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Secrets of Indian Handloom — Pochampally Ikat

Updated: Nov 8, 2019

Intricate designs come to life from master craftsmen of Pochampally

The Pochampally Ikat products are handcrafted to perfection by skilled artisans who are endowed with critical skills in intricate designs, having decades of experience behind them in their respective fields. In certain cases, these masterpieces can take up to one hundred and twenty days to take final shape, to the satisfaction of the craftsmen. The Ikat thus produced is the unique characteristic of Pochampally Ikat and is peculiar to it alone and to no other Ikat in India.

Pochampally Ikat is made of natural materials such as cotton or silk or a combination of both, having designs that are evocative of the diffused diamond or chowka (diamond within a square) design. The process of making Pochampally lkat involves tying and dyeing the threads in a visualized design before weaving of the fabric. The fabric so woven is used as Sarees for centuries.

3 basic forms of Pochampally Ikat

Pochampally Ikat has the designs that are reminiscent to the diamond or Chowka (diamond within a square) design, woven in pairs of specified length and is characterized by its bold, diffused and geometrical motifs in red, black and white colors, offset by wide single-colored borders. The diffused edges of the said designs evolved using special skills in the visualization of design are again unique to Pochampally Ikat. Along with the traditional diamond motifs, parrot, elephant, and flower motifs are also used. The 3 forms of Pochampally Ikat are ...

  1. Single Ikat, where either warp or weft threads are tied and dyed prior to weaving

  2. Combined Ikat, where warp and weft ikat may co-exist in different parts of the fabric occasionally overlapping

  3. Double Ikat, which is by far the most complex form. Here both warp and weft threads are tied and dyed with such precision, that when woven threads form both axes, mesh exactly at certain points to form a complete motif or pattern.


History of Pochampally Ikat

In late 19th century, 'Chirala', the oldest center for weaving of Pochampally Ikat, situated on the rail route between Vijayawada and Chennai (formerly known as Madras), was once known to produce the famous cotton 'Telia Rumals' or 'Chowkas' (diamond within a square) woven in pairs and measuring 55 to 75 square cms. Characterized by their bold geometrical motifs, in red, black and white, offset by wide single-colored borders, they were used in India by fisherfolk and cowherds as loincloths, lungis or turbans. In the 1930's they were exported in large numbers to Burma, the Middle East and East Africa where they were known as Asia Rumals. The term lkat stems from the Malay - Indonesian expression 'Mangikat' meaning to bind, knot or wind around.

What's unique about Pochampally Ikat

Pochampally lkat consists of fabric made by a process of tying and dyeing the yarn prior to weaving, mainly cotton or silk, or a combination of both originating from the geographical region of Nalgonda and Warangal Districts in the State of Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana) in India, having single, combined or double Ikat, in several variations, ranging from

  1. the use of diamond or chowka (diamond within a square) designs

  2. diagonal or square grids in which geometrical, floral figurative motifs are woven

  3. striped or chevron forms

  4. to other abstract variations

Secret to creating sustainable and responsible fabric — Pochampally Ikat

In principle, Pochampally Ikat or resist dyeing involves the sequence of tying (or wrapping) and dyeing sections of bundled yarn to a predetermined color scheme prior to weaving. Thus the dye penetrates the exposed section, while the tied section remains un-dyed. The patterns formed by this process on the yarn are then woven into the fabric. Telia Rumal is one such type of Pochampally Ikat.

Traditional process of making Telia Rumal

The general principles for the manufacture of Telia Rumal are explained below with an example. About 0.45 kilograms of yarn is required to make a ten-meter length material. Usually, a larger quantity is prepared as detailed in the following recipe.

Pre-dye treatment

  • 4.5 kg 120 count cotton yarn divided into 10 bundles

  • 10 kg fresh sheep dung (mixed with 25 liters water)

  • Liquid divided into 10 equal parts to treat the 10 bundles.

Natural colors the natural way

  • Ingredients for red color: 250 grams Alizarin; 250 grams Alum

  • Ingredients for Black color: 250 grams Alizarin; 250 grams Earakasu


The yarn for these rumals require 'mordanting'—a treatment that facilitates bonding of the dye to the cotton fibre cellulose. The name Telia refers to steps in the mordant treatment that impart an oily nature to the fabric. The first part of the treatment requires the yarn, having been soaked overnight in water, to be worked by hand in a bath made from fresh sheep or cattle dung. After working very thoroughly, the yarn is squeezed out and hung in the sun for 24 hours.

Meanwhile, pods from the castor plant are burned and the ash mixed well with water. After soaking for several hours, castor oil is added to the liquid and the mixture is put in the sun. When it turns slightly white, it is ready to use. The top liquid is decanted and water is added to the residue put aside for subsequent treatments.

The yarn treated with dung is submerged in the oil-ash mixture, worked well for 15 minutes, then squeezed out and stored overnight. In the morning it is hung in the sun. In the evening the oil treatment is repeated and continued for sixteen days. If time is short, the treatment can be hastened by giving two oil treatments daily for eight days.

The yarn is then wound onto cones or cylinders in preparation for making the warp. The yarn is taken to the warping mill, a large wheel that enables the correct length to be wound quickly. A mechanism on the wheel creates crosses of the yarn at strategic places, enabling the sequence of yarn to be kept in order. After winding, yarn makers are tied around the crosses, helping the person counting threads to keep them in the correct sequential order.

Intricate process of creating a Telia Rumal design

A design generally taken from a sample cloth is selected and analyzed using graph paper. The pattern section is drawn out and then broken down into units. Rumals are often designed with two motifs repeated across the cloth 2, 3, 4 or more times. Some rumals have a single motif with no repeats, but this generally increases the time required to tie the yarn patterns. Repetition reduces cost. Simply making a single motif symmetrical reduces the tying of units by half.

Touch of a master craftsmen

The weaver must be able to analyze carefully how many threads must be tied in each unit. This depends on yarn count thickness determining how many threads will be woven per inch. The prepared and treated warp now is counted into units. Eighteen threads will be used for each square on the graph paper for this design. Planning for three repeats and allowing for symmetrical shapes, the units will all have 108 threads except for the center of each motif that will only have 54 threads. Therefore the units are counted out and tied off with a yarn maker in preparation for stretching of the warp before folding.

The warp is taken outside and tied under tension to a permanent cement post on one end and a moveable wooden brace on the other. Cross-sticks are inserted at both ends and partway down the length, where the cross markers were inserted between rumals, keeping the warp spread out and in perfect order. Then warp threads for each unit are counted out and separated from each other, attaching the broken end back on to that group, creating independent units. The treads for the eight-inch red border are counted off into a separate group. White threads are also counted out for the grid stripes and edge.

Folding is the next steps used to enable the tying of 8 or 10 rumals along the length at one time. Precision is necessary for every step along the way for the woven cloth to have the warp designs intersecting with those of the weft. This is a project for teamwork. One unit is folded at a time while two workers, sitting across from each other, hold rods to receive the folded sections. An additional helper is needed to control the warp sections before they are passed to the pair controlling the folded units.

To start the process, three of the cross-sticks are held firmly in the middle of the warp length, clamping the treads together to prevent displacement. The far end of the warp is carried to the near end, halving the length. Then the doubled length is further folded, unit by unit, until it is the length of one rumal. Aa each section is folded, ties are put in place for stabilization. Then the warp is carefully carried inside for marking of the design.

Ikat — the tying and dyeing

The graph design is used to mark a guide string the length of the folded warp, with unit width marks enabling accurate marking. The areas to remain white and black are tightly wrapped separately to resist the red dye bath. Originally plant material such as palm leaves were used for this purpose. However, the cotton string is used now for segments of the fine design and strips of rubber tire inner tube where the design requires the exclusion of dye from longer segments. The string is used first to wrap all areas that are only one graph square wide with only one or two wraps. Then the wider segments are covered. When all wrapping is completed, the warp is placed in a container of water to 'wet it out', enabling more even penetration of the dyestuffs.

The red dye bath is made using alizarin dye and an additional mordant, alum. Using a mortar and pestle the ingredients are finely ground before being dissolved in hot water. Whether the Alizarin is from the bark of the tree, Morinda Citrifolia, or the synthetic source, control of the shade and intensity of the color is complex and requires skill in controlling numerous treatment variables.

The yarn is then added to the dye bath and worked by hand to penetrate the areas between the tightly bound resist areas. After thorough saturation of yarn, the vessel is taken to the fire to boil for an hour or two. The yarn should remain in the dye bath until cooling has been completed. If the intensity of the color is not satisfactory, the process is repeated with a fresh batch of dye.

After rinsing, the yarn is again put under tension while still wet and areas to become black are untied. Then the red areas are tightly covered to prevent black intrusion. The black dye is prepared using earakasu combined with Alizarin. Again the yarn is submerged in the dye and worked by hand before being heated.

The unwrapping requires great care especially with the fine cotton ties to avoid cutting the dyed threads. Displacement of the design can occur if the length of a warp thread is changed. Mending can be achieved by skillful twisting of the threads causing a minimum effect. After unwrapping, the warp is unfolded to full length, dipped in starch and taken outside to dry. The starching of warp helps to keep the design alignment.

Warping the loom

The warp is now ready to be attached to the reed of the loom by twisting the ends with the remains of the previously woven cloth, left as a small segment in the reed. The repeated design elements are placed in the correct order and the plain red border threads and white stripes and edges are added. When attached, the ends can be pulled through the reed and heddles saving a great deal of time. It is then taken outdoors to make any repairs where there is space to stretch the length out fully. The warp, after a repair, is then folded up neatly to be carried to the loom. Setting up the loom requires great precision to maintain the design alignment so carefully calculated when executed in tying.

The heddles are hooked on, reed set in place and front ends of the warp are attached to the breast beam of the loom. Lease sticks are left in, behind the heddles, to keep the threads in order. Then the weaver goes to the back of the loom and stretches the warp out of the length of the room, attaching the loose ends to a pole. Much care must be taken to get even tension and perfect alignment. A wide brush is used behind the heddles to help release the starched yarns from each other.

Weft preparation

The weft, which is the yarn woven across the warp to create the fabric, still has to be tied and dyed. But this doesn't happen until the warp is on the loom and the plain heading is woven to ensure those accurate measurements can be taken of the design placement. A string is stretched across the reed and design unit intersections are marked to create a guide for tying the weft.

The weft is wound out on a semicircular frame with a central peg and many nails on the rim. This frame, a technical development only used in the Nalgonda region, is an improvement on the older rectangular frame from Chirala. Each nail represents a unit in the design module. Because this design has eighteen threads in each unit, the yarn is taken around each nail nine times and back to the central peg before moving along to the next nail. Sufficient repeats of the design are wound to enable the entire warp to be woven. The guide string is attached from the central peg to the outer rim and used while marking the threads to ensure accurate placement of ties. Then dyeing is carried out as for the warp. After washing and drying, the weft is wound out on cylinders and then on to bobbins for the weaving shuttles.

Weaving — giving life to the rumals

The weaving begins using a fly shuttle, operated by pulling a cord in the center of the loom. When weaving the plain fabric borders, this can go extremely fast, but with the double ikat central design, each throw of the shuttle has to be carefully checked to ensure precise design intersection. However, there is always an unavoidable slight movement of yarn that creates a 'feathered' edge to the motifs. At this beginning, stage adjustments are made to any imperfections of alignment by tightening or loosening specific warp threads. It is important to frequently check behind the heddles to loosen any yarns that are twisted or stuck together by starch. Broken threads can be mended as the work progresses. A Master Weaver can weave the full length of eight rumals in 4-5 days, however, the average weaver could take several weeks to complete the piece.

The weaving continues until all rumals have been completed. When finished, the fabric is starched. When dry, the product is inspected for any flaws that are then mended. This finishes the lengthy process.

Because of the greatest time taken with the creation of the tie-dyed warp and weft, more than one set of threads is normally prepared at one time. The amount will vary depending on the number of repeats across design and also how many threads are in each unit of the design. There is a limit to how many threads can successfully be tied together and resisted at one time without distortion of the design. Too large a bundle of threads should be avoided. Some fine curved designs have many units but very few threads in each group, helping to create smooth curving lines rather than sharply stepped outlines. As a consequence, more duplicate warps could be tied at one time in such groups. On average eight warps containing eight rumals each would be prepared together. An equal amount of weft is prepared to complete the weaving of the warps, helping to rationalize the time spent in preparation.

A similar process is used for making fabrics for use as sarees, textiles, etc. However, the time taken for the master weaver, from start to finish takes up to a few weeks, depending on the size, type and color scheme used in the design.

Marketing — taking the tradition to everyone

Production and sale of Pochampally Ikat is as usually on orders placed by purchasers. The weavers may themselves develop materials of different designs within the diffused chowka pattern. The people who order for Pochampally Ikat sarees/materials from the weavers range from Government of India enterprises to private retail vendors. Orders for Pochampally Ikat materials to the weavers may be for their own use or for further retail vending. Besides various fashion houses and designers, Indian Airlines and Nalli Silks are one of the biggest retail silk saree vendors in the country have also placed orders for materials of Pochampally Ikat.

Geographical location

Pochampally Ikat is produced/manufactured in the villages spread over the districts of Nalconda (Nalgonda) and Warangal in the State of Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana).

Nalgonda district lies in 78 degrees 37 minutes 30 seconds to 80 degrees 07 minutes 30 seconds longitude and 16 degrees 05 minutes to 17 degrees 40 minutes latitude covering an area of approximately 14,240 sq. km., while Warangal lies at 78 degrees 48 minutes to 80 degrees 40 minutes longitude and 17 degrees, 17 minutes to 18 degrees 37 minutes 30 seconds Latitude covering an area of 12,846 sq. km.

The future of Pochampally Ikats

In the 1960s the All India Handicrafts Board assisted the weavers of Pochampally to start weaving sarees. Pochampally, a small village, slowly captured the market for Ikat sarees and today the whole of Nalgonda district works on Ikat weavers which can compare with the very best in single Ikat warp weaving.

Silk is brought from Bangalore, while pure Zari is sourced from Surat. The weavers work for the co-operative societies and the materials are provided to them through the society itself.

Pochampally Ikat weavers are working out on developing Jacquard and dobby techniques to combine it with Ikat with the help of weavers service center, Hyderabad.

Along with the traditional diamond, parrot, elephant, and flower motifs, the Ikat saree designers these days are developing new and modern designs to go with the current trends of the market.

Source: The two conspicuous bodies that are responsible for the production and marketing of Pochampally Ikat: Pochampally Handloom Weaver's Co-op Society Ltd, an autonomous society registered under the Societies Act 1860; Pochampally Handloom Tie and Dye Silk Sarees Manufacturer's Association, an association established under the law; Geographical Indications Registry, Government of India



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