- Handloom -

Varanasi Brocade

Varanasi brocades are amongst India’s most opulent silk fabrics and have been patronized by aristocracy for centuries. This is a specialty of Varanasi, formerly know as Banaras, from which the fabric derives its name, ‘Banarasi’.

Banarasi sarees are regarded as heirlooms, often passed down from one generation to the next, and are frequently the choice for women attending important events and included in a bride’s trousseau. A characteristic feature of Banarasi is the use of gold or silver zari, along with coloured silks, to create various motifs. The zari used for weaving is a special kind of metallic thread and has been produced in Varanasi for centuries.

In regular weaving, the weft thread passes over the warp thread. The weft is the transverse thread and the warp thread extends through the length of the fabric. In brocade weaving, extra weft threads of different coloured silk or metal zari threads are woven into the base fabric to form an intricate pattern.

Gyasar brocade is made by twisting three or four gold-coated silk threads into a single twine in the weft to create bold floral prints with striking textural details. The headgear worn on ceremonial occasions by the Dalai Lama, the Karmapa, and other Tibetan high priests is made of this rare brocade woven with gold. It takes close to two weeks to weave 7 metres of Gyasar. Fashion designers, including those from DKNY, Rohit Bal, and Manish Arora, and Australian designers Romance Was Born and We Are Kindred have been using gyasar, popularising the craft.

Brocade weaving is a complex process carried out by master weavers with skills that have been passed down through generations.

First, the nakshaban or pattern drawer, creates the design on graph paper that will feature on the textile. Then the yarn is prepared for the warp and weft. Warp threads are then opened up and attached to the loom. The weft yarn is reeled onto bobbins using special equipment. Once the warp and weft are ready, the weaving is done on either a jala or jacquard loom.

If the weaving is being done on a jala loom, the nakshaband then recreates his pattern onto a frame loom using threads. Through this, a jala is produced, which is attached to the loom so as to transfer the pattern or motif as a repeat on the main fabric.

On a jacquard loom, the designs are punched onto cards, which are then sewn together and attached to the top of the loom from where they control the heddles (loops of cord attached to the loom’s harness used to separate and control the warp). The cards lift a series of warp threads so that weft threads can be inserted, creating the beautiful brocades.

The Geographic Indication (GI) status given to Banarasi brocade and sarees means that only brocade and sarees made in the districts and city of Varanasi can be authentically identified as Banarasi brocade or Banarasi saree.

Whilst handlooms are still operational in Varanasi, the manufacturing industry there has undergone tremendous change by modernizing the handlooms to achieve more productivity. In order to popularize GI patented Banaras Brocade, continuous efforts in both the government and private sector are being made to raise awareness among global consumers to buy and support handloom items, keeping this incredible artisan skill alive.

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