More than a decade ago, on a reporting assignment in Arasur, a town outside Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, I watched as two weavers spread a perfect maroon-and-gold sari on a small platform outside a tiled-roof house and examined it inch by inch. Halfway through, they rolled it up and tossed it into a steel cupboard. “One thread has been missed while weaving,” one of them explained, anticipating the question. “The contractor won’t take it. That’s two days of work wasted.” They had stories about looms in their cluster being sold for the wood.
There’s no denying that the handloom sector is beset with problems: Most weavers work independently, or at the mercy of contractors who bring orders to the weaving clusters. They don’t have the funds to buy raw materials in bulk or cut costs but have to compete with massy, fast-fashion brands. There’s little to no technology helping them—many work on the same looms their grandparents used. Their work, which often requires the labour of the whole family, is hard and time-consuming.
Fortunately, there are some stories of hope, across the country, of weavers taking back their power—they are experimenting with new materials and forms, setting up their own direct lines of distribution and sale, and making sure they are involved in decisions regarding their art and livelihood. Giving them a hand are revivalists trying to create awareness about handlooms, artists who team up to use their fabrics in new ways, curators placing their work in gallery spaces, and designers who collaborate to spotlight their craft. These are the tales of handloom that our cover story tells this week.
The idea of slowing down to appreciate the things we take for granted—or don’t think about at all—runs through other stories. Sameer and Zeenat Kulavoor pay tribute to the graphic design on storefronts and product packaging in an exhibition that tells fascinating stories about how simple designs become accepted language for a product or a service. Zac O’Yeah, who had a travel book out earlier this year, talks about travelling to discover and not post on social media, and the adventures of eating at railway stations.
Write to the Lounge editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She tweets @shalinimb