Making a saree is very labour intensive. It involves a community of artisans, often a family of weavers or dyers, coordinating with each other, building upon years of tradition.
Once the desired yarn has been procured from the market, the following processes are involved in creating a finished product.
Step 1. Dyeing
Yarns (in hanks) are hand dyed by the local dyers. Finer the yarn, the more difficult its dyeing. The yarn needs careful handling as consistent water treatment reduces its strength.
Step 2. Reeling
Reeling of dyed yarns into spools is done by hand on the “charkhas” or spinning wheels. For handspun products, the dyed thread is strengthened and softened by soaking overnight in a solution of rice water starch, allowing the women to wind it more easily onto bobbins. It is tedious work done early in the morning, usually between 4am and 9am, before the increasing heat dries the thread, making it more difficult to handle.
Step 3. Warping/Drumming
The wound bobbins are sent to another worker who prepares the warp on a beam. Warp yarns are laid out on a large wooden wheel-like structure called a “drum...or beam” as per the specified warping pattern.
Step 4. Healding
After drumming, threading of yarns is done through needle-like healds and then passed through the reed (a comb like structure to beat the weft in place at the time of weaving). Healding is done early in the morning, in bright light. It’s a tedious process and needs a lot of precision.
Step 5. Weaving
Fabric is woven using the fly shuttle in traditional pit looms. Weaving is a matter of skill and patience...and when it is done using fine yarn, it requires even more endurance from the weaver. The yarn has a tendency to break if too much strength is applied or entangle if the tension is not just right...hence weaving is slow and time consuming.
Step 6. Finishing
After weaving, the ends in each piece are knotted and fringe finished. Then the piece is washed to remove all traces of gum/starch...and finally ironed.
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