Kanchipuram Silk – The Silk drenched in Sweat!

‘Kanchipuram’ is known for its finest silk sarees all over the world. The main highlight of the saree is that they are hand-woven by skilled craftsmen using age old technology with fine precision and care. I am really thankful to the people of Kanchipuram for explaining the entire process of weaving silk sarees, something I always wanted to learn about.

A two hour journey from Chennai and you will reach the town of Kanchipuram. I just asked a random guy there if I can see the hand weaving of silk saree and he happily took me to his home and showed the whole process step by step.

To begin with, the required pattern is fed to the Jacquard machine as punched cards which in turn lifts up the silk threads. The craftsman then slides shuttle of alternate color thread between these lifted threads. After each slide of the shuttle, the threads are packed up with the lever. A complete saree takes shape in around 4-6 days with painstaking effort by these people.

Before the silk threads are fed into Jacquard Machine for weaving, raw silk needs to be processed ,colored and wound into bobbins.
Raw silk comes in amber color which needs to be colored according to the requirements (Red threads in the pic). After coloring, the threads are spread out and stretched with wooden fixtures. To separate out individual threads and remove the excess water content they beat the stretched silk with a long stick.

Then begins the tiring process of grouping the silk threads into sets according to the design requirement. Dried silk threads are dipped in rice water(because of high starch content) and then kept in sun to dry, giving stiffness to silk threads. After it is dried, workers wind it in into bobbins required for the saree preparation.

In the picture above, you can see the man separating colored silk threads stretched with wooden fixtures. I sat down with him for around half an hour to see the process and I must say that it requires a lot of patience and skill.

The threads after drying are stored as shown above. He was kind enough to show me each step of the silk preparation with precise detail. One such roll of silk threads costs around six thousand rupees, he told me while we was explaining the process. He felt pride in demonstrating how strong and light are the original silk threads are.

After my generation all this will vanish, I will never ask my son to continue this just like my father did to me. I want them to study and find some other job.” said Thankavel after walking me through the silk sarees weaving process.

Earlier, the silk weavers were artists who presented their work as sarees. They couldn’t keep up with the rapid change in fashion and most of them became paid laborers for giant companies. Now these companies give them the punched cards with the desired design, silk and raw materials and use these people for mere labor.

There are a lot of intermediate people involved in the making of a silk saree from weaving to the customer. The margin adds up which in turn reduces the margin of these people. Just like farmers, these people are also exploited because of the middle man culture.

I understand Thankavel’s choice of not letting his son continue his journey. But I want to do something from my side to promote their work. Something like a short tour of hand weaving process so they can earn a little extra apart from daily wages. Let me know if you have any ideas so together we can help these people. 🙂


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