“Jamdani weaves are a part of the ethos of undivided Bengal. Jamdani reached its pinnacle during the Mughal era when it was patronized by royalty. During that time this fine muslin textile acquired its name `jamdani’ -that means flower in a vase- alluding to the exquisite woven floral motifs that are inlaid into the warp during the weaving process”, says Sarita Ganeriwala, artist, designer and founder of the design studio Karomi, Kolkata.
“In centuries past, jamdanis were fabled for their delicate motifs as well as the ground fabric itself that was woven with very fine counts of yarns, going up to 500s count yarn. This yarn was hand-spun from a particular variety of cotton called phuti kapaas that once grew on the banks of the Icchamati River in Bangladesh and gave the textile an exceptionally fine look, texture, drape and beauty”. Inspired by the unique heritage of jamdani, Karomi explores and epitomizes it in its product range spanning saris, dupattas, stoles, stitched garments (overlays, dresses, skirts, tunics, kurtas and tops), textile art and home textiles.
Magic At the Loom
Sarita did a Masters in Textile Design from NIFT, New Delhi, after completing a Bachelor of Arts at MS University Baroda. It was while working in the field in W. Bengal, she met with jamdani weavers and had a first-hand experience of traditional jamdani weaving. She saw weavers weave on the traditional two-shaft wooden pit loom, creating motifs by manually lifting selected warp yarns and weaving discontinuous supplementary yarns into those warp yarns. The motifs would be lightly traced on the warp yarns themselves, supplementary yarns of individual colours would be wrapped around small bobbins, and these bobbins would be taken up (as required by the design) by the weaver to weave motifs that appeared to float on the ground weave.
Drawn to jamdanis, Sarita took it up as the focus of Karomi that she founded in 2007. She knew she wanted to stay true to the technique of jamdani weaving yet innovate within the craft to give it a distinctive look and feel. With this approach, Sarita and the Karomi team set out to collaborate with weavers in villages across W. Bengal to create jamdani weaves, hand-woven the authentic way yet with a contemporary expression.
This contemporary look is manifest in jamdanis woven with fine natural-fibre yarns and novel yarn combinations in warp, weft and supplementary weft; with geometric motifs and patterns (rather than traditional floral motifs); innovative colour combinations of motifs; artistic compositions in terms of placement of motifs; and subtle bands of colours in the warp that often reveal themselves fully only in the tassels.
Yarn, Natural Dyes and Weaves
Yarn types form the foundation and fountainhead of Karomi’s jamdanis. To bring the motifs and weaves alive, Karomi’s jamdanis are woven with a variety of yarn types and colours that instantly elevate the design. The yarns are cotton of different varieties (including hand-spun cotton); silk of different varieties (mulberry, tussar, matka); linen; and metal yarn (zari). While silk is very much part of the Karomi repertoire, the team is increasingly working with cotton. This is because cotton has a lovely texture; is very comfortable to wear; global warming has made the weather less conducive to wearing silk; and as it has been the yarn of Bengal for millennia.
Some textiles are woven with yarns of a very fine count making the woven fabric almost as weightless as air wrapping the wearer. At times, two different yarns (makta silk-linen) or two hand-spun yarns of different counts are twisted to create an interesting look, texture and raised effect when used for weaving the motifs.
In addition, there is continuous effort at working with finer yarns; using natural dyes to dye yarns for beautiful, saturated colours; using striking colour combinations of bright and deep tones (that are distinct from the light and pastel colours traditionally used for jamdani weaves); and using several colours on weaves going up to 12 bobbins of supplementary weft yarns.
Historically, jamdanis have been woven on the two-shaft pit loom. Yet, with time, Karomi has encouraged weavers to weave on a four-shaft pit loom. This helps the weavers create the complex basket weave that gives the fabric a beautiful texture with motifs that are more structured and geometric yet fluid
Karomi’s commitment to weave jamdani the traditional way reflects in its commitment to only working with pitloom weavers. This is particularly important at a time when some weavers are opting to fix a jacquard mechanism on looms for ease of weaving. To fructify a commitment to weaving jamdani the authentic way (where warp yarns, according to desired patterns, are identified and lifted by hand to insert supplementary weft yarns) a design solution was developed that identifies Karomi’s weaves as authentic jamdani at first glance.
Thus, towards this aim, designs (drawn and woven) are those than can only be woven on a traditional pitloom and not a village jacquard loom. This means Karomi textiles have a large number of motifs before a repetition is rendered (if at all). This feature instantly distinguishes them from weaves of jacquard looms that have a small number of motifs that appear as regular repeats.
An Evolution of Expression
Sarita believes that a craft that is not evolving is not living. ”Simply being a revivalist or creating textiles with a traditional look is not enough. A traditional craft does not have to be traditional in appearance. It can be modern or contemporary in appearance. It can be a space where art meets design”.
Thus, since its inception, Karomi has constantly innovated in terms of design while preserving the purity of technique: motifs and compositions have steadily become more complex making the textiles and garments akin works of art. Apart from geometric motifs, stripes, checks and traditional motifs expressed in non-traditional forms are also part of the design vocabulary. Interestingly, weavers, who were once hesitant to work on modern designs, are now skilled and confident, and able to render any design drawn on the graph paper into motifs on the loom
Karomi looks forward to pushing the boundaries of jamdani weaving by continuing to celebrate geometric forms, using different yarns and colour combinations, and expanding the product portfolio.
“So many designs are only possible because of the jamdani technique. If it were not for jamdani, they could not have happened. The jamdani technique allows the weaver to become an artist. The weft and warp is the canvas, the shuttle is the paint brush and the extra weft is the paint. When the weaver sits down to weave, exquisite artistic expressions can be created. This is the beauty of jamdani weaving and Karomi will continue to evolve in the course of its journey with jamdani weaving”.