How is chanderi hand weaving unique?

Through this article, Sakshi Nimje Textile Designer at Fix That Shirt shares the beautiful story of the hand-weaving Chanderi fabric. As a final year student at NIFT-India, she carried out an intensive research of four months, working with the Chanderi artisans and this article is based on her research findings.

This article does not only take you through the technical aspects of Chanderi weaving but also taps on the emotions of the weavers for their traditional textile .

So, if you’re someone who loves artisanal and handmade textiles or if you’re simply interested in knowing the story of a small village in the heart of India with a beautiful weaving tradition, dive right into this article!

chanderi saree

How is the article different?

 The article is written in first person where the town of Chanderi and the Chanderi weaving textile are personified as father and daughter respectively. The father ( Chanderi town) narrates the story of his daughter ( Chanderi fabric) and through this story we find about her birth, the milestones during her youth and how she is growing old every day yet ever more precious to him.

So are you ready for this unique father-daughter story?

chanderi monument

…Lets start the story

I am Chanderi surrounded by hills, forest, and magnificent forts. I reside in the heart of Madhya Pradesh dominating the trade routes dating back to the 11th century to the ports of Gujarat, Malwa, and Central India where I was ruled by Malwa sultans and Bundela Rajputs in the 15th and 16th centuries.

In the 13th century, I was bestowed with the daughter who was named after me and known as ‘Chanderi’ the hand-weaving technique.

I clearly remember the day when I first held my daughter in my arms, she was so delicate that she seemed to be woven of air, made purely with cotton, giving comfort and a relaxing feel to the one who holds her. The fineness of the weave with the handspun cotton warp and cotton weft gives her a unique texture, silk warp, and cotton weft added more luster to her.

She won everyone’s heart right from birth and as she grew up to become the symbol of pride for the Indian royalty. She rode on their heads in a meditative posture of a turban adorned by jewels. She was always the brightest child who never failed to make me proud. Gradually, she made way into the hearts of the women who welcomed her with open arms and adorned her as their favorite sarees. Cradled in the palaces, my little daughter started to head towards adolescence.

So, how did she grow up to be?

Well, soon she blossomed to diversify her colors and took a keen interest in decorating herself. Gold and silver coated zari yarns added to the her beauty. She had these zari yarns as  extra wefts meticulously inserted by hand in form of beautiful motifs.

chanderi reeling

Then, what happened next?

She was accorded the most welcome during the Mughal times. And by the 19th century when she became the talk of the country by her sheer grace and elegance. In around 1910 the royal family of Gwalior Scindia recognized the potential of my beloved daughter and to preserve her unique qualities a training center established by them.

The surrounding architecture and old monuments have had played a very important role in inspiring my darling daughter and gradually started leaving their own impressions in her new developing designs. Her sheer skin ornamented with  occasional, yet systematic extra weft zari yarn always made her stand out. 

One of the most remarkable one that I remember is the Asharfi buti, which looks like a medallion, I think, is one of her most beautiful avatars. Yet my little girl, didn’t stop to experiment, she adapted and mixed several modern, contemporized motifs and designs to create a new version of Chanderi, a new avatar, everyday!

chanderi weaving

Now, talking about my present day relationship with my daughter Chanderi

She kept on growing and so does her elegance. In the urge to please she kept adding experimentation to herself to be welcomed every day with open arms as she has always been. I still remember the era when the first wave of shock came when she learned that there are impostors all around the country who are made faster and cheaper  by machines. The patrons who loved and adored her too much are now gradually putting her around the side to check out this new trend in the market. It broke my heart to see the potential of my daughter and the value that she was in need of the character that she has developed.
The same ecosystem initially inspired her has now let her down because there was no time to invest in a slow weaving and beautification of my daughter when machines could do it cheaper.

The picture is still clear in my mind how she strived to become world-famous. Now I am in my very old age, and my daughter is in her elderly age too, the world has changed everybody is wanting new options each day, ignoring the fact if that is sustainable or environmental friendly, I am afraid for my daughter that in the world which is running so fast how will she be able to survive with the classic and timeless qualities.

Who will initiate to save the heritage for generations to come to admire my daughter? She is still too innocent for this constantly changing world. Is there no place left for the things which keep binding the history and the future, the art, and the culture?

 Though the father-daughter story ends here, the craft still continues…

Since you made it till end here is a little extra information on the process of how Chanderi fabric is actually developed. The four main categories of production are preparation, pre-weaving, weaving, and finishing.

1. The Preparation:

  • This includes the setting up of the loom and procurement of raw materials including the purchase of cards for punching (used in jacquard), yarns for loom setup, yarns for warp and weft.
  • The reeling of warp yarns is done with small cones of yarns, which are transferred to a warping wheel according to the length of the warp yarn required. This is then transferred to the rod and followed by the dyeing if required.
  • The dyeing of weft yarns generally takes one day, afterwards, they must be dried properly.
  • After the dyeing process the warp yarns are winded up the wooden beam, this requires at least 5 to 6 people as equal tension must be applied until it is wrapped on the beam-
chanderi loom

2. Pre-Weaving Process:

  • The design is transferred on the graph, after which the jacquard cards are punched and accordingly threads are tied for lifting the warp yarns. This process requires great precision and takes up to 2 days to complete.
  • After the loom is set up according to the design, the wooden beam of warp yarns is placed on the back of the loom and the yarns are passed through the healed eyes and comb and tied to the rod at the front end of the loom. The weft yarn is cotton, it may vary according to the design and sometimes silk is also used.
  • The hank of weft yarns are transferred on small cones which are later fitted in the shuttle.  Zari yarns are transferred to small sticks, weft yarns are soaked into the water before weaving to achieve the finishing.

3. Weaving Process

  • After the loom is set up the weaving process begins. The warp yarns are pulled up by the motion of two paddles which are attached to the horizontal set of yarns connected with the jacquard cards.
  • The base weave involves a plain weave, while the weft yarns are inserted with the help of a shuttle for plain weaving, the number of shuttles used depends on the number of colors required, for instance, if the color has to change after 2 inches, the cone in the shuttle will also be changed.
  • After inserting each zari yarn for motif two weft yarns are passed through for ground weaving before the beat-up motion takes place, which is known as “do naal buti” and if a single weft yarn is inserted for ground weave it is called “ek naal buti”.
  • In a day around 1.5 meters of fabric get weaved with a dense motif design and nearly 3-4 meters of plain weave depending on the number of hours the weaver is weaving.

4. The Finishing Process:

  • On completion of the fabric the weft yarn is inserted and with a gap of half a centimeter a plain weave is done, marking the point where the fabric has to be cut.
  • The zari yarns attached from one motif to another is cut from the back of the fabric.

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