Why constitutes hand-weaving ?
The definition of what a hand-woven saree is has evolved over the decades. In the earlier days, the process of weaving a silk saree was almost entirely done by hand. This includes the designing as well as the weaving process. The procedure was very laborious and the time taken per saree was high. Due to the lack of ample production, the demand for hand-woven sarees was always higher than the supply, leading to high prices and only the richest of the rich being able to afford them.
The situation in 2022 is quite different. Today, it is considered acceptable to use some automation in the design process while keeping the weave hand-operated and authentic. Jacquard machines along with punch cards are often used to craft intricate designs on the sarees. Use of Pneumatics/hydraulics in order to reduce the physical labor involved is also common practice today.
Why are the number of handlooms on the decline ?
The total number of hand-operated looms have declined quite astonishingly over the last decade or so. There are several reasons for this trend. While an average weaver can earn quite a respectable income weaving silk sarees, the perceived status of a weaver in society has gone down. As a result, weavers prefer that their sons or daughters don't get involved in weaving and this drastically reduces the talent pool required.
Another major reason is the adoption of power looms. Power looms are almost entirely machine operated and only needs a human to supervise production. This means that one weaver can run three power looms simultaneously as opposed to one dedicated weaver for a single hand loom. This combined with the speed of power looms means that the sarees produced are far cheaper than their hand-woven counterparts.
The superiority of hand-woven sarees :
Every decade or so, there is a prediction made that hand-weaving will cease to exist in the next decade but this has not happened. Compared to a machine-woven saree, hand-woven sarees are thicker, more lustrous, more intricate in the weave and can carry far more weight. A certain class of saree lovers still make it a point to only drape themselves in hand-woven sarees for functions and auspicious occasions.
There are still complex designs and techniques that are out of the reach of machines and can only be crafted by hand.
What does the future hold for handlooms?
Its always hard to predict the future since we live in such unique times. Technology has become a part of our lives to an extent before never seen in the history of humanity. But the trend we see is positive for the future of hand-woven sarees and most of this is due to the increased awareness among young people about the uniqueness of hand-woven sarees.
This has been due to a sustained campaign over the last few years by a lot of people to spread awareness among consumers. These people are motivated by the need to preserve an ancient art that is unique to this country and to make the industry of hand-loom weaving sustainable and profitable for all parties involved.