Silk Fabrics

 

 

Silk fabrics were meant for the rich and powerful in India since the ancient times. Ancient texts and mythological tales tell us that for a long time, silk fabrics were specially cultured and developed for the use of the royalty. Times have changed, and anybody who can buy silk products can use them without reservation. However, silk still remains one of the most sought after and expensive fabrics and even now, most of the common masses cannot afford silk fabrics.

Silk fabrics are valued chiefly due to their luster and drapability. It is used not only in garments, but also in draperies, ribbons and head gear.

India has been cultivating silk moths and producing silk since the ancient times. The fabric is derived from the cocoon formed by the caterpillar of the silk moth. The caterpillar feeds on mulberry leaves and forms the cocoon by a single thread of silk which is its saliva. This strand of silk is later unwound and converted into a usable thread. Production of silk in this process is known as sericulture.

Among the silk garments worn in India, the most famous is undoubtedly the silk sari. Sari is the most common outfit for Indian women and silk saris have a special meaning for women of all social status.

Different zones of India have given birth to their own unique styles of silk saris. The most prominent silk sari centers in India are Banaras, Kancheepuram, Chanderi, Surat, Murshidabad, Tanjore, Assam, and Dharmavaram. Each of these saris has distinctive features. These include weave, patterns, texture, motifs, border width and colors. Much of these distinctive features originate from the cultural background of these places. One can clearly make out the difference between north Indian and South Indian silk saris. The chief varieties of Indian silk saris are – Banarasi, Muga, Patola, Paithani, Tussar/ Kosa, Sambhalpuri, Baluchori, Chanderi, Maheshwari. Most of the expensive silk saris are adorned by handcrafted intricate embroidery using golden threads called Zardosi.

Silk fabrics are also used to make a variety of other garments and dress materials like gowns, shirts, ties, scarves, and furnishing materials.

Production Centers

Banaras is one of the leading silk sari producing centers of India. It is known for its heavy gold-silver brocades. Hair thin wires of gold and silver are obtained by heating the metal and passing it through minute holes. These wires are then used with silk yarn for weaving. The Amru silk brocades of Banaras are not only famous in India but also abroad. Jamvar, Navrangi (nine colors), Jamdani etc are other brocade types from the range of Banarasi saris.

Patola silk saris are the pride of Gujarat. These saris are created by using the resist dying technique. There are two types of Patola saris. The Rajkot patola is only vertically-resist dyed (single ikat), while the Patan patola is horizontally-resist dyed (double ikat). The yarn is resist dyed before it is used in weaving. Patola saris are known for their flaming bright colors and geometric designs interspersed with folk motifs.

Maharashtra is known for its Paithani silk saris, which generally come in kum-kum colors in combination with a contrasting color. Paithani are generally decorated with the gold dot or coin motif.

Ganeshpur, a village in Bhandara district in Maharashtra is famous for the Kosa silk. (The word Kosa means cocoon in the local language). In this village silk
has been produced and exported ever since 1871.

The state of Madhya Pradesh is famous for Chanderi, Maheshwari and Tussar silk saris.

Chanderi sari is known for soft colors and the harmonious balance between the border and the body of the sari. These saris are also known for their contrasting colors and the depiction of animal and human figures on them.

Maheshwari sari is known for its elaborate patterns and border. These saris have exotic motifs done in zari and pleasant colors, both inspired by nature.

Tussar silk or Kosa silk is valued for its purity and texture as it is available naturally in shades of gold-pale, dark, honey, tawny, beige, creamy, etc. Tussar silk saris are considered auspicious. It is a special variety of silk, as the cocoons are raised on Arjun and Sal trees. They come in a range of colors and are decorated with a variety of natural motifs. Tussar silk is also produced in Bihar.

Silk Bomkai Sambalpuri saris from Orissa are also in single and double ikat. In contrast to the ikats of Gujarat, theses saris are sober in color and decorated with curved forms. The pallav of these saris have floral and animal patterns on them.

Murshidabad in West Bengal is the home of the famous Baluchari sari. The Baluchar technique of weaving uses untwisted silk thread for weaving brocades. The pallav of this sari has patterns that resemble miniature paintings.

Heavy silk saris from Tanjore, Kumbakonam and Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu are known for their broad decorative borders and contrasting colors. Kolegal and Molkalmoru in Karntaka are known for their simple ikat weave with parrot motif on the borders, the ikat always being white. Sangareddy and Dharmaswaram in Andhra Pradesh specializes in ikat silk weave.

Producing Silk

Silk is a fibrous substance produced by many insects principally in the form of a cocoon or covering within which the creature is enclosed and protected during the period of its principal transformation. Usually there are three crops per year of cocoons. Starting from July-August, September-October and November-December.

Each crop acts as a seed cocoon for the next one till the third one has matured. There are two varieties of silk- pure silk and blended silk. The process before the silk is obtained starts with the laying of the egg by the mother moth followed by the emergence of the caterpillar or larvae which weaves a cocoon (also known as pupa or chrysalis) and then the yarn is procured.

Silk worms are reared in different parts of India. There are various species of silk worms that are cultivated in India, the most popular being the mulberry silk moth of China-Bombay Mori - besides the Mooga, Tasar and Eri.

The tasar yarn is procured from a fully matured worm while pure silk is obtained from a cultivated one. Tussore (spelt and pronounced in various ways) is the fabric made from the fiber of the Antheraea Paphia which is found in the forest areas of different parts of India.

Today silk is not just restricted to saris. A wide range of ladies' and men's wear like dupattas, garments, fabrics, caps, handkerchiefs, scarves, dhotis, turbans, shawls, ghagras or lehengas, and even quilts, bedcovers, cushions, table-cloths curtains are made of silk.

Banaras is one of the leading silk sari producing centers of India. It is known for its heavy gold-silver brocades. Hair thin wires of gold and silver are obtained by heating the metal and passing it through minute holes. These wires are then used with silk yarn for weaving. The Amru silk brocades of Banaras are not only famous in India but also abroad. Jamvar, Navrangi (nine colors), Jamdani etc are other brocade types from the range of Banarasi saris.

Patola silk saris are the pride of Gujarat. These saris are created by using the resist dying technique. There are two types of Patola saris. The Rajkot patola is only vertically-resist dyed (single ikat), while the Patan patola is horizontally-resist dyed (double ikat). The yarn is resist dyed before it is used in weaving. Patola saris are known for their flaming bright colors and geometric designs interspersed with folk motifs.

Maharashtra is known for its Paithani silk saris, which generally come in kum-kum colors in combination with a contrasting color. Paithani are generally decorated with the gold dot or coin motif.

Ganeshpur, a village in Bhandara district in Maharashtra is famous for the Kosa silk. (The word Kosa means cocoon in the local language). In this village silk has been produced and exported ever since 1871.

The state of Madhya Pradesh is famous for Chanderi, Maheshwari and Tussar silk saris.

Chanderi sari is known for soft colors and the harmonious balance between the border and the body of the sari. These saris are also known for their contrasting colors and the depiction of animal and human figures on them.

Maheshwari sari is known for its elaborate patterns and border. These saris have exotic motifs done in zari and pleasant colors, both inspired by nature.

Tussar silk or Kosa silk is valued for its purity and texture as it is available naturally in shades of gold-pale, dark, honey, tawny, beige, creamy, etc. Tussar silk saris are considered auspicious. It is a special variety of silk, as the cocoons are raised on Arjun and Sal trees. They come in a range of colors and are decorated with a variety of natural motifs. Tussar silk is also produced in Bihar.

Silk Bomkai Sambalpuri saris from Orissa are also in single and double ikat. In contrast to the ikats of Gujarat, theses saris are sober in color and decorated with curved forms. The pallav of these saris have floral and animal patterns on them.

Murshidabad in West Bengal is the home of the famous Baluchari sari. The Baluchar technique of weaving uses untwisted silk thread for weaving brocades. The pallav of this sari has patterns that resemble miniature paintings.

Heavy silk saris from Tanjore, Kumbakonam and Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu are known for their broad decorative borders and contrasting colors. Kolegal and Molkalmoru in Karntaka are known for their simple ikat weave with parrot motif on the borders, the ikat always being white. Sangareddy and Dharmaswaram in Andhra Pradesh specializes in ikat silk weave.

Grading Silk

Unlike cotton, which is graded in counts, silk is graded in deniers. In cotton the lesser the count the thicker the material and the higher the count the thinner the material. While in silk it is the opposite with the lesser denier yearn producing a finer silk and a thicker denier producing a heavier silk.

Today silk is not just restricted to saris. A wide range of ladies' and men's wear like dupattas, garments, fabrics, caps, handkerchiefs, scarves, dhotis, turbans, shawls, ghagras or lehengas, and even quilts, bedcovers, cushions, table-cloths curtains are made of silk