Indian Textile Adventure #2: Impromptu Tour of Weaver Cooperative

A weaver at her loom.

We were staying in Kannur which is a town in Kerala on the Malabar Coast. As we were exploring the town from the back of an auto-rickshaw, I spied what looked to be wet skeins, just drying by the side of the road. I asked the rickshaw driver to stop, and found that we were at the Kanhirode Weaver's Co-operative. And just like that, we just walked in to their offices off the street and were treated to a one hour tour of their facility. 

View from the road.

The Coop has been around since the 1950s. They weave mostly cotton (with some linen) for the home textile market - towels, table cloths, placemats, etc.  They buy their fiber already spun from the mill - but all other aspects of turning that yarn into a usable home object is done by hand on the premises.

Inside the washing and dying facility.

The first step of the process is washing the yarn and then dying it. In the photo above, one of the managers, Jithinraj, is walking us through the process. It was at about this point that he let me know,  "The soul is in everything we make, at every step of the process our products are touched by human hands."

Dye recipes.

A collection of bamboo poles in the corner of this work area caught my eye - they act as a color recipe book.  Each has been dipped into a dye solution and carefully labeled with instructions to reproduce a color.

We were then led into a nearby building where the fibers are woven into fabric. I loved the sound of that room (take a look in my video above!), and the way these skilled weavers were able to create patterns from memory. They weren't referring to any references, just totally at one with the rythm of their shuttles flying back and forth on the loom.  Jithinraj said that it takes them 6 - 8 hours to warp a loom and that each weaver can produce about 6 yards of fabric per day.

Not being a weaver myself and this being the first time I was so thoroughly exposed to it, I was so impressed with how weaving engages the entire body. Not just the hands like knit and crochet, but the arms and the feet and the legs as well. Take a look at the footwork of this man creating a multi-colored checkerboard pattern. Looks absolutely effortless, I'm sure it is the result of years of practice.

Winding shuttle spools.

In the center of the room, stations were set up where workers loaded the shuttle spools with yarn from the skeins.

Just imagine walking off the street in the USA into an industrial business and asking for a tour of their facility. 9 times out of 10 you would get the brush-off. But in India, we were welcomed and we enjoyed a fascinating glimpse into a worker-owned textile business.