India and its rich cultural heritage have attracted people from far and wide. Traditional art forms, weaves, embroideries and prints have mentions in the Vedas, and amongst archaeological finds. In the booming age of technology where relevance is measured with innovation, it is of utmost importance to never lose sight of our glorious past. Fashion is at the crossroads, and conscious efforts towards binding the centuries old crafts will have far-reaching consequences on the generations to come. While Indian designers seem to have answered the wakeup call and are doing their bit to encourage the local weavers and artisans, it will still be a long strenuous journey towards the goal of making the young generation aware of their heritage, and encouraging them to take an active part in preserving it. Having said that, we are here to celebrate five popular weaves and techniques from around the country, in our own attempt to spread the importance of “revival in fashion”.
Bright sari’s with iconic red borders from Karnataka and Maharashtra have gained immense popularity amongst loom lovers. A 1200-year-old tradition of Ilkal weave makes Karnataka the biggest contributor to the rich handloom tapestry of India. The style found its origin in the small town of Ilkal, in the Bagalkote district of Karnataka. Usually, Ilkal sari’s use cotton and silk fabric, or even a combination of both. The use of light and breathable fabric makes it ideal for the hot and humid weather of this region. The designs are kept minimal, with a plain or checkered body. What truly draws attention are the vibrant and contrasting colours of the border and pallu. Weavers are known to derive their inspiration from their surroundings, including nature, geometric patterns, architecture, to name a few. Yet, despite the complex craft, the simplicity of the designs still shines through.
Even though the technique was borrowed from China, block printing has been used in India for the last 12 centuries. This culturally distinct art form was adopted and adapted by the diverse states of the country, who made it their own by mixing in their own dyes and patterns. The technique involves elaborate steps which start with getting the master design ready in the form of sketch or painting. Next, it is laid on a wooden block and fixed into place, after which the master-carver creates the design on the same. It is then ready to be dipped in ink, to make replicas of the original design. Block printing offers creative freedom, with options to create all types of pictures, diagrams, sketches or motifs. From Ajrakh print of Gujarat, to Dabu and Doo Rookhi prints of Rajasthan, it helps showcase the artistic flair of our country.
Having caught the attention of international brands and designers, including Dries Van Noten, Etro, Oscar de la Renta and Blumarine, the Kashida embroidery brings out the true essence of its land of origin—the beautiful valley of Kashmir. The intricate art form involves intrinsic needlework, and dates back to the Mughal era, where it was encouraged by the emperors and their royal families. The mesmerising beauty of Kashmir translates well into this fine craft, where artisans are often found replicating nature in its purest form—through birds, trees, leaves, motifs, etc. Though the traditional form of embroidery involves a single style of stitching, artisans are known to experiment with many other stitches, including but not limited to satin stitch, herringbone, stem and chain stitch, and more; on saris, shawls, phirans, to even upholsteries and home furnishing items.
This complex technique, believed to have originated in Indonesia, involves dyeing and weaving to create designs on fabric. The stunning masterpieces often depict cultural nuances from different regions of the country. More than the weave, Ikkat is all about the pattern, which involves a tedious process where the yarn is first dyed in bundles, and then woven on the loom.
Originating from South Asia, specifically Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha, Kantha is one of the oldest forms of embroidery in our country. The word ‘Kantha’ means ‘rags’ in Sanskrit, and as the name suggests, Kantha embroidery is used to upcycle old or discarded clothing items. Rural housewives of Bengal played a pivotal role in making this craft popular. Back in the day, Bengali women made quilts out of old sari’s, using the Kantha stitch. In this way, it spreads the message of sustainability in fashion. From quilts to saris, shawls and even home décor items, Kantha has found patrons with all types of discerning interests. The technique involves running stitches that depict motifs, flowers, animals, patterns and even scenes from day to day life.