Hand Woven Fabric : An overview

Weaving fabric is all about interlacing two sets of threads (yarn) which are perpendicular to each other (vertical thread called the warp and horizontal thread called the weft) in a repetitive style (under, over, under, over, etc) and ultimately making fabric. You can make a woven fabric using powerful power loom machines or using hand-operated weaving looms. The latter is called hand weaving and the fabric thus produced is called handwoven fabric. 

hand weaving

Weaving fibers to fabric – It is said that some 20000 years ago man learned to make strings from plant fibers. By 5000 BC Egyptians knew how to weave fabric with linen fibers. Wool collected from animals was used to spin yarn and then woven into the fabric for comfort and warmth. 

With the colonization of Asia, cotton and silk became popular choices for hand weaving. Calico, a woven cloth made of 100% cotton fiber was very popular during the 16th century. Hand weaving of fabrics was the only choice during those times. Finger weaving, band weaving, loom weaving were all popular. Hand carded, hand-dyed, handspun yarn was used to make beautiful intricately patterned fabrics. 

It was only during the industrial revolution and the invention of mechanized weaving looms that the whole process of making fabrics changed completely – it became a lot easier and cost-effective with the introduction of power looms.

hand weaving of fabric

Handweaving requires an enormous amount of work; It can take a weaver up to 8 -16 days to even several months to weave a 5-meter cloth. Hence handwoven cloth can be quite expensive when compared to machine-made cloth.

A lot of precision is needed to do the weaving especially if a dyed yarn is used to include designs -the intersection of the warp and weft threads must be done with utmost precision and detail to get the design correctly. Handweavers who can do this with expertise are in short supply these days. Today in some countries handwoven cloth is limited to those presented to tourists as part of their traditional craft.

But there is an incomparable beauty to handwoven fabrics. An expert in hand weaving can create beautifully patterned fabric that no machine can replicate. Unique patterns and prints and motifs can be incorporated into fabric this way. The handwoven fabric can have a beautiful and unique texture, with slight irregularities which are even priced by the consumers of handwoven cloth.

Handwoven fabric can be made of organically produced fibers converted into yarns which are dyed with natural dyes. This makes it sustainable and ecofriendly. 

The hand-weaving industry also employs several people in many countries like India Indonesia, and Ethiopia who can operate their hand weaving from their own houses. A convenient work-at-home craft business for many.

The handwoven fabric, depending on the type of Weave, the number of yarns in the warp and the number of yarns in the weft, the thickness of the yarn (weft and warp), etc may be as strong or even stronger and durable than a machine weaved cheap fabric.

But usually hand woven fabrics are fragile, especially the loosely woven ones, or ones with novelty yarns and may even need special care like dry cleaning. And you will have to be careful when cutting and sewing with the handwoven fabric. You can use an underlining to preserve the fabric’s weave intact. A soft, lightweight knit-type fusible interfacing can be used to underline handwoven fabrics.

Khadi fabric, made in India is handwoven from locally grown native hand-spun cotton yarn. Khadi was a symbol of protest against foreign fabrics during the freedom struggle in India against colonization. Mahatma Gandhi encouraged the handwoven cloth making and asked Indians to use them in place of British mill-made fabric imported to India. The khadi fabric has remained as a symbol of nationalism in India and is still used by men and women to make clothes – the fabric is seen as a pure, locally made fine-looking fabric carrying a rich legacy.

In India, co-operative societies are carrying out the hand-weaving tradition involving highly skilled spinners, dyers and handweavers. Khadi boards set up across the country help in encouraging the makers to market their products. 

Silk is another fiber that is handwoven into beautiful fine fabrics with distinctive characteristics. Tussah silk is a variety of silk handwoven using a coarse dark silk fiber. The sheen and elegance of this fabric is incomparable.The slubs which are a part of the irregularities involved in hand weaving as well as the nature of the silk fiber adds to the charm of the fabric.

Chanderi silk which is handwoven in India is as super fine a fabric as any fabric can ever be, but at the same time, stronger and durable than any power loom made fabric.

Uppada silk is woven using a weaving technique called Jamdhani weaving. It is a very lightweight and fine silk. The patterns on this soft silk are very unique and cannot be replicated on the machine.

Kanchi cotton is another famous handwoven Indian fabric. Maheswari fabric is a beautiful cotton-silk blended handloom fabric.

In Bhujodi Kutch weaving (Kutch weaving, Gujarat, India) extra ornmental supplementary weft yarn is inserted to give the fabric a beautiful texture and surface ornamentation. Organic cotton yarns are used.

How is a Handwoven fabric made

Handweaving is a very laborious and time-consuming process. It may take many days to weave a kilo of yarn, depending on the intricacy of the pattern, mastery of the weaver, etc. Some intricate handwoven sarees (5 meters) take more than 6 months to complete.

In the handweaving process, first, the dyed yarn bundles are untangled and made ready to be woven. The yarn is then reeled using a chakra and made into small rolls.  The yarn is then woven on pit looms or metal frame looms. The handweaving looms sometimes occupy a full room with the  warp yarn stretched across the room. The wrapping should be done with ultimate care and precision because this results in the design of the fabric.

Original Vs Duplicate handwoven fabric.

How to know if you have original handwoven fabric and not powerloom fabric – this is a very valid concern of people who want authentic handloom fabric. If you look carefully at the sides of the fabric you will find small holes made by the loom needles. These marks will not be present in power loom machine made fabrics. They will be too perfectly made with no imperfections.

In India a ‘Handloom mark‘ can be seen in original handloom fabrics – this is provided by the Indian Government textile committee. Some original and special products may even have a Geographical Indication Mark (GI) to counter duplicates. “Handloom Mark is the Government of India’s initiative to provide a collective identity to the handloom products in India and can be used not only for popularizing the hand woven products but can also serve as a guarantee for the buyer that the product being purchased is genuinely hand woven from India.” www.textilescommittee.nic.in

Today hand weaving is a cottage industry and existent only in some countries. Now, only a few people have the expertise to carry out hand weaving. Expert hand weavers are hard to come by, and will probably be nonexistent in the next generation. But some institutions bend on preserving the rich heritage of hand weaving are doing their best to introduce modern techniques to the traditional methods so that the tradition of hand weaving carries on.

You can learn more about the different types of fabric weaves here – there is a list of 20 different types of weaves found in all woven fabrics. More on textiles here.

 

1 thought on “Hand Woven Fabric : An overview”

  1. You are so wonderful! I find the articles that you provide so interesting and helpful. Thank you so much for all your hard work and time that you give to offer these articles!

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