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Behind the Opulence of Banarasi Brocade

Banarasi brocade weavers work on both punch card jacquard looms and the old style of brocade looms using string tie ups. Traditionally, the weaver is seated on a high bench and ties the appropriate warp threads in the correct order. This job is made more difficult because of the level of detail involved in managing up to 3500 threads. The weaver manipulates numerous spools of different coloured thread while operating the peddles and throwing the shuttle to weave the ground cloth. This old style of patterning was replaced by jacquard machines with punch card operation. These punch cards are fed through a mechanism that lifts the appropriate threads. This enables an individual weaver to create a complex pattern without any other help.

Cardboard and plastic punch cards are used for determining jacquard patterns
Cardboard and plastic punch cards are used for determining jacquard patterns

An artisan working with an old style pit loom
An artisan working with an old style pit loom

There are various techniques employed in Banarasi brocade weaving:

a) Getwa is a technique from Varanasi that produces small motifs in the fabric. The process is similar to Jala weaving. The pattern is picked up on the warp behind the shafts.

An artisan preparing thread for the getwa weaving of brocade
An artisan preparing thread for the getwa weaving technique

b) Jala weaving, also a technique from Varanasi, consists of threads being attached at the top of the loom before their corresponding ends are attached to the warp below.

Threads arranged for the jala weaving technique
Threads arranged for the jala weaving technique

In getwa and jala weaving both ends are raised forming a shed through which the weft is passed. This technique allows the weaving of highly intricate patterns.

c) Jacquard is a technique using a special mechanism called a jacquard head which is situated over a hand or power loom.

A brocade border woven with a jacquard loom   A weaver at the loom
L: A brocade border woven with a jacquard loom
R: A weaver at the loom

Design for brocade begins with a penciled design. It is then transferred to a large sheet of paper that shows magnified detail of the weft colours. In the process of weaving, the weaver makes use of rapid motions to ensure uniformity in the production of figured fabrics and in material of high compact structure. Tanchoi fabric, used to produce tanchoi sarees, was introduced to Varanasi in the early 20th century. There are no specific design aspects in tanchoi fabric. It can be recognised by a few characteristics which are:

a) Weaving using silk extra weft ornamentation on a silk ground of plain or satin weave

b) Extra weft ornamentation on the surface is very dense and well packed

c) Employing the use of a throw shuttle tool in the weaving of Banarasi brocade

Tanchoi silk Banarasi brocade detail
Tanchoi silk Banarasi brocade detail

 

Images: Nicholas Gessler, Culture and Power in Banaras, Pics and Photos, Gaatha, Utsavpedia