Rangsutra’s experience of the past 16 years despite ups and downs, shows that handloom weaving can be a source of regular well paid employment and livelihood for rural Indiansin the 21st century. The creation of Rajasar Hathkargha Vikas Samiti, our newest handloom weavers organization, focused on the revival of desi oon, registered on the 6th of August 2022, is testimony to this hope and commitment.
The widespread belief is that handlooms are a sunset industry that the weaving profession cannot accommodate the aspiration of the youth anymore and has become economically unviable. But Swarooparam a handloom weaver from Sanchore, whom we helped to set up a weaving unit in his village, and many of his fellow weavers, seem to defy this myth.
Misrhrimal a fellow weaver says, “You have to look at it more holistically than just the amount we get in hand. I worked in a metro city. I was paid a little more than what I made here. But if I add the living expenses, travelling back home once in a while and other costs, living in the city did not make any sense. Apart from that is the fact that here I can work and spend time with my family and kids. I am not only a bread earner for them. My responsibility is much more than that--to be with them not just as a provider but being in their life in times of joy and sorrow.”
On rangSutra’s part, we believe that handlooms are not just a product. Handloom weaving engenders a way of life – both for the weaver and the wearer/ customer. Motivating weavers to come to weave at common centres in their own villages has been a primary factor in bringing about a transformation from home based, part time work at home to becoming a full time weaver, and a part of the professional work force. For handloom weaving is a profession: It requires dedication, commitment and a innovative bent of mind.
The act of handloom weaving can sometimes seem mechanical, which it is not. A more apt word that comes to mind, is meditative, where the mind, body and heart are synchronized in a natural rhythm. Of course, its not easy, requiring a lot of preparation that goes on behind the scenes, before a weaver actually gets on to his loom. Careful preparation of the yarn, which could include reeling of the yarn, dyeing, making bobbins, preparing the warp, and then carefully attaching the warp to the loom, before the weaver actually sits on the loom and start weaving the fabric. A weaver has to be alert and aware during the entire weaving process, to ensure that the fabric taking form on the loom is even, and the designs/ motifs in the place they were designed to be. It could be a simple plain weaving technique, a basket weave, a twill weave, or the more complex satin weave. Apart from the technique, there are a myriad different ways in which colours can be mixed in the warp and weft, to give hundreds of hues, a colourful story behind the handloom clothes we wear or the home furnishing that adorn our homes and bring us comfort.
While all the above entrepreneurial- professional approach is necessary it not enough. The main binding factor that connect us all in rangSutra is the collective spirit and the form of organization. Instead of working through master weavers as is the norm, at rangSutra we prefer working with groups and collectives, where each artisan has the chance to build on his talent, improve his skills and acquire new ones. Sevaram from Napasar sharing his thoughts about working in a cluster “ …there are many advantages - there is co-operation instead of competition. Everyone get their share of work and is equally paid. So we all work together. I learned from elders and I guide younger people. It’s like a flowing river that’s why we as a collective never stagnate. There is a sense of camaraderie among us. This place is our own space. People can come and meet us. We don’t have to be apologetic about it as we have to in a factory. We don’t have any boss. We are paid for the work we do. So everyone knows their right as well as responsibility to run and sustain this collective.”
Of course, for us, celebration of handlooms would be meaningless, if it were not for the hundreds of rangSutra customers who choose to wear and buy handloom. And our buyers – Fabindia and IKEA, who have helped revive handloom techniques and strengthen our weaving units, giving handloom and weavers a new lease of life in this 21 st century.
As Mahatma Gandhi said …. Be the change you want to see in this world….Promoting handlooms is our attempt is be that change. We hope you will join us and add your voice to support a sustainable common future.