Designs plied to perfection


Equipment: Pit loom. Count of warp: 2/80s cotton. Count of weft: 2/80s cotton. Count of reed: 56s. Picks per inch: 54-56.

Sitting on the crumpled carpet in Stall No 73 in Dastkar’s South Asian Bazaar, I was befuddled by all the mathematical jargon that ikat weaver Edam Srinath was spewing in a fast-forward mode. Before the numbers came the two-word title: telia rumal. I had an inkling about the traditional Andhra ikat telia rumal, a 55-75 cm square-shaped loincloth woven in pairs in Chirala, the oldest ikat centre in Andhra Pradesh. But that little knowledge fell flat at the deluge of warp and weft counts and picks per inch. Until Srinath caught a breath and wove the ikat story, as sedulously as he weaves an ikat silk sari.

The word ikat is a derivative of the Malay word mengikat (literally to bind, to tie). That is what ikat is all about — binding (resisting) and dyeing the warps and wefts before weaving. As etymology would suggest, ikat is not an India-exclusive weaving art; it is practised in variant ways across Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Japan, and Indonesia. Even within India, ikat acquires various hues, nuances and names. The Odisha ikat is distinctively different from the Andhra ikat; in Rajasthan, it is known as patola; in Gujarat as bandha; telia rumal in Andhra Pradesh. Japanese Kasuri ikat is famed for its weft weave while Tenganan Pegeringsingan in north-east Bali (the Geringsing cloth) are the finest double ikats.

No one carbon dates the beginning of ikat in Andhra Pradesh. However, the common assumption is that ikat weaving began in Andhra Pradesh at the turn of the 20th century. Stories abound, narratives falter at flawed bends, but old-timers talk of the Nizam of Hyderabad who settled a few mashroo (brocaded cloth with cotton inside and silk outside) weavers in the Nalgonda district.

The present-day ikat was born out of mashroo. So they say. Another story traces the beginning to the weavers of Chirala who settled in Nalgonda many, many summers ago. However, what remains indisputable is the fact that today, there are at least 40 villages within the 70-kilometre radius of Hyderabad where ikat is woven; each village specialising in one form of ikat: Pochampalli in silk saris; Choutuppal makes only cotton saris; Siripuram, Velanki and Koyyalagudem weave cotton/silk yardage as well as furnishings. Koyyalagudem, Bogaram and Siripuram are cotton ikat centres; Choutuppal primarily does mercerised cotton while Puttapaka, Pochampalli, Ghattupal and Vellanki are famous for cotton/silk ikat saris.

Ikat sure revels in its array of designs and colours, its motifs ranging from tales/themes borrowed from the mythology, regional motifs, everyday encounters or motifs from the plant/animal kingdom.

But all ikat have identical beginning — as art visualised on a sheet of graph paper. After the design has been replicated on the warp and weft, bundles of yarn are soaked in dye baths according to the predetermined colours and patterns, with the resist areas bound with rubber bands (usually, strips of cycle tyres).

With the yarn dyed in vibrant areas, the equipment is prepped for weaving: charkha is used for winding the yarn on a bobbin (warp) and pirn (weft); the warp yarn is prepared on a warping machine;the weft designs come alive on the chitiki frame; the bobbin is fitted into a shuttle and dobby comes handy for extra wrap designs.

Ikat weaving is a dreary process, even for the deft weaver. Working 10-12 hours a day, Edam Srinath can weave only about eight saris and 20 bed covers a month. “Things have changed exponentially in the past 40 years,” says Srinath, who remembers his grandmother Yadamma Edam hunched over vegetable dyes giving the handspun yarn the desired colour using strips of leaf or coarse cloth for resist areas and spending countless hours to weave a sever-yard saree.

Though mechanised looms are still not in vogue for ikat weavers, sadly, synthetic and chemical colours have elbowed out natural dyes. Vegetable extracts like turmeric, marigold, pomegranate rind, madder, lac have made way for mordants like alum, tinchloride, ferrous sulphate, and copper sulphate.

At the Dastkar South Asian Bazaar, which provides a platform for artisans and craftsmen from South Asia, my mind was buzzing with ikat info. I could imagine Edam Srinath sitting in his home in Koyyalagudem village returning to mathematics to weave an exquisite ikat silk sari: Count of warp: 28-32 denier, 2/ply, filleture (silk). Count of weft: 16/18 denier (light, medium, heavy). Ends per inch: 86. Picks per inch: 100... On the crumpled carpet in Stall No 73, I was lost in ikat numbers. Again.

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