. Both warp and weft are first degummed using soap and soda solution at alkaline pH at near boil for definite time and dyed using acid / metal complex dyes at acidic pH medium using Glabour salt as exhausting/ leveling agent. Warp yarn is dyed using tie & dye method in order to have different body and pallu colours in a single warp.
3. Dressing & Sizing: The warp is given a dressing by stretching it out in the open by using stout bamboo rods. Dust and dirt are removed and the warp is looped. The looped warp is immersed in rice kanji (Diluted rice Gruel) and this process is called sizing. After sizing, the warp is stretched once again for dressing and dried by exposure.
4. Piecing: The newly prepared warp is attached to the corresponding thread of the previous saree, threads of the saree already woven on the loom remains behind after the saree has been cut out. This process is called Piecing. This is a delicate and slow process and requires dexterity and patience.
5. Drawing & Denting (Aluppiduthal): The new warp which has been joined to the old warp by piecing is again stretched in order to remove entanglement. The newly pieced warp is drawn forward through the healds and reed. The above process is called Aluppiduthal in local parlance. The yarn is divided on the loom into segments. One end is fixed to the cloth beam [PADAMARAM] and the other end to warp beam [OODU KATTAI]. The distance between cloth and warp beam is 12 feet and this length ensures the required tension for weaving.
6. Joining of Lace: Saree border designs are first prepared on graph sheets and then transferred to the harness known as Adai. These Adais are given necessary cord connection, while the gold threads on either side of the warp are drawn through the eyes of the design healds (Pettuvizhudu). At first, some old silk threads are passed through the glass beads of in the design healds. Then, lace is connected to these old silk threads in order to avoid contacts of fingers with the lace. The lace is stretched on the outer side of the warp to the same length and is fixed to one end of both sides of the warp beam depending upon whether the saree has a one side or double side border. After drawing the lace threads through heald eyes and reed dents, it is firmly fixed to the cloth beam with the help of the old silk threads. After this, the lace, which has been tied to one end of the warp beam is detached and fixed to a separate rod known as “Pattu Oodu Kattai” or lace beam.
7. Preparation of Adai: An outline saree border design is first drawn to scale on drawing paper and the design is traced on graph sheet paper. The required design is given to the design and inked-in squares are marked on the paper for the portion where figures come in. Now, this design is ready for the harness or Adai preparation. Jacquard attachment, which read the cards, punched to the requirement of the design, and accordingly lift the thread associated with the design formation and pattern on the saree is achieved.
8. Weaving: The Kanchipuram silk saree is distinguished by its 1) Body portion, which is either plain weave, motif & butta or rich brocade 2) Border portion, which is either single or double sided with motifs /medium design and 3) Pallu/ Mundi portion, which is generally of rich designs.
Plain weave is achieved by operating the healds, depending upon the need, by operating the treadle attached to it. Motifs in the border and rich designs in the Pallu / Mundi are generated by pulling the lever connected to the Jacquard boxes of different hook capacity. Thus, while weaving the body and border portion, treadle is operated along with or without jacquard lever with great care and dexterity. Weft insertion is always with hands by throwing a medium size shuttle from one end and beating the weft to the fell of the cloth. Small pirns of silk or Zari are used as shuttle for the weft insertion in the case of small butta, motifs in the body, Pallu and border. Thus, for the preparation of double side contrast border silk saree, three shuttles are used, which requires an extra manpower that is generally achieved by employing one semiskilled laborer.
9. Designs: The Kanchipuram silk sarees are popular for their technical excellence and novelty of their designs. Even though traditional methods of weaving are adopted by weavers, they have tried to keep pace with the changing preferences and tastes. This helped them to cater to the needs of varieties of tastes of young and old, rich and middle class consumers. To reduce the cost of production weavers manufacture sarees with borders on only one side with delicate designs. The popular designs in the border are brick, birds, animals, leaf, mango, nayapaisa, sovereign etc., The colours of the sarees must be pleasing and evoke consumer demand. The most popular colours used are blue, black, green and mustered. However, of late lighter shades are also quite popular.
Some of the popular designs worked into the saree are:
- THANDAVALAM or PARELLEL LINES: Where the stripes run along the length of the saree.
- KOTTADI or CHECK PATTERN: With squares or rectangle of various dimensions where the stripes run both the lengthwise and breadth wise.
- PUTTAS: The figures and flowers are independently worked into the saree and joined to the pattern found on the saree.
- TISSUE SAREES: The entire weft is woven with golden lace.
UNIQUENESS – AN OVERVIEW
The Kanchipuram silk saree is unique in many ways. The main features among them are Korvai and Petni. Korvai is the technique of joining the border to body of the saree [Single/ double sided border]. This techniques requires additional manpower, which generally fulfilled by employing household labourer. More clearly, few ends of body portion of the warp on both sides are interlaced with the border ends resulting as thick diligent stitch, which run parallel to the selvedge [Jamudu] up to the pallu portion. In order to achieve this effect, three shuttles are used, two are handled by the weaver concerned and the third one is handled by the household labourer. Since this process requires additional labourer, who has to synchronize his activity of weft insertion with the experienced weaver, results in enormous delay.
Secondly, the Petni process, which is nothing but mending the Pallu portion of warp with the existing portion of the body in each saree. This involves mending of all the warp threads in the body portion of the saree, which counts to few thousand. Moreover, after mending, the ends have to be cautiously drawn through the delicate heald high as well the tender stalk of Cholam. Also, after drawing the newly mended threads/ ends, one has to care fully weave to certain extent, which requires more skill. This results in homogeneous blend of differently coloured warp yarns as a special effect which runs across the length of the saree.
The main disadvantage associated with this Petni process/ effect is that it requires more skill and labour for the proper formation of this effect. When high value items are woven, extra care is warranted for producing this effect. Also, considerable quantity of material is wasted besides wasting precious time. Now a days, this Petni process is seldom employed in regular sarees production, where as the production of high value items and traditional sarees involves Petni process.
In most of the silk saree production, the Petni process, which is mending differently coloured end for the production of Pallu/ Mundi portion, has been replaced by tie – dye process. In this process, a single warp is dyed with two or more coloured dyes in order to have different body and pallu hues. This is generally achieved by dyeing one saree warp length [both body and Pallu portion] with body colour first, stripping the Pallu colour by means of bleaching, which is a reduction process and finally dyeing the Pallu portion with different colour.
The main disadvantage associated with this tie & dye process is that repeat dyeing of warp and stripping/ bleaching of Pallu / Mundi portion results in poor tenacity properties. Thus, the life of saree and its durability particularly the Pallu portion is reduced. Also, the reduction process of bleaching has its own disadvantage in silk dyeing system; reformation of stripped colour due to natural oxidation at Pallu portion is highly undesirable. Of late, the silk industry resorted to dyeing the body and pallu portion part by part without stripping the Pallu colour.
This uniqueness of the Kanchipuram silk saree especially the Korvai and Petni with its associated disadvantage should be maintained. This should be the main aspiration for any process invention, loom modification and product development in manufacturing of Kanchipuram silk sarees, which is being tried by master weavers time and again.