Handloom Fabric Manufacturing Process

Author: Aayushi Kumar 

From ancient times till now, the handloom has been the pride of India's traditional and cultural brilliance. The dexterous Indian textile weavers since ancient times have been weaving wonders. When we talk about handloom fabrics, we connect it with khadi fabrics and sarees. At present, hand loom fabrics are used as raw materials in various types of apparel products making. This article walks you through the preparatory phases of handloom fabric production to finished handloom fabric manufacturing processes.

The major processes involved the following.
  1. Raw material selection 
  2. Raw material to yarn conversion
  3. Dyeing of yarns
  4. Bobbin winding and warping
  5. Sizing of warp yarns
  6. Dressing and winding of warp yarns 
  7. Attaching Warp Yarns on Loom 
  8. Weft yarn winding 
  9. Weaving fabric in a handloom
  10. Final handloom products 

Handloom fabric making process

1. Raw Materials

Cotton, silk, wool, and linen are the most popular choices of raw material for handloom weaving. Each region of India uses different raw materials for its unique handloom products. Cotton for making Dhaniakhali Saree of West Bengal; mulberry silk for Chanderi saree of Malwa and Bundelkhand; Kullu shawl of Himanchal by weaving pure wool and many more. 

Image: Raw materials for textile yarns (Natural fibres -cotton, flex, silk, wool)

2. Raw Material to Yarn Conversion

Yarn is a long continuous length of interlocked fibers. The raw material is gently rolled with palm to form a loosely interlocked cylindrical bunch known as a sliver. This loosely interlocked sliver is then spun on a charkha or hathkarkha to make it compact and fine. The spun cotton yarns are braided into skeins and sent for dyeing.

3. Dyeing of yarns

Dyeing is a process of colouring the greige yarns. It is a crucial preliminary step of handloom weaving. This process is done by hand in small lots or hanks using natural or chemical colourants. Hank yarn dyeing is predominant in South India, contrary to the North, where fabric dying is famous. There are majorly three types of dyeing -

Natural Dyeing

Natural dyes extracted from plants and minerals were traditionally used by the weavers to dye the yarn. However, it was replaced by chemical or synthetic dyes soon after industrialization. It was challenging to compete with the bright and wide variety of synthetic dyed products in the marketplace, compelling many weavers to leave natural dyeing. However, the buzz of sustainable fashion has contributed immensely in reviving the natural, traditional practice of dyeing. 

Image: Natural dyeing | Image credit: www.dacottonhandlooms.in

Indigo Dyeing

Indigo can be used to dye any natural fiber and contains neither harsh chemicals nor toxic metals. Indigo dyes are amusing in the way they are applied. When exposed to oxygen, it becomes insoluble, and as a consequence, does not bond to the fiber. Hence a deep vat is dug in the ground to keep the dye solution oxygen-free. The hank is dipped, later, is taken out, washed, and dried before weaving. 

Image: Indigo Dyeing | Image credit: www.dacottonhandlooms.in

Synthetic Dyeing

Initially introduced to suit large scale production, chemical dyes were available in a wide variety of colours and were relatively cheap. The weavers adopted it to withstand the competition. There are many types of synthetic dyes; however, only azo dyes do not harm the environment, dyer, and user. 

Image: Synthetic dyeing | Image credit: www.dacottonhandlooms.in

4. Bobbin Winding and Warping

With the help of charkha, the dyed yarn hank gets converted into a linear thread form and wound on the bobbin. This process enables laying out of yarn lengths for weaving.  
Further, warping is done, which is the parallel arrangement and winding of warp yarn from bobbin to the warp beam. Traditionally, the weavers use a big rotating drum as warp beams and decide the width and length of the final fabric. These drums help them in counting the number and colour wise grouping of yarns. Also, the dimensions of the warp are decided by the weaver at this stage. 

Image: Bobbing winding and warping

5. Sizing of warp yarns

Post warping, the warp yarns are stretched out for size application. Sizing material or starch is applied to add strength and lubricate the yarn. This crucial activity is called "sizing". Natural sizing material like rice, maize, wheat flour, or potato starch is used depending on the region. After the application of the sizing paste onto the stretched yarn, special brushes are used to spread and dry the starch on the yarn. This starch is removed only after two to three washes of the finished product.

6. Dressing and Winding the warp yarns

Before the size applied warp is loaded onto the loom, the warp yarns are aligned and separated to facilitate smooth weaving. The aligned and starched yarns are carefully wound around a wooden beam and carried to the loom.

7. Attaching Warp Yarns on Loom

Each warp yarn is drawn through heddles and reed and finally tied on both front beam and back beam. According to a pre-determined weave plan, yarns are passed through heddles which separate the warp yarns into two sections between which the weft yarn (horizontal/width-wise yarn) passes.

8. Weft yarns winding

For horizontal or weft yarn preparation, traditionally, charka is used. By the fingertips, correct tension is given to the yarn. A hank of yarn is wound onto a small bobbin called “pirn”. The weft yarn wound on pirn is then inserted into a shuttle (a device used in weaving to carry the weft thread back and forth between the warp threads.)

9. Weaving fabric in a handloom 

Weaving is the process of interlacement of warp and weft (vertical and horizontal) sets of yarn. The fabrics which are weaved on handloom are known as handloom products. As the name suggests, handloom is a loom that is used to weave fabrics using hands, that is, without the use of electricity. The foot pedals are pressed to lift the respective heddles according to the weave plan and it has to be in sync with throwing the weft or horizontal yarns across the two sections of warp yarns. Weavers continue weaving for long hours in a day which requires immense concentration and physical strength.

10. Final Product

Every state of India has its unique handloom weave to offer. Phulkari from Punjab, tie and dye from Rajasthan and Gujarat, brocade from Banaras, Daccai from West Bengal, Itkats form Andhra Pradesh and Odisha are some of the precious jewels on the crown of incredible India. 

Published: 29 August 2020
Updated: 03 Nov 2023

About the Author: Aayushi Kumar, an NIFT, Kolkata graduate, and Co-founder of Ednam Solutions Pvt Ltd is working in the field of female healthcare and hygiene, making smart garment. Her interests include sustainable fashion, functional garments and luxury brand management.

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