By: Himsiringdao Hapila
Handloom is a vital part of the Indian culture and heritage that can be traced over thousand centuries in India. The exquisite designs that the artisans exhibit through their craftsmanship and handiwork are a testament to their efforts and distinct creativity.
Assam is famous for its extra-weft weaves, where the motif is embossed on the woven cloth – these motifs draw inspiration from rich Assamese tradition, folklore and legends.
Dipika Kakati began weaving commercially for low wages at an early age. She learned weaving at the early age of 8, she was taught by her mother. In a conversation with Himsiringdao, Dipika opens about her life and her passion of weaving.
- How long have you been weaving?
I have been weaving regularly ever since I was 15. We made gamosa and other traditional clothes at home for the family. I am 39 years old now and continue to weave.
- What are the products or goods that you produce? How much time does it require to make a product?
Earlier we only made cloth for our personal use such as gamosa, mekhela chadar for any particular occasion but after becoming part of Antaran’s intervention last year I started making yardage, dupatta, stole, sarees etc.
Time taken to weave a product depends on the design and the base material of the fabric; the making time varies for different products. An Eri silk saree takes nearly about 3 weeks to make while a cotton saree takes about 10 days to weave. A stole or a dupatta take about 3-4 days. It can take longer depending on the intricacy of the design.
Products prices range differs from product to product. Stoles price range – Rs 500 – Rs 1500/-; Sarees – Eri silk sarees price range between Rs 10,000 – Rs 12,000; Cotton sarees – Rs 3000 – Rs 4000.
- Can you tell me about the texture, fabric and color you use? How do you choose the design for a specific product?
Eri silk is white in colour and soft. We directly extract it from the cocoons and hand spin the yarns. There is an elaborate process that needs to be followed in order to make an Eri silk yarn. To dye the yarn, I use natural dyes at home anything from Turmeric to Manjishta or onion peels or tea leaves is used to dye the fabric while for cotton we get readymade yarns from the local market.
Design process – Since weaving for us was always a home activity, most of the designs were by memory or the ones that my mother had taught me or any design I saw other family members make. Now I am also creating new designs from a small business perspective. I draw inspiration from nature and surroundings around me, anything from a small leaf to a flower buta. I simplify it and use them as design elements in the textiles.
- What made you fall in love with handloom? Or Why do you choose handloom as a profession?
For me working on a handloom has been like any other household activity. Earlier we were either making cloth for family or commercially for the Mahajans (local traders) or middlemen in the village who gave us bulk yardage order. After Antaran’s intervention last year in October 2019 in our village, I started looking at it from the perspective of a small business. I am now experimenting with many styles and categories of textiles.
- Does your weaving reflect your culture and tradition?
Yes, we are a community of more than 11 lakh weavers spread across Assam. Weaving is our strength which has been passed down to us over generations. Not only has it helped us remain connected to our rich cultural practices but also gives us a deep sense of pride.
- How do you manage your time to weave in your daily lifestyle? Or is weaving a full-time job now?
I am a mother to two kids and apart from household chores I put in a daily of 6 hours of weaving to work on orders or creating new products. I have also involved 7 other associate artisans, which helps them keeping their looms running and earn.
- Who’s your biggest foundation/support that leads you to hold on handloom?
My family is a big support in my work. Right from my husband to my kids and other members of the family are involved in helping me in setting up the loom to procuring yarns and other activities.
- Where do you sell your products? And how did Antaran help you?
We were earlier either making cloth for own use or creating running fabric yardage for the local village Mahajan. I am currently co-designing with designer buyers and also selling my own co-designed collections through Antaran Artisan Connect. I am currently working on a special collection which is now on preview, made entirely on Eri silk and natural dyes. It is a unique concept as these sarees will be custom made as per the choices made by the customer on our website.
After coming in touch with Antaran I have not only expanded the range of products that I am making but have learned other aspects too, such as quality check, importance of measurement, colours, designing and get inputs on how to use social media – Instagram and Facebook. All this has opened me up to a different word altogether. I am available on Instagram with the name Poni Handloom. I also get order requests and queries through the medium.
I also got an opportunity to visit Mumbai through Antaran where we participated in an exhibition and got direct customer feedback. We also visited different types of apparel and textile stores where we got exposed to our potential competition and understood how to create more carefully and mindfully. It was an experience of a lifetime.
Speaking about the initiative Sharda Gautam, Head of Crafts, Tata Trusts said, “Antaran is trying to create enabling conditions for artisans to speak to markets directly. We nurture artisans on knowledge, skill and behavioural aspects which are essential to deal with 21st century markets. Education is very hands-on and done by a professional team of designers and Business professionals who stay in the cluster and work closely with artisans.”
- Younger generation are drifting away from handloom, do you think it will survive in future?
Yes, they are moving away but in order for it to survive I will start with teaching my own kids. My daughter is 10 years old and although she is too young, she gets interested in a lot of pre loom activities such as bobbin winding, dyeing preparation, warping etc., which will lead her to take interest in weaving.
A weaving culture can survive commercially only if there is an opportunity of a decent income for the weavers. In the times that we live today, it is an important factor to help in preserving this tradition.
- What’s your advice for the current generation for handloom?
I want handloom to become a household name. Many weavers in the community have left weaving because there is less demand for handmade textiles. If people buy handmade textiles it will surely help in preserving our culture and helping people understand the real value of the craft.