National Handloom Day: Tracing the weaves of Tamil Nadu's Arani with Drapery Silks
We travelled to one of the textile hubs of India, Arani to rekindle the magic of handwoven traditions
Amidst the warm embrace of the sun, the gentle winds caressed the forested hilly town of Arani near Vellore. Nestled along the serene Kamandala Naaga River, the town revealed itself as a bustling silk-weaving hub of the southernmost state. Traditionally attired men and women animated the streets, infusing the air with their lively spirit. Our eyes were captivated by the mesmerising silk saris draped by the local women in the town. Some saris had ‘half-and-half ’ designs that depicted a delightful interplay of colours, where the pleated and pallu segments danced in harmonious contrast while others featured the ‘Air India’ style and divine temple border in the Korvai weaving technique.
Driven by a yearning to find out about Arani’s silk-weaving traditions, we found ourselves standing in awe at the doorstep of the revered textile maestro, E Selvan. A stalwart of the handloom industry for over four glorious decades, he has earned accolades for his remarkable achievements, including replicating the enigmatic Mona Lisa smile on a silk sari in 1995 and creating the longest silk sari in 2005.
Now, his cherished legacy had been entrusted to his sons, Karthik Monju Selvan and Sunil Prasanth Selvan, the minds behind Drapery Silks, a new-age label that is breathing fresh life into the handloom traditions. Karthik, who completed his undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Australia and obtained a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Milan, entered the weaving industry in 2011 conceptualising the brand as a keepsake of traditions and modernity. He tells us, “Drapery is a label that is like an open canvas — we think of eclectic designs developed from a broad range of ideas and try to fuse them together to create a synchronised piece of fabric.”
Yarn to loom
We began our tour by stepping into their dyeing unit. A kaleidoscope of hues awaited us adorning the silk yarns in charcoal black, oxford blue, oceanic green, alchemist purple, golden poppy, pear green and more. We saw their dyeing process where artisans skillfully twisted the yarns into bundles with unwavering focus and dye them in simmering cauldrons where the colours embrace the yarn. Next, we saw the coloured yarns being converted into fabric. At one loom, golden threads intertwined to form opulent silk fabric for a bridal trousseau sari. Each gentle touch of the plush silk threads assured us of their unparalleled quality.
We also explored their power loom and handloom unit where rhythmic clanking of the looms filled the air with music of sorts. Sharing about state-of-art looms, Karthik says, “Looms should be as comfortable as a cockpit for the pilot and as versatile as a luxury airliner. It should be as open-ended as an artist would like his canvas to be. We consider all these aspects and upscale the weavers so it becomes much easier for them to weave complex designs.”
The label is also pioneering sustainability by using plant based fibres, “Banana and Nilgiri pulp yarn are something that is very much in the conception phase. We are trying to create a lot more products from them. Apart from those, there are yarns such as cotton-based yarns where the DNA structure of cotton is altered to make it appear like wool or silk. Another is Bamboo yar n derived from its tree,” he shares, adding that the time is near when we will have completely vegan saris.
The opulence of silk is not merely a visual delight; it encompasses a multi-sensory experience for the wearer. Running your fingers over its surface, you’re beguiled by the softness, luxury, its lustre created through the artistry of jacquard, dobby, and other handloom weaving techniques. Giving us one such memorable experience, the label displayed its rich tapestry of silk sari collections titled Trousseau, Mono, Aarambh and the latest addition, Silver Lining.
Each of the pieces is a wearable work of art. In one piece, a garnet sari in golden zari is reminiscent of Raja Ravi Varma’s timeless paintings featuring a lady with a swan motif. Another stuns with tropical divinity, adorned with woven motifs of Radha and Krishna on a jade silk canvas. Tales from Vrindavan spring to life, boasting a palette of six colours that give birth to a myriad of tints in another piece. For the young generation who admire voguish designs, the label brings trendy motifs of sea turtles, whale sharks, and koi fishes, which take us on a marine adventure. Their latest edit, Silver Lining, unveils silver zari saris, bringing metallic allure. It features the ancient art forms of Bani Thani paintings from Rajasthan, Persian tile ar t, and the delicate watercolour-like wash motifs of pine trees on a frozen lake, adding to its repertoire of captivating compositions. As we ended our cultural trail, we were told that the label is soon to diversify into menswear and accessories, with more innovations lined up.