Tie and dye art has been practised in many techniques to produce incredible effects with different colours. Pochampalli silk ikat is unique with big, bold and bright patterns that declare the tradition of the region even as they aim to adopt modern design.
The distinctive fabric of Pochampalli ikat is an exemplary piece of ancient tie and dye technique that creates patterns or designs on the yarn through resist dyeing process. This is done before dyeing and weaving the fabric. Once the threads are dyed, the resists are removed to reveal the design, which is then woven into ikat fabric. This means the weaver should know where the threads need to be dyed so that it forms a proper pattern when woven on the loom.
The more the colours, the more complicated the process. Despite the complexity involved in making ikat fabrics, the technique has grown independently in many cultures and nations like Peru, Guatemala, Japan, Indonesia, Yemen and Uzbekistan. For any culture that has produced ikat, it has remained a status symbol because of the exceptional skill and time it requires to produce.
The unique feature ikat is that the fabric is identical on both sides. Compared to other tie and dye clusters in Odisha and Gujarat, the weaving of a Pochampalli sari is rather recent. The main characteristic of the Pochampalli ikat sari is the big, bold and bright pattern. With modern influence, artisans are creating abstract motifs and geometric patterns with various bright colours.
Available literature suggests ikat technique was developed in the beginning of the last century. Originally known as Bhoodan Pochampalli located in Nalgonda district (earlier in Andhra Pradesh now in Telangana) is not the only town where ikat saris are woven. There are other centres such as Chirala, Golgonda and Jalna that are famous for ikat saris. Ikat saris of Andhra Pradesh had closer ties with Gujarat than Odisha. The historical evidence says that weavers of Pochampalli ikat saris were inspired by the Patola of Gujarat. Here, the weaver dyes the fabric after the fabric is woven and the dyeing process is carried out many times. However, for Pochampalli saris, the yarn is dyed before weaving.
During the 1930s, attractive cotton saris, fabric and rumal were produced for domestic use. It was a trend for women from wealthy and aristocratic families in Hyderabad to use veils made from ikat dupattas. Dark areas of the veil were decorated with silk, silver or gold threads. Sometimes, delicate embroidery designs were created to enhance the pattern which gave a touch of elegance. Unfortunately, such specialised and skilled weaving has almost come to an end.
With the gradual development of the Pochampalli ikat sari industry, ikat production in Telangana has ensured that each weaving village caters to definite market segments. For example, Pochampalli specialises in single and double ikat silk saris for both urban and semi-urban customers. Chautupal produces only cotton saris whereas Siripuram, Elanki and Koyalgudam are renowned for furnishings with cotton and silk yardage for export. Andhra Pradesh is the largest exporter of ikat fabric in India.
Currently, there are at least 40 villages weaving ikat textiles near Hyderabad. About 10,000 looms of ikat fabrics are produced in Nalgonda district alone. With demand and modernisation of Pochampalli ikat sari, the patterns have changed. In the new centres, the typical Chirala work has been stopped. Apart from cotton, mercerised cotton and silk are used. Double ikat has been introduced as a technique for intricate patterns. The credit for inventing new designs and also trying traditional patterns from other regions goes to the weavers from the Padmasali community.
Virtually the entire family in Pochampalli help in different processes of ikat production. If the wife is marking designs on warp threads, the grandmother may be winding bobbins while the husband weaves on a pit loom. Life of the people here revolves around weaving.
In Gujarat, double ikats with complicated designs are commonly seen on patola saris. Pochampalli single ikats have comparatively simple motifs and are purely geometrical. These are evident normally with their big designs and bright and attractive colours. Usually the background colour is cream while maroon, red, black and green colours are used for designs. A maximum of three colours are used in a sari. Some skilled weavers use shades of one colour and create unique designs.
Besides exquisite designs, eco-friendly dyes are used in Pochampalli. This brings down the cost of production and gives an opportunity to be more creative with complex designs. One can see a variety of designs in modern Pochampalli ikat saris.
Simple designs include single dots and then the dots are extended, or there are double dots and rhombus. In addition, small butas with small flower motifs and circles in the border are created. To enhance the richness of the fabric, hazar buti or literally, a thousand dots, is also used. The new designs include introduction of bigger motifs and symmetrical designs. Temple borders along with ikat designs are also produced.
Some of the prevalent traditional symbolic forms used in ikat textiles are Swastika, lotus, peacock, tortoise, parrot, elephant, diamond, fish, bell, rudraksha etc. Now, new geometrical designs in combination with nature-based motifs are increasingly used. Animal motifs are disappearing.
A strong influence of Gujarat's patolas can be seen in the double ikat Pochampalli patola of Telangana. However, modification in design, colour and form has made it distinct. Both warp and weft are tied and dyed in Pochampalli Patolas to get strong effects in the design. The preparation of yarn for double ikat is the same as in single ikat but one needs to be meticulous while preparing and marking the warp and weft. This is to ensure that when the warp is arranged on the loom, perfect accuracy is maintained about the position of the repeats of the design and the width with one selvedge of the fabric to another.
Placing the warp on the loom calls for high precision. If any thread is not in its position, the design will not work. While weaving, there is a natural movement which gives ikat designs its unique feathered edge.
Support for the growth of Pochampalli clusters
After Independence, the growth of Pochampalli ikat industry has been rapid as support from various government agencies and NGOs poured in. National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) supported Pochampalli ikat weavers and manufacturers to get protection for the Pochampalli art form. NABARD launched its cluster development programme in Pochampalli village under its National Programme for rural industrialization, in association with the Textiles Committee of the Central Government for the benefit of handloom silk weavers. Establishment of Pochampalli Handloom Park is an initiative in this direction.
Pochampalli Handloom Park
The Handloom Park in Kanumukkala village, 40 kms from Hyderabad, is the first of its kind aiming at producing quality high-end fabrics. The park provides flexibility in producing new products through continuous innovations and product diversification, supports custom made designs, bulk production and timely delivery of products. The park has a facility for unique tie and dye process, preparation of warp beam, designing, weaving on mechanically stronger handlooms unlike the ancient pit looms. All these facilities are available under one roof.
Spread over 24 acres, it can hold 2,000 looms. It provides employment to the weavers in the nearby villages. The park has other equipment to carry out the pre-loom process. The park is a classic example of the efforts by the government to help ikat weavers. Here training is also given to the people who are not traditionally from a weaver family, in dyeing and ikat weaving.
Nevertheless, there is a large scope of growth for ikat weavers. Besides saris, Pochampalli offers products like shawls, stoles, dress materials both in silk and cotton blends. Pochampalli ikat weavers should diversify their market by developing new products, designs and patterns to attract international buyers for ikat saris and fabrics. This will ensure better livelihood to the master craftsmen creating such exotic pieces of art.
2. Indian silk journal