The fabric of peace

The fabric of peace

Eri silk

The lesser-known silk Eri, which is known as the fabric of peace and is an all-weather fabric, has seen a makeover in recent times. By incorporating different designs and techniques, designers are trying to introduce it into modern fashion vocabulary. 

Found mostly in the northeast India, especially Assam, the silk is extracted from Samia-Cynthia Ricini (also called as castor silkworm). These worms are completely domesticated and are reared on castor oil plant which produces a white or brick-red silk thread. After 30-32 days, the moths leave the cocoons open-mouthed. These cocoons cannot be reeled into raw filament yarn, but are spun like cotton. The reason why this silk is called ‘fabric of peace’ is because, unlike other silks in which closed cocoons are put in boiling water to prevent worms from eating the threads while they try to open it and fly out of it as moths, Eri silk is procured without any killing of worms. Because of its unique thermostat property, these fabrics can be worn in all seasons. It’s a staple fibre, it’s spun from cottony threads unlike other silks and also blends well with wool and cotton which makes it a friendly fabric, just like cotton. 

Delhi-based designer Gautam Gupta recently launched a collection of Eri silk sarees, in ikat prints. He used the process of natural decatising, which softens eri silk and adds lustre to it. It took him 6 to 12 months, as Eri threads, unlike other silk threads, have rough texture. Explaining the process, Gupta says, “After extracting the fibre by means of mechanical and human efforts, it is converted to yarns, with the help of integrated infrastructure. Since our weaving was to be done in ikat so it involved tie and dye with natural colours.

“It is a slow process as we do space dyeing with different colours on the same threads for both warp and weft. Once dyeing is done the loom is set up. Different sections are made in warp threads to be controlled by weavers during weaving.

 After a long process, the fibre is transformed into a saree,” adds Gupta who recently changed his label’s name to AshaGautam. 

However, designer Deepika Govind, who has been working with the silk for the past few years and launched her collection of Indian and western ensembles, says that there are many things which are to be kept in mind while converting the material into wearable pieces. She points out, “Imparting proper twist to the threads is very important as it will give a dimensional stability to the fabric especially for garments. Eri threads have a very stiff nature. When weaved without blending with other quality of threads, it takes a very rigid form, like that of a cardboard.”

She adds, “Also, because these yarns are very thick in nature, it becomes very difficult to dye. One has to pay special attention to make the dyes penetrate the yarns.” 

Earlier, eri silk was used by the Northeastern people to make shawls, mekhela chadar (traditional wear of Assam) and other winter wears. Thirty-year-old Joyonto Thakuria from Udalguri, Assam who weaves eri silk sarees for Gupta believes that “the recent time has seen an upsurge in demand of eri silk garments, in terms of sarees and dresses. I was surprised when a man from Delhi (Gupta) came to me and showed interest in eri silk.” 

But both Gupta and Govind feel that it can be a fashion statement if worked more on it. 

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