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KUBSA: Transforming the Textiles of Karnataka

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KUBSA: Transforming the Textiles of Karnataka

Power looms outnumber pit looms disproportionately in Guledgudda, Karnataka, today - 4000 power looms to 50 hand looms.

Power looms increase production and ruthlessly cut costs - replacing skilled craftsmanship, and prized materials with cheaper viscose and polyester.

One loom at a time, textile designer Geeta Patil of Kubsa, is transforming traditional textiles woven on the pit looms of Guledgudda in northern Karnataka, through contemporary design.

Kubsa supports the local ecosystem of artisan livelihoods, from the ground up. Locally sourced mulberry silk, cotton and hands-spun khadi, are dyed with natural indigo, once used as a base for Khun textiles. While staying true to the original techniques and the grammar of traditional motifs, Kubsa's contemporary aesthetic gives new life to this beloved textile.


The Guledgudda 'khun' is originally woven for a 'Kubsa' or blouse, and paired with the local 'Ilkal' sari, by the women of northern Karnataka and southern Maharashtra.So precious is the textile, that an entire 'Kubsa' blouse is made of a just a 20-inch long fabric, on a 31 inch-wide loom, sewn optimally to minimise waste. Any shortage is compensated with a gusset. The extra-warp pattern is usually seen in bright colours against a dark ground which was originally a natural dyed deep indigo. 


The familiar Ilkal sari of Karnataka belies the complexity of its making. The Ilkal sari of Karnataka has won a Georgraphical Indicator (GI) tag, for a unique technique called the 'kondi' where the warp of a sari's cotton body is painstakingly interlocked to a silk warp for the 'pallu'.

Exclusively done by women, more than 3400 threads are individually looped and joined along the sari width. To complete the sari, two weavers work on the three-shuttle borders in tandem. 

The technique was born of necessity. The sari gets its name from the town of Ilkal in Bagalkot district, Karnataka. Set in a cotton growing area, it once had a thriving weavers' community. Until the 1900s it was the highest tax-paying district in the region. Merchants introduced silk in the 18th century, but as it was expensive, it was used only for the 'pallu'. The silk is attached using the 'kondi' technique, and the traditional saree has a red silk pallu with white motifs.

Locally sourced mulberry silk and cotton is natural dyed in indigo, as Kubsa supports the entire ecosystem of artisan livelihoods, giving new life to this beloved textile.



Kubsa's checkered Ilkals are a luxurious blend of locally sourced cotton, mulberry silk and hand-spun 'khadi'. The 'pallu' retains the geometric bands, with traditional motifs – the 'latti gunni' or rolling pin, and 'tope teni' or millet.



Often unaccounted is a woman's role in the fibre-to-fabric ecosystem. The weaver, typically a man, earns his wage per sari. This overlooks the work of women, unpaid by the master weavers. “At Kubsa, each and very artisan is considered important and paid fairly. We recognize every woman’s skill, dedication and hard work. "We believe in equal pay,” says Geeta Patil.

When you buy a Kubsa sari, a women artisan gets her due too! 



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