Chennai-based couple marry love for traditional handloom weaves through label House of Tuhil 

The founders have their priorities set right - they are not in the business of reselling. Each of the brand's saris - both silk and silk cotton - have been created on their own looms
Jayakumar Sundaraman and Varsha Kumar
Jayakumar Sundaraman and Varsha Kumar

During a personal expedition in 2019, Jayakumar Sundaraman and Varsha Kumar, visited several homes that had preserved age-old saris to examine the history they hold. There, the couple, who are both cultural history buffs, found unique landscapes of colour combinations, weaving techniques, motifs, and long-lost hues used in the traditional handwoven creations.

They decided to repopularise these time-tested elements in a sustainable venture of their own and gave birth to House of Tuhil in March 2022. 'Tuhil' meaning fabric is a poetic Tamil word referenced in Sangam literature, says Jayakumar while explaining their choice of this title to suit their artistic endeavour.

The founders have their priorities set right - they are not in the business of reselling. Each of the brand's saris - both silk and silk cotton - have been created on their own looms. "Our looms were set up in Kanchipuram, Arani and Chinna Arani, in January. We produce our own designs and motifs on the saris and ensure they are not recreated. Our in-house designer is also an expert on weaving. Also, if there are orders that require us to do a repeat of a particular sari that we wove on our looms, we can create them again quickly," says Jayakumar.

Colour and culture

Weavers work on the company's looms, eliminating the need for intermediaries in the demand-supply chain. "The weavers create for us, so we pay them; it’s that simple. We do not negotiate with the weavers on the prices they quote on labour charges and other expenses," he says.

Although they are a business, they want to enable profitability for the makers, echoing his wife's hope that such ventures may even facilitate the return of members of traditional skill-based communities to their inheritance. "They (weavers and artisans) have the skill and we are merely equipping them to keep churning out their art," adds Varsha. Skilled labourers from Andhra Pradesh are employed here to work their charm. 

House of Tuhil's first collection - the Shanta collection - is their tribute to mentor and textile connoisseur Shanta Guhan, who is associated with the Kalakshetra Foundation. The weaves featured are gloriously resplendent in their olive greens, mustard yellows, rusted orange, maroons, honey, beige, and more.

Their design aesthetic is classic - a mix of simple and elaborate motifs like temple gopurams, parrots, neli mango, kuyilkannu, annam (swan) find place in the threadwork of their exquisite saris. Some pallus have four-five designs woven into them. There is a lot to see and learn in their embroidery -— for instance, there are patterns inside patterns, too, like lavangams inside the kattams.

Their range of silks and silk cottons featuring checks and stripes (kattams and varis) is a nod to the koorainaadu saris - woven at Koorainadu near Mayiladuthurai, which used to be essentials in a bride’s trousseau.

They are woven with alternate skeins of silk and cotton yarns (2:1 ratio) in warp and weft, giving the saris a classy silk finish, describes Varsha. "Did you know that in the korvai weaving technique, the border of the sari used to be woven separately from the body of the sari? In old saris, you can clearly see marks that show that the border was attached to the sari after the weavers completed bringing in intricate design elements on it," she explains. 

Remembering lost dyes

Varsha is also interested in discovering dyes that are no longer existent, especially those that closely resemble the missing colour. "Ten-fifteen years ago, those dyes were used in our relatives' saris. Those colour palettes have disappeared," she rues. The couple's quest to make such knowledge of the historical and cultural significance in material reality accessible through their products shines through.

A silk sari made on a powerloom would have been completed in four hours but in their looms, where they are crafted with dedication and skill, it will take a week. "Those who can understand the value of everything handcrafted and handmade will always be there. We hope handloom will be popularised in segments beyond, possibly making it affordable enough to be included in everyday wardrobe someday," they sum up. 

Currently, House of Tuhil has an online catalogue that can be accessed on their social media handles. The founders reveal that custom orders have been pouring in from people requesting the brand to recreate attires that hold nostalgia value, like their grandmothers' wedding saris, for instance. The brand is planning a line of handwoven cotton saris for the summer.

Speaking of the larger goal for House of Tuhil, Varsha says, "When we set up our physical store, it will function as a centre where one can learn to weave, say small items of clothing, like dupattas, on looms. Providing an interactive store experience is our dream; we don’t want the storefront to be a mere point of purchase," she says.

And rightly so, the couple’s vision and endeavours instill confidence in the preservation of handloom lore.

(For details, WhatsApp 9790915125 or visit @houseoftuhil on Facebook & Instagram)

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