Handlooms – the ‘Desi’ flavor in Indian fabrics

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Handlooms – the ‘Desi’ flavor in Indian fabrics


When our Prime Minister Narendra Modi coined Vocal for Local he was referring to all things Indian that could easily replace today’s dependence on their foreign counterparts. It was a bid to instill the love for the ‘Desi’ stuff that if given a little encouragement, could not only improve the image of the country as an increasingly self-sufficient nation but also help improve the conditions of the lot producing them and thereby the economy of the country as well.


The PM is a great advocate of “Desiness” especially since the advent of COVID-19 made us dependent initially on other countries for the basic health equipment needed to counter the developing situation of increasing cases of infected persons.


And the country responded splendidly in one voice. Yes, we are capable of becoming self-sufficient, if we just get a little push from the government. In turn the government did and continues to do so.


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What is ‘Desiness’?


‘Desiness’ is the taste of one’s country, the love for the local, the unending indulgence in its flavours.  It’s what is typical and unique to one’s own country. It could be certain habits, a tradition, a manner of speaking, a behavioral trait, something that cannot be seen replicated easily anywhere else in the world. Putting it another way it could also be about being close to one’s roots. Being in love with all that has the flavor of one’s own country.


One of the Desi flavours of India is handlooms. India is famous for its traditional handlooms, especially sarees and other fabrics. Handlooms are the soul of Indian ethnic, the means of livelihood for millions, with a glorious past and a promising future.


Handlooms are a tradition, handloom weaving an art, a way of life in India. Be it the Kashmir valley or the backwaters of Kerala, the arid deserts of Rajasthan and Kutch or the Seven sisters of the North east. The styles may be different, the outcomes varied, but the essential theme of fine weaving and exquisite designs and adornments to transform an average looking fabric into an extraordinary work of art is common to at least 21 states of India that have centres devoted to this age old means of livelihood.


There is nothing like a handloom saree when it comes to variety and look. Finely woven fabric, there is interplay of design and pattern, motif and border, embroidery and painting or other interchangeable permutations and combinations, that each product is unique, each item as distinctive as the next.


What is a handloom?


A loom is a device used to make cloth. The loom holds the warp threads under tension longitudinally, to facilitate the interweaving of the weft threads laterally. There are very many looms and though shapes and the mechanics vary, the basic purpose is to weave cloth. Cloth from looms, mostly operated by hand, other than the power loom are defined or known as handlooms.


Handlooms have always been acknowledged in India and universally as having extraordinary potential to fuel a continuous stream of new and interesting fare, year after year. Rich in possibilities from permutations and combinations applied to a whole host of factors like design, color, pattern, manner of incorporating, adornments and so many others, it unfailingly sustains the needed variety and diversity that answer’s the expectant market’s constant need for change and creativity.


People do not understand the true worth of handloom. Not only is it a heirloom product, that defines the pulse of India, it also sees unity in its vast diversity. Handlooms empower a vast section of society that constitutes a rural population which has handloom weaving as its livelihood and which provides a mainstay to India’s economy. Each handloom product is woven with devotion and care, given that individual attention that intentionally the weaver tends to give out of love for his craft.


The level of artistry and intricacy achieved in the handloom fabrics is unparalleled and certain weaves/designs are still beyond the scope of modern machines. Handloom sector can meet every need ranging from the exquisite fabrics, which takes months to weave, to popular items of mass production for daily use.


Handloom sarees of India


Handloom sarees are woven across the length and breadth of India at different locations, each location having its own nuances, its local tradition of weaving. No wonder there are innumerable varieties of sarees with names based on the locations where they traditionally belong. Each variety has its peculiarities, forms of adornment, its special characteristics and the making process. Some varieties are even attached to royal times based on the encouragement received from their respective benefactor rulers, some others a background from the way they have evolved over time.  Weaving is roughly the same process all over, it is the manner in which additions are made during the weave, after it, the coloring, the other processes typical to each variety, that create the shades of difference.


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Fibres in handlooms


Cotton, Silk, sico, jute, linen, and other natural fibre threads are used to create wonderful handloom fabrics. Silk and cotton have been used as fabric material since centuries, the others being the later additions over time. While silk and cotton have the tensile strength to be stretched in the weaving process, some of the other natural fibres achieve their strength in the making of fabrics only through blending with silk or cotton. Artificial or man-made fibres are also sometimes used to make blends for sarees on hand operated looms.


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Cotton – very much suited for handlooms


From the time natural silk started getting scarce or costlier, cotton worked as a very good substitute. Cotton is a fine natural fibre whose fabric is soft, light, airy and very comfortable, especially during hot weather and clammy conditions. It is durable, has good affinity to colours and is skin-friendly. Handloom cottons are woven on hand operated looms as against mass produced cotton fabrics woven on power looms. Cotton handlooms offer good canvas for designs, patterns, motifs and absorption of colors, along with very many other virtues including no two sarees being alike absolutely.


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The astounding variety in handlooms across India


With good blending qualities, handlooms of traditional styles such as Gadwal, Uppada, Pochampalli, Kanchipuram, Mangalagiri, Venkatagiri, Narayanpet, Rasipuram, Kerala, Chettinad, Banaras, Kota, Orissa, Bengal etc., all have along with cotton and silk, blended Cotton and silk fabrics of very good quality and durability. Since they offer good canvas for prints, beautiful designer saree versions are available using traditional block bagru and dabu prints in a wide range of extremely vibrant and pleasing colours.


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Ethnic varieties in India


Based on their unique characteristics, certain varieties have become identifiable specific to a place or region. There are others that are associated with certain styles, be it of weaving, dyeing and printing, or some other particular feature. The Bandhani tie & dye of Rajasthan, Gujarat, the ikat patterns of Pochampally, Sambalpur, the Kalamkari of Andhra Pradesh, the Batik and the Tant handlooms of Bengal, Chikankari of Lucknow, Patola weaving of Patan and Rajkot, Patachitra of Odisha, Warli painting of Thane, Ahimsa Tussar silk of Bhagalpur are some of the more popular examples. There are very many more of such cases. If this is not ‘Desi’ what is.


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Hand Block Printing and Miniature Prints


Hand block printing is a revolution of sorts which offers the advantages of little effort, maneuverability, lack of wastage of colour, uniform application, multi-variant designs on the same fabric and the greatest advantage of all, miniature designs replicated sharp and distinct on the fabric.


Hand block printing is practised in India mainly for Sarees and dress materials. Hand block printing is popular on account of its simplicity and ease of execution since the prints on the Sarees are distinct, accurate and provide finely detailed results. It is still a popular way of printing in Gujarat and Rajasthan on account of the fine and intricate designs in use in those regions.


Flowers, fruits, trees, birds, geometrical designs and figurative pattern are some of the popular motifs in block printed sarees. Block prints on various fabrics like pure cotton, pure silk, crepe, georgette, chiffon and super net make them look elegant.


The practitioners of block printing are simple folk, the outcomes of their efforts, extremely outstanding abstract patterns. In fact the ease of hand block printing allows multiple variations of design and pattern on the same saree. There are instances of 50 plus different patterns printed at varied angles in different positions and varying block sizes on the same saree.


The spread and variety of the art called embroidery


Embroidery or decorative needlework is usually done on fabrics like the salwar kameez and the saree, often of a picture or pattern, to heighten the appeal. It is practised in various forms in different parts of India.


Handcrafted embroidery is exclusive, unique, inspirational - a treasured art, since it is painstaking, time consuming, and a lot of care and dedication is put in by ethnic practitioners into the work, resulting in flawless creations of exquisite beauty.


The Masterpiece Saree collection


In a wide and varied range of sarees, there is a special line of such fabrics that have some unique features not found in the average lot, sarees with a marked difference in appeal and allure, sarees that fashion lovers and ethnic connoisseurs would not hesitate to separately address. These are offerings of care and creativity, diligence and dedication, works that are inimitable and inspirational – the masterpiece collection.


A class apart, an assemblage of well-crafted, beautifully designed, immaculately adorned, line of sarees. It is the endearing feature of  a saree that has taken time to weave, is woven with care, has adorning features quite out of the ordinary and has a classy feel by way of looks.


The churning out of such magnificent ethnic hand crafted creations, speaks volumes of the skills, effort and sustained dedication of these artisans spread over considerable periods of time. Devoted to their task, these artisans, use their talents and exercise such care that the resulting fabrics are flawless, exceptional and exquisite masterpieces.


Be it the different styles of weaving on different fabrics or the dynamic colour combinations, be it the intricate embroidery or the fine detailed hand painting, be it the miniature block printing or a fine patola weave, the ethnic skills come to the fore in all their glory to produce such superb pieces of art. No wonder India has been done proud by this ancient heritage sustained through the ages, passed down from generation to generation in a bid not to lose it through indifference.


The outcome of fusion of trending and traditional through designer prints, a variety of patterns, matching adornments and in a lot of colours and shades, is on display here. We do hope this effort shall help re-kindle the Indian spirit the world over and make it bring back the glory of past days through fresh opportunities for these extraordinary craftsmen to continue wooing the world.


Handlooms – a passion at Unnati Silks since 1980


From the time that Unnati Silks was established in 1980, handlooms have been both a passion and an undying devotion till date.  Why handlooms you ask?


  • Handlooms are part of the Indian ethos since very long
  • Handlooms provide opportunity to experiment
  • Handlooms with the possibilities offered can never be boring
  • Handlooms are virtuous in the weave and interesting in the look
  • Each handloom product is unique and never replicated. The difference between seemingly similar products seen closely would reveal the slight changes in design, the orientation of a pattern, the border width or any other variation. Like an artist or any professional, who does not desire that any two works of his are similar but individually unique, so too the weaver, master of his craft creates the changes however slight they may be.

A new ‘Desi’ range of pure handlooms at Unnati Silks in 2020



  • Half of 2020 went in fearing getting infected by Covid-19, the restart of regular activity starting in the second part of the year, post lockdowns. There have been excellent examples of the ‘Desi’ stuff once again.

Narayanpet handloom cotton sarees are once again back in the news. Within it you have several ranges.


  • You have the plain cotton sarees in distinctly striking colors like pista green, crimson red, burgundy, grey with luster and shine. The borders are fairly wide and laden with shining golden zari. The pallu or end-piece is fairly simple but attractive with tassel ends.
  • A second range caters to multicolor checks instead of the body remaining plain. The wide golden zari borders are very much there but here the pallu has also golden zari bands of even width alternating with checks pattern bands. Quite a sight!
  • A third range has the plain saree with the temple design borders.
  • A fourth range has the plain sarees with broad golden zari borders but this time with lovely imagery woven in, like the pecocks in series along the length of the border.
  • A fifth range has the plain sarees with plain borders as well. Here the aim is color contrast play. The pallu carries the designer color bands alternating across its width.

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  • One range is the Batik printed Kota cotton sarees. Here you have a plain body with different shaped motifs decorating the field. The border at both top and bottom ends has some design on it. This design gets repeated on the pallu as decorative bands. Looks very elegant!
  • A second range is of Batik shibori Kota cotton sarees. Fairly simple in design construction. There are large motifs across the field. The block printed shibori created designs on the pallu are fascinating. It is truly designer!

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  • It is an example of what an art hand block printing is. The Mulmul cotton saree is a very fine cotton garment, yet the traditional block printing comes on it in pleasing detail – flawless and detailed.

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  • The Bandhani Kota cotton saree the Bandhani patterns have always been fascinating and if you see this range you get to see a play in two colors with the Bandhani patterns nicely decorating them.
  • The pure tie & dye Bandhani silk saree this is single colored throughout, but covered in Bandhani patterns that truly show what an art is the Bandhani.

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    • Pure elegance through choice of color, motifs, pallu design, this range is in the deeper shades and almost assumes royalty by the smoothness of look.

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    • A fascinating experiment in colors that has turned out good on a smooth fabric like Linen, it is a range you must explore. If you are not bewitched like me then maybe I have got it wrong.

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