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Recently, I went on a day trip to Pochampally, a village about one and half hours away from Hyderabad by car. The village is famous as a center for handloom weavers who produce cotton and silk fabric for clothes and household goods.
Firstly, I headed to the local tourist center where there was an exhibition about weaving in the area, with examples of local work and explanations about the different stages of production; from plain white thread through to the finished fabric. In fact, each village, or sometimes even each weaver, has his or her own designs. There was a local weaver at work, who told me that he manages to do about a meter a day, that’s about one sari a week.
The unusual feature of Pochampally weaving is that the warp threads (the ones that go up and down the fabric) are all plain colors and the design is dyed into the weft threads (the weaver threads across the warp). This demands very accurate dying of the thread for the design to come out correctly, over quite a length of fabric. They do not change threads when they want to change color, but the thread is multicolored.
I didn’t stay long in the museum because I wanted to see people working in their houses. So, I went outside and asked where the weavers’ colonies were. I started wandering around the village. All the villagers were very friendly, but nobody spoke English. Finally, I ran into three young boys, one who could actually speak some English, who took me to see a house where their family was working.
The looms are installed in the family home; apparently in the house I visited they eat and sleep around the two looms, which are set into the floor so that the weaver can sit with his knees under the loom.
First, one member of the team, a specialist in dyeing, tie-dyes the threads to the color and design ordered. This can involve dipping the threads into 4 or 5 different colors, the ones I saw were a special order for a lady in Hyderabad. Then the loom is threaded up and the weaving begins. The looms are quite low so there is a hole dug into the floor for the weaver to sit more comfortably. The weavers use just their hands and feet to weave, but they manage to build up quite a speed, especially over the plainer parts of the designs. Apparently men and women both weave, but I only saw men dying the threads.
After about half an hour in the family’s company, and having politely refused a kind invitation to stay for lunch, I continued my way around the village and found a much bigger place, a workshop with a lot of looms – eight at least.
Another employee showed us the dying process in detail – the basic design is drawn on the threads, the string is knotted in round hanks of white thread, the hanks are then dipped in the first color, then they are dried on a special frame and other thicker knots of thread are added before they are dipped in another color, and so on, adding a new color each time. The dyes are prepared, depending on the quantity required, over wood fires in cauldrons or in pans on gas cookers. Again the weavers were quite happy to let us sit and watch them at work.