I recently took some of our guests at Lakeside on our village tour. They were most impressed to see a sari being woven.
In India you will find whole streets of families with small businesses doing the same job – a street of carpenters, or basket makers, or tailors, or weavers. This is most probably due to the caste system where families of the same cast tend to live together, and with the tradition of arranged marriage within family groups it means that whole streets are often one intricately connected extended family.
In the street of weavers which we visit some families weave cotton saris, some silk and some a mixture of the two fibres.
Thread is wound onto the bobbin on a traditional spinning wheel, the bobbin is then fitted into the shuttle.
Many westerners will recognise the looms as the same as those used in Europe at the beginning of the industrial revolution with the ‘flying shuttle’. The threads are separated by the use of foot-pedals whilst the shuttle is sent at speed back and forth across the fabric. For saris with intricate borders there are patterns (similar to the pieces of card with holes in them which play music in a music box) which help to create these wonderful effects.
It takes about 3 days to set up a loom and 3 more to weave the sari which is about 5 meters in length. For this a weaver will get somewhere between Rs 120 and Rs 150 per day when the costs of the materials have been deducted. To make a living the family will need 2 looms and probably a small area of land to grow their own vegetables etc.
The weaving of a sari, like the work of the village potter, is another art that is dying out in Tamil Nadu. It pays poorly, keeping people at barely above
subsistence level, and the young people don’t want to learn the trade, preferring IT instead, or maybe moving to a better paid job in a town or city. The people who make money from saris today are those with big automated factories making in bulk and employing small numbers of people. In the future it is only likely to be those who hand-weave very expensive silk and gold saris for weddings etc who will be able to make a decent living from this trade.