THE MARVEL OF KANCHIPURAM SAREES
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.
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 warp is 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 is the dexterity of the dyer and weaver in bringing the lusture and design respectively.
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.
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.
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 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.
Silk (Dyed) – 20 – 22 %
Silver – 50 – 55 %
c) Gold – 0.5 – 0.6 %
d) Others – 22 – 29 %
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 technique 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.
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.
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.