Considered as the biggest trade centre of Eastern India, Bhagalpur is known for its unique silk fabrics called ‘Tussah or Tusser’. Silk weaving is an age old tradition- date back to a period more than 100 years. Fabrics produced in the city are famous both at the domestic and the international market and has been named as the Silk City due to its popularity for Bhagalpuri silk.
More than 35,000 handloom weavers, with 25,000 looms live in Bhagalpur, with many of them living below the poverty line. While they make glorious fabrics for the elite people of the society, their lives always are in darkness.
The master craftsmen select the drawings. The design is mainly variations of weave and color.
Raw material preparation
This is a long process that can also be divided into certain steps:
- Reeling silk: Cocoons are firstly sorted and then the good ones are boiled in water with some amount of soda for 1/2 to 2 hours. After boiling, the silk strands are unwounded onto bamboo spools. Workers use their bare thighs to draw out a single filament of silk from the cocoons. This silk is known as ghicca silk. In khewa silk, the hands are used to unwind the silk filament.
- Throwing: After this process the spools are transferred to skeins. After drying, these skeins are reeled on bobbins to make a thicker, stronger, and multi threaded yarn.
Natural dyes are commonly used for dyeing tussar silk. While the process of dyeing is similar for all colors, mordants are used differently for specific colors. In general, the first step for all dyes is extraction by boiling the dyestuff in water. The solution is strained, and the dye is applied to wet yarn skeins. After some time the skeins are put in mordant solution to fasten the effect of the dye. The last step is to wash the yarn with reetha powder. For black color harer powder is boiled in water for 15-20 minutes. The wet skeins are put in a dye bath for 20 minutes in a separate container. Kasis stone is used as the mordant. It is put in plain water and sieved. The dyed skeins are put into this kasis solution for 5 minutes. After 20 minutes the skeins are washed in reetha solution. For indigo dye the mordent (alum) is applied before dyeing, and the skeins are kept in an airtight container. After half an hour, the skeins are put into boiling indigo solution. The excess dye is washed out with reetha.
Preparation of Weaving
In the weaving operation, lengthwise yarns that run from the back to the front of the loom make the basic structure of the fabric and are called the warp. The crosswise yarn is the filling, also known as weft. Before weaving the warp and weft yarn needs to be spun to the required specifications. Then the yarn is wound onto large spools, which are placed on a rack called a creel. From the creel, the yarn is wound onto the warp beam. This process is known as spooling.
Weaving process: In the weaving process on the loom, the warp beam is mounted at the back and the warp yarns are conveyed to a cylinder called the cloth roll, which is at the front of the loom. Supported on the loom frame between the two cylinders, the warp yarns are ready to be interlaced by the filling or weft yarns, to produce the woven fabric. In the weaving process four steps are fundamental –
Shedding: the operation performed by the harnesses – rectangular frames to which a series of wires, or heddle, are attached. As each warp yarn comes from the beam, it must pass through an opening in the heddle.
Drawing in: the operation of drawing each warp yarn through its appropriate heddle eye. In the weaving process the heddle frame raises or lowers certain groups of alternate warp yarn by treadles, so that the filling yarns alternate in passing under one group of warp yarns and over another.
Picking: As the harnesses raise the heddles, which in turn raise the warp yarn, the filling yarn is inserted through the shed by the shuttle that contains a bobbin of filling yarn. This crossing of wefts between the shed of the warp is known as Picking. Each warp yarn passes through a heddle eyelet and through an opening in another frame that resembles a comb and is called the Reed. With each picking operation, the filling yarn is pushed against the woven fabric. This process is known as
Beating: With each shedding, picking and beating, the newly constructed fabric must be wound on the cloth beam. This is referred to as taking off.
After the fabric is taken off the loom, it is washed with plain water and spread for drying. After drying, water is sprinkled with a spray machine. This spraying should be uniform all over the surface. Then the fabric is folded properly and beaten with a heavy hammer, called kundi. This beating process sets the weave properly. The fabric is now ready for calendaring. This is a mechanically produced finish, achieved by pressing the fabric between a series of two or more rollers to smoothen it and produce a wrinkle free effect.