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


Mordanting


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