In the mid of 19th century, The Silk came to Varanasi with some merchants from China. It traveled a long distance from China to Europe, to Middle East, to Gujarat, finally reaching to the city of talented weavers. The merchants who brought this new thread to the city were so enthused by the patterns and designs of local weavers that they spent a long time of their journey here. The merchants shared their designs from Thangka and other patterns of geometrical designs with locals and taught the weavers how to produce the silk thread.
“The legendary story which connects silk to China has it that the business for creation silk cloth was initially invented by the beautiful wife of the Chinese Emperor, Leizu, circling the year 2700 BC. The sense for silk first illuminated to Leizu while she was enjoying her tea in the imperial gardens. A cocoon dropped into her tea and disentangled. She perceived that the cocoon was literally made from a long thread that was both strong and soft.
Leizu then located how to combine the silk fibers into a thread. She also designed the silk loom which combined the threads into a smooth cloth. In no-time Leizu had a garden of mulberry trees for the silkworms to feed on.”
It soon transformed into a prolific industry and produced unmatched designs with elegant silk in the city. Today most of the weavers here are from Muslim community and are engaged in it for generations.
Birth and Cultivation of Silk
Original Silk is produced by silk-worms (Bombyx mori) in process of forming the cocoon within which the larvae germinate. One specimen is able of producing a 0.030 mm thick thread over 800 metres long. Different such filaments are twisted together to produce a thread hard enough to be used to weave material. Fabrics are then created using looms. It could be dyed and painted by using such minerals and natural materials as red ochre, cinnabar, powdered calm shells, powdered silver, and indigo and other inks produced from vegetable matter.
Sericulture – the cultivation of mulberry leaves, the rendering of silkworms, collecting of threads from cocoons and the weaving of silk – initially appears in the archaeological database of ancient China. Present archaeological records suggest that the Indus Valley civilization in Indian subcontinent was also producing silk contemporary with the Neolithic Chinese. It used the Antheraea moth to produce silk threads for weaving.
Dying of Silk
Silk has an effective affinity for various dyes, hence could be dyed with acid dyes, metal complex dyes and reactive dyes, which are most commonly used. Basic, vat and mordant dyes are also used but to a smaller extent. Among above stated, acid dyes are the most widely used class of dyestuff for silk due to their brilliant shades, good fastness properties with ease of application.
Silk Weaving Technology
Handloom is an important cottage industry in India, forms a part of India’s rich cultural heritage. Though the methods employed in making handloom fabrics are simple, the result is extraordinary. The variety of designed material and articles woven on the Indian handlooms is almost infinite. Silk handloom weaving is one of the traditional occupation in India which speaks of ancient glory and widespread over several states.
Hand woven fabrics of India- the Banaras, silk weaving is done on throw shuttle pit loom with jacquard attachment. Silk saree, furnishing fabric, dhoti, turban, silk odhani and brocade fabric for dress material are the main products of Banaras silk industry. Silk and/or zari used for extra weft designs. The silk saree weaving involved skill and took lots of time because of its elaborate intricate designs. Two weavers worked together for weaving one brocade saree.
Banaras brocade is India’s fabric of dream; a cloth of gold. In olden days very fine and delicate gold and silver wires were interwoven instead of yarn. The saree ultimately glittered with a metallic sheen. However, the silk yarns used in weaving are purchased from Bangalore, Kashmir and Malda and tested zari from Surat. The varieties of Banaras silk sarees are Brocades, Jangla, Tanchoi, Satin border, Organza, Resham butidar and Cutwork woven with a harmonious combination of plain, satin and twill weaves to create interesting floral, fruit, animal, bird, geometric patterns and human figures. Colours used were the shades of pink, red, blue, green, yellow and purple.
Other Silk Weaving Centers
Grandeur of Kancheepuram- the Kancheepuram silk sarees are heavy in nature and woven with charka raw silk. The 16/18 denier silk is generally used. While 13/15 denier raw silk is preferred for zari work. Warp yarns of 18 tpi and weft of 8 tpi of fine, medium and coarse charka silk is employed. Generally 2 ply yarns are used for body and 3 ply to 4 ply for border on both sides and pallu. Kancheepuram sarees are generally weft prominent. Sarees have earned a name for their durability, thickness, quality, drapes and low creasing tendency because of its typical fabric sett.
The saree woven in double colour is its specialty, which imparts a rare glow both in natural and artificial light. The motifs used represent a gallery of exotic, exquisite and sturdy designs. Unlike other silk sarees, these have distinctive body, border and pallu in enchanting colour combinations. The traditional colours are deep colours like violet, magenta, crimson, bottle, green, coffee, turquoise, mustard, orange, golden yellow, navy blue, red, parrot, green, brown and black were used. Mixed colours to produce shot effects in the saree are also observed.
Silk Mekhela chador – a traditional dress of Assamese women, is the product of throw shuttle looms were replaced by fly shuttle looms with a 120 hooks jacquard. Recently, muga twisted single ply yarn is used for warp and reeled single ply for weft. Tasar and mulberry yarns are also used in Mekhela chadar. The mulberry yarn is 2 ply twisted filature/charkha of 36 to 40 denier used for warp and 3 ply twisted charkha yarn of 50 to 60 denier for weft. The chadar is 2.70 to 3 m in length and 1.02 m in width.
It is woven more commonly on fly-shuttle loom with muga, tasar and mulberry silk yarns. The woven patterns are produced with extra weft yarns, art silk and zari. The body of the chadar is plain or has butis with big designed border on anchal. Mekhala is plain or with small butis all over the body and designed border on the lower portion. Whereas riha is mainly plain with designs on either sides.
● Siddharth Singh