Project LooM
Kanchipuram Process

Dyeing Kanchipuram Silk Yarn

Dyeing yarn is done by another group.  Srinivasan, a young “distributor” of silk sarees says that in the old days, the weaver did everything, from the creation of the warp, to the separation of the yarn, to the dyeing to the rolling of the dyed yarn.  Today, specialists have taken over each step. Clad in a white full-sleeved T-shirt and black pants, Srinivasan dresses and talks like the Tamil film heroes he admires. He came to the textile trade later, he says.  His father and uncle were weavers but he was not interested in looms. Instead, he liked the economics of being a consolidator: buying finished sarees from weavers, selling them out of his wholesale warehouse to different retail shops.

“Weavers are moody people,” says Srinivasan.  “They are artists, you see. So we have to hold their hand, give them advances (loans) to take care of the family and persuade them to weave when they don’t want to.  Sometimes one of them will come and refuse to do a day’s work because he has received some bad news from his daughter’s home– or because some distant relative is sick.  You have to hold their hand, make them feel better and get them to the loom somehow.”

Dyeing happens before sunrise on the banks of the Palar river.  And the dyers are always in a hurry because they are racing against the sun.  The heat of the sun will make the yarn stick, they say. So the golden white yarn is quickly dipped into vats of dye and then hung out to dry.  It goes in and emerges in a new avatar: chili red, mango yellow, lotus pink, coffee brown– each clump of colour destined for a particular saree.

The dyed dried yarn goes back to the loom-layers like Naidu and his daughter, who then have to pull out the coloured yarn to remove all the sticky knotty bits.  “Otherwise, it will tear in the loom,” says Priya.

Quiet but confident, Priya works with quick, dainty fingers to separate the thread into specific counts– 30 is the one we watch.  In between, her son comes out to ask a question. She tells him to go change his dress. A woman at work, multi-tasking like many others, balancing work and family.  A gaggle of kids wander around. They have summer holidays and refuse to be cooped up at home. Will they join the weaving trade, I ask.

“Theriyaathu,” one boy replies.  “I don’t know.”

He wants to keep his options open.

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