24 May, 2019
In many ways, our country is defined by the image of the Father of the Nation, Gandhiji weaving on a Charkha. The khadi clothes he used to wear through the fabric weaved through the Charkha soon became a synonym of a politician’s image in our country. Gandhiji was successful in getting the nation to boycott foreign clothes in mass and the people shifted to handwoven clothes. However, post-independence, the country has come a long way, and today we have many international and national brands, that churn out fabrics for us.
Most of the fabric used in the clothes that we purchase are nowadays machine woven, which works out cheaper, and better and easier to manage and shape into multiple clothes. The benefits of wearing natural fabrics though, especially for a tropical country like India are many. When you wear cotton, linen, silk, wool, etc. and that too, if they are handwoven, and come as Khadi or Handloom, you are wearing organic fibers, which are also woven organically and the benefits are many.
Cotton has a soft texture that feels good against your skin, especially in summer, and it also has a breathable nature. Because of the cellulose arrangement in it, it also gives possesses a good amount of strength, is hence durable even after multiple washes (whether hand or machine), and is absorbent. This means that cotton when used in regions where there is sweating also will be easier on your skin, as compared to the synthetic ones which may not be as durable or absorbent. Handloom sarees and bed sheets are available almost all across India, with every region having its own specialties. Also, many young designers have again turned to handloom and Khadi and helped revive it, making it a fashion symbol again.
Linen is also highly absorbent and also keeps the heat in, which is why it is used more in the winter or the colder regions. Also, it can resist high temperatures easily and is not easily stained. Hence, it is easily washed, even in machines. In fact, the more you wash, the softer it becomes and it is also stronger than cotton. The best part is linen also comes with antibacterial and antiseptic properties, which means they are really good on your skin. You may remember that Linen is used in bandages also, mainly due to this property. Linen is made from the natural fiber of the flax plant and is highly popular because it literally lasts decades. While Linen is machine woven as well, the handwoven linen is actually stronger, crispier and slightly heavier initially, than the machine woven ones. Handwoven linen sarees are a rage now, even among the young crowd.
Silk, as we all know is luxurious, pleasing to the eye and also easy on the skin, as it is also highly absorbent. Because it easily absorbs sweat, it allows your skin to breathe naturally and also dries faster and naturally. It is a natural protein fiber, which is obtained from the cocoons of the larvae of silkworms. Incredibly, you may not have known that silk is actually an all climate fiber! It keeps you warm in winter, and cozy and cool in summer. You may have heard about the incredible silk sarees coming from various parts of India like Kanchivaram, Muga silk, Mysore silk, Pochampalli, Chanderi, Paithani, Banarasi and more.
The best part is that silk is also handwoven using looms, and it is actually wonderful to watch the weavers create intricate, beautiful designs using their looms. It is a laborious effort though, which kind of makes us feel that the cost of the fabric is justified because of the efforts that go into its making.
Wool is another natural fiber, which is obtained from the sheep or other animals. These are also hand woven and made into fabric, rugs and much more. Wool is mostly used in the cold climate, because of its heating effect. Most wool may feel itchy and scratchy, and certain wool may feel really nice and soft. You may recollect certain shawls, scarves, sweaters, and rugs made from wool, that is abundantly available. Wool offers you breathability, temperature regulation, and also antimicrobial properties.
Why handwoven fabrics?
In India, we have a variety of handwoven fabrics, which are slowly dying, because there is no market for it. The machine woven fabrics, are available more and are cheaper. Hence, most people prefer to go for them. India, as a country has a 2000-year-old rich heritage of handwoven fabric culture. Incredibly, India has 95% of the world’s handwoven fabrics! 15% of India’s fabric production is covered by the handwoven sector, which employs almost 43 lakh people.
Apart from the health benefits that we derive from wearing the handwoven natural fabrics, each of these is like a masterpiece crafted uniquely, unlike the mass production of the machine woven stuff. These can be the heritage relic that we can hand down to our generations, like the younger generation looking out for their grandmas’ sarees, or shawls or rugs, etc.
By choosing to wear handwoven, we choose to wear healthy clothes, help the environmental cause, invest wisely as these are durable and will also help save a piece of our heritage. Besides, we help the livelihood of all those workers who are working in this sector and will encourage others to save a rich cultural tradition as well.
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