Cotton - weaving

The process of weaving remains much the same today as it did 5000 years ago, although today's large commercial factories are mechanised, producing great quantities of fabric much faster. It is basically the interlacing of two sets of thread, the warp and the weft, to make a fabric.

Basic technique

The technique involves holding the parallel warp threads taut while the weft is threaded over and under in rows. To make this easier, alternate warp threads are raised to make a space, called a shed. The weft thread fed through the shed gaps using a block known as a shuttle. On the return journey, or counter shed, the other set of warp threads are pulled up so the weft can be interlaced. The weft is pushed down using a comb. Warp and weft can be controlled to introduce extra threads and complex patterns. Variations of this method exist all over South Asia.

Regional variations

An opaque watercolour of a weaver and his wife.
Image: A cotton weaver and his wife.

In most homes of the tribal people of Arunchal Pradesh, women use a traditional backstrap loom as part of daily life. To use this loom the warp threads are stretched between a beam anchored to the ground and a beam tied to a belt around the weaver who sits on the ground.

Another variation is a horizontal loom. This is free standing with the warps tensioned between two beams. The weaver sits at a chair, and as weaving progresses warp threads are rolled away from the weaver. Shed and counter shed are made by the movement of two vertical frames. These are raised and lowered with ropes connected to foot peddles.

Women from the Naga tribes of Assam and Manipur weave cotton on a simple narrow loom. Women in Dacca used to spin thread onto a small spindle called the tuku'a which was then used by men to weave into muslin and bleached in the sun. In contrast, the Toda tribe from southern India has no tradition of weaving. They seem to have always bought the white cloth for their putkali dress from others.

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