A Kanjivaram or Kanchipuram silk saree is a type of hand-woven silk saree made in Kanchipuram, a district in the state of Tamilnadu. These sarees are worn during weddings and special occasions by a lot of women across India and are celebrated for their excellent quality of weave, luster and classic patterns.
This article outlines the process by which a Kanchipuram silk saree is made, starting from the yarn all the way to the finished saree.
Raw Silk The pure mulberry silk used in the making of Kanjivaram sarees comes from South India, specifically Bangalore. The silk used for Kanjivaram silk sarees is mulberry silk, referring to the mulberry leaves which are fed to the silk worms that produce the silk. This process produces the raw silk needed for weaving.
This is what twisted silk yarn looks like. The yarn is still undyed and has a signature beige color.
Twisting The raw silk is then twisted to produce longitudinal (warp) and latitudinal (weft) threads. The twisting process is done by skilled laborers in Kanchipuram. During this process, the number of threads per square inch and the number of sarees to be produced are decided. Generally, Kanchipuram sarees have to be quite thick and this requires at least 4800 to 5200 warp threads. Each warp thread is around 25 metres in length which is enough to produce four full silk sarees along with the blouse pieces.
Dyeing The warp and weft threads are then dyed to product the required colors. The dyeing process is done completely by hand. The threads are first thoroughly washed and then soaked in boiling water. This process completely removes the gum from the threads and is called degumming. The color powders are then carefully added to the water and the mixture is stirred to make sure the threads are evenly dyed. Once this is done, the dyed warp and weft threads are allowed to dry under the sun.
Dyed yarn that is ready to be used for weaving.
Warping The next stage is warping, which is the process in which each warp thread is meticulously placed in the loom. The width of the silk saree is controlled by using a reed and each warp thread has to go through this reed and then ends up going through a roller. As the saree is woven, the warp threads unravel from the roller. One end of the loom has the warp roll and the other end has the woven fabric coming out of the loom. During this stage, the zari borders are also warped in the loom similar to the silk warp threads.
The warping process is quite intricate and can take many hours to complete.
Weaving The first four stages precede the process of weaving. Each one of those stages is usually performed by a specialist. The weaver then takes over to weave the fabric. The weft threads are placed in a light weight shuttle which is then gently thrown by the weaver across the warp threads to produce the weave. A typical Kanjivaram silk saree might take around 7000 throws of the shuttle to complete. Additional shuttles might be required in case the saree has zari/thread work on the body.
One of our weavers weaving a silk saree. Each saree can take, depending on the intricacy of the pattern, up to a month to complete.
Folding Once the saree is cut from the loom, it is carefully folded. This is an important process because the folding lines that are produced in this process stay with the saree until the saree is ironed. This makes it much easier to re fold the saree once it is worn.
While the weaving process of a Kanjivaram saree is well known, there are a lot of stages preceding the process of weaving as shown above.