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Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, the Fabrics!

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

It is so nice to be able to step back in time and revisit past journeys through our photos. The digital age has made it so easy to click, click, click and I think I took over 4000 pictures on my first trip to India. While having that many photos is wonderful, it also makes it hard to pick just a few, LOL. In this post I’ll share some of my favourite pieces that made their way home with me on that trip that I told you about in the January 29th post (click here if you missed it!).

Just to remind you, the village is in West Bengal, north of Calcutta. This village is famous for its extraordinary weavers, very fine weaving, Saris and an inlay technique called Jamdani. The majority of the weavers wove on simple 2 shaft looms, with fly shuttle attachments. Warping is an extremely meticulous process due to the fine warp threads and the finished fabric is breathtaking.

The piece below was woven on 2 shafts with reeled silk. The warp was black and the weft was the colour of copper. If you look right down in the bottom left hand corner of the photo below you can see what the cloth looked like when it came off the loom….simple flat plain weave. All of the texture that you see in the body of the cloth was done by using the thumbs to force the warp threads apart after the cloth was taken from the loom. When I first brought it home it had a wide border all across the bottom about 6” wide but over the years I have been adding texture to the piece by demonstrating how the warps threads were moved. I don’t have much space left to demonstrate…so I’ll have to go back and get another one. When I hold this cloth in my hands I realize that another artisan used their thumbs on every square inch of the cloth shifting the warp threads exposing the weft threads.

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

I have draped the scarf on Mary our wonderful model to show you this simple piece of plain weave in all its glory.

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

The next piece is an amazing example of beater control. It is woven in plain weave with weft faced bands of 3/1 twill. The warp is like a cobweb, so incredibly fine it almost disappears. A band of gossamer plain weave is woven and then a band of 3/1 twill is woven that covers the warp as it becomes weft faced but because the threads are so fine it has a drape and effect that is absolutely stunning.

You can shift those weft bands into the open space but in the 9 years I have had this piece they have never shifted on their own.

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

Another of my favourite simple plain weave pieces has several things going on.  The warp is cotton with a silk weft. This scarf is so soft…..it is difficult to describe just how it feels in the hand.

At first glance it is easy to see the horizontal space that is left every few inches, again controlled by the beater but it also looks like there is denting in the warp.  Denting is a technique where you leave an empty dent open in the reed. Those black vertical lines look like empty space but upon closer inspection it is really 3 ends of one colour and then one end of black, there is no denting happening in the piece just the illusion of it. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to use my thread magnifier to figure out what is going on in these pieces.

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

The last piece in this post is woven on 4 shafts and is plain weave threaded into blocks. Some threads are on 1 and 2 and another block is on 3 and 4.

It can be woven with a simple tabby tie-up where both blocks weave plain weave from selvedge to selvedge like you see at both ends or it can be woven with one block always weaving plain weave while the other block doesn’t weave at all. The is accomplished in the tie up. The threads on 1 and 2 are always changing places but the threads on 3 and 4 stay in the middle and have one pick that floats over the entire block of them and the next pick floats under them. When you weave this way through the entire length of the cloth you end up with stripes where your warp has no take-up because there is never any interlacement through them, just over and under them.
Those stripes are the wavy ones and they were warped in silk where the other plain weave blocks are warped in a very fine wool. The entire weft is the fine wool. There is also a fabulous graphic threaded into those blocks. It is such a simple idea and every part of this cloth, the hand, the drape, the shiny, the matte, the thin stripes, the wide stripes, the colour……screamed take me home! 🙂

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

I am so happy to be able to share these particular weavings because this cloth and the weavers of this village challenged beliefs that I had carried around since I started to weave 30 years before. They challenged my ideas around sett, use of reed and beater and about what you could and couldn’t do with thread or structure…it changed my entire thought process around design. I had always loved plain weave but I gained a profoundly deeper respect for it than was there before. I will be eternally grateful to these weavers, for their extraordinary skill and vision and for the gift they shared with me during my 10 days with them. Namaste.

Like this post? Please feel free to share their beautiful work on Pinterest using the graphic below!

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

13 thoughts on “Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, the Fabrics!

  1. Breath talking, extraordinary weaving.Thank you for sharing, Jane.

  2. What talented people. I loved looking at the different weaving.
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. These pieces are not only beautiful, they are inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing this part of your journey!

  4. Wow, Jane those are amazing pieces and hard to believe it’s just plain weave! I hope that in the future you will be maybe teaching some of these techniques in the guild

  5. beautiful pieces. wonderful writing. I am very glad you took that trip and found these pieces and can explain them and help us understand. I can see they are beautiful but would have no idea how anyone created them and constantly marvel at such skill on such rudimentary equipment. I sincerely hope you do get to go again someday. We will all benefit.

  6. Jane these are amazing and so beautiful, thank you so much for sharing and giving an indication as to how they were woven.

  7. All four are beautiful and intriguing in their make up. Your enthusiasm for and devotion to plain weave is wonderfully supported by these pieces. I particularly like the photos and accompanying descriptions of the first and fourth. Amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Thanks for going into more depth about the scarf with “invisible” stripes. You tease us with such beautiful works in the background of your videos. We learn so much more than what is in your lessons by just seeing the incredible works you have collected.

  9. Your examples are absolutely stunning. Sometimes I think we’re so stuck on having at least 8 shafts in order to make anything amazing, but you don’t. Two simple shafts, something that hasn’t changed in thousands of years, will do just fine to create an amazing result.

  10. I have a 4 shaft loom, whenever I start to get ‘shaft envy’ from a magazine pattern, along comes Jane to remind me that you can create beautiful and interesting fabric on only 2 shafts, just as she teaches us in the guild.

  11. Thank you so much for sharing these lovely woven pieces with us. We all get caught up with having the latest and greatest equipment that we forget what can be done on a simple two or four shaft loom. What lovely memories you brought back with you.

  12. I was in India in March this year for a few weeks and had the opportunity to observe weaving at a silk mill and up in the north at a woollen mill. It helps to stay focussed on the craft and not fixate on wanting to have “all the tools” in my little workshop after watching such beautiful things being produced with basic and straightforward methods.

    1. The weavers of India are such remarkable weavers and I always marvel at the skill in their hands rather than “the tools”.

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