The Linen Kanjeevaram

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The Linen Kanjeevaram

Notes from a loom experiment that led to the first linen blended Kanjeevaram

By: Radharaman K

The year was 2009 . The idea of a linen-blended Kanjeevaram had been brewing in my mind for some time but the thought of transforming the basic construction of a genre that had been unaltered for centuries was daunting. What if it did not drape well? Will customers accept it as a Kanjeevaram? What motifs can we use that will enable the zari to stand out? What “weaves” should we use? How can it be simplified for the weaver to understand? These were some of the questions that I wrestled with.

I am not known to be a restive soul. But when a design idea strikes my mind, I simply cannot sleep. I visualised the fabric in my mind several times over and over, like a thought experiment.

We finally developed an in-house sample on our sampling loom, and did several revisions to get the construction right. This was a time when the use of linen in saris was yet unheard of. Later that year, we finally decided to move the ‘experiment’ to a production sample.


The Reluctant Weaver

“Mudiyadu Anna” – (“It cannot be done elder brother”)–my master weaver Dorai responded, when I explained to him what was needed.

That came as no surprise to me. Over the years, I had grown accustomed to this. A ‘weaver’ in most clusters in South India is used to working with certain yarns, techniques and loom set-up. Contrary to his role in many parts of the country, a weaver in South India means the actual artisan who sits at the loom and plies his craft. He may not possess the technical knowledge of a designer and may not know how to construct the fabric, assemble a loom or innovate in any manner, yet his task-though simple in comparison to those of designers and technicians, is crucial. Every yard of cloth had to be blessed by his touch or so it would appear. Given this backdrop, most weavers remained intransigent when it came to the idea of adopting new techniques or ideas that they were unfamiliar with even if such an intervention promised better pay.

Skilled labour is scarce to weave even the most basic plain weaves. At the turn of the last decade, a wave of industrialisation had set in around the areas surrounding the town of Kanchipuram. Every week I would be greeted with the news that some weaver had taken up employment at a new factory nearby. “Nokia, Hyundai, Saint Gobain,” they would repeat to me when I asked where they were disappearing to. A steady monthly income, free uniforms and cafeteria food was enough incentive to most weavers. Now with the drying up of what labour was available, the possibility of introducing a radical new idea like the linen Kanjeevaram was seemingly remote.


The First Sample

Back to my conversation with Dorai. I further simplified the process-broke it down into easy steps. Finally, I told him that I would sit at the loom and weave it if need be to prove that it can be done.

That was the final straw. “Try Panigren”–(‘I shall try’) he responded.

I waited. Patiently at first, nervously thereafter. I made several visits to the loom. No progress. The warp was up and we were waiting for the end of the sari to try a sample. The yarns were ready. Will he, won’t he? Can he? These thoughts ran in my mind like the tunes of a broken gramophone record.

Finally, a sample was woven. It took three trials for the right adjustment in the number of picks. We had achieved a successful production prototype–three fingers long! Then twelve inches.

Proof if any, that it can be done.

“Romba nalla iraku” (it is very nice) was Dorai’s response.


Between Creator to Consumer

Back in the studio, we sat around the table to review the sample. A major battle had been won. A genuine breakthrough. But could we still weave an entire sari? Would the customers buy such an experimental piece?

Six more months lapsed as we set up the loom to weave the first ever linen-blended Kanjeevaram sari. Centuries of time had elapsed and no one had tampered with the basic structure of the Kanjeevaram fabric. It had always remained a genre woven with a heavily plied mulberry silk warp and similar weft. This was the secret of its luxurious drape, its iridescent colours. Were we disrespecting the genre? Were we telling people that the Kanjeevaram as we knew it was passé? These may not be the dilemmas of a regular designer but coming from a family of weavers, a family of traditionalists, these were important questions to me.

The first sari arrived seven months later. It was like holding a newborn . All of 750 grams, a blend of silk and linen in a natural shade of off-white. The zari gleamed brighter in contrast to the matte of the linen-something I had imagined in my mind’s eye.

We scrambled to sell the first sari priced modestly at ₹ 25,000. As a designer, I was conflicted at the news of the first sale. On the one hand, it was painful to part with the first creation, yet it brought with it a certain satisfaction by knowing that we had finally connected the dots.

I do not recall who the first customer was but I do hope that as a custodian of the first ever linen-blended Kanjeevaram, she treats it with love and respect, for it represents several days and nights of thought and toil on the part of many hearts and minds unknown to her.

Radharaman is the founder, CEO and design head, The House of Angadi and principal designer of the label Advaya. The House of Angadi also promotes Angadi Galleria.

Read the original article here : The Voice of Fashion

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