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The variety in ikkat across India

Pochampally in Andhra Pradesh and Rajkot Patola weave of Gujarat are famous for their individual brand of ikkat sarees. Ikkat prints are trending and high fashion on a variety of fabrics like pure cotton, pure silk, georgette, crepe and supernet, to mention some. The Odisha Sambalpuri and Bomkai Handlooms have their own versions fairly similar but with nuances while the North East Assam and Meghalaya Handlooms sport their own kind. The Designer Rajkot Patola Pure Silk Ikkat printed sari with embroidered border and pallu embellished with crystals and beads is an exquisite creation. Rich in construction, grand in look, it is preferred wear for weddings, as bridal attire, for festivals and social occasions. The artistic excellence of Ikat prints can be gauged from its traditional motifs of flowers, dancing girl, creepers, leafs, parrot, animals, birds, mythological characters and geometrical patterns. Most of the ikkat printed sarees have repeated geometrical patterns of diamonds, circles, squares, lines etc.

Pochampally Ikat – the development of the craft

Before the weaving is done, a manual process of winding of yarn called Asu needs to be performed. This process takes up to 5 hours per saree and is usually done by the womenfolk, who suffer tremendous physical strain due to constantly moving their hand back and forth over 9000 times for each saree. In 1999, a young weaver C Mallesham developed a machine which automated the Asu process, thus developing a technological solution for a decades-old unsolved problem.

The Ikat technique of weaving has been in the Nalgonda district for the last 35-40 years. The origin of this technique of Ikat is not clear. One version says that some weavers who migrated to Nalgonda from Chirala brought the craft with them. Others opine that the Nizam of Hyderabad settled a few weavers of Mashroo (where brocaded cloth with cotton in the inside and silk on the outside) in Nalgonda who slowly developed the craft.

As the craft developed several ways, Ikat weaving styles varied widely. The design motifs that were selected were either due to reasons ethnic, ritual, with symbolic meaning or were developed due to the export trade which started in the 1960s with encouragement from the government. There were the Festivals of India, showcased Indian art and craft in countries overseas, an initiative that came much later. In fact some of the local weavers received some training from the weavers at Chirala. They found the double Ikat difficult to follow but managed to pick up the single warp Ikat nicely. First they practiced on cotton and later started on silk as well. The success of Ikat on pochampally silk sarees made Pochampally a generic name for Andhra Ikat fabrics. Thus Nalgonda became a hub for dress materials and furnishings with Ikat.

Nalgonda district has since flourished with 40 plus villages around Hyderabad which are known for their individual specialization or catering to a certain aspect in the Ikat craft. Pochampalli specializes in silk sarees of both single and double Ikat, Choutuppal specializes in cotton Ikat sarees, Siripuram, Velanki, Koyyalagudem produce silk and cotton fabrics and furnishings for the domestic and export markets as well. So too with other hubs in the region, each having taken up some specialization in a long list of production items like cotton and silk sarees, shirting materials, furnishings, bedsheets and the like in Ikat style. As time went by they also formed co-ops amongst themselves and others who joined on the outside and their efforts bore fruit with better organization and management, resulting in better remuneration for their efforts.

Today there are about 5000 handloom weavers in Pochampally and around who create sarees in traditional Ikat work. These sarees are world famous because of its unique design and color combination. These saris are hand woven in cotton and silk fabric. Pochampally Ikats compared to the Ikats of Orissa can be differentiated by their feel, which is not as heavy, is in fact lighter and smoother.

Pochampally sarees enjoy a better market in India and abroad because the weavers use modern synthetic colors instead of the expensive vegetable dyes for dyeing, thereby not only bringing down the cost of production, but also getting a chance to be more creative by trying out complex designs.