India is a country of diverse cultures, soils, and microclimates. This is also reflected in the handloom fabrics of different regions. These Indian handloom fabrics represent the rich culture and indigenous tradition of that particular city or state.
If you’re new to handlooms, you might be wondering “what are handlooms?”
Handlooms are traditional weaving tools used to make intricate native fabrics by hand or foot, with little to no use of the modern technique. The hand-weaving gives handloom fabrics a unique, personal touch, and makes them adaptable to the local climate.
The history of the handloom industry in India dates back to the period of Mahabharata. Some believe these weaving techniques were introduced at the time of the Indus Valley Civilization. The majority of these traditional Indian fabrics were initially worn by royal families and influential people.
However, now with globalization and Indian handloom brands going online, handloom clothes of different states can be purchased by anyone from any part of the country.
In this article, we would like to take you on an Indian Handloom tour. Let’s dive in and find out different types of handlooms in India that represent different states and cultures of India.
Kalamkari was originally used to narrate stories from Hindu mythology— about gods and goddesses. Its name, derived from Persian words: kalam and kari, also means written by craftsmen.
Later on, Britishers promoted it as decorative designs on attires during the 18th century. Now, kalamkari is used as block prints on traditional Indian attires like sarees and suits.
Today, Srikalahasti near Tirupati specialises in Kalamkari handloom. They use this 14th-century handicraft to produce wall-hangings or temple clothes for their temple festivities.
Apatani handloom clothes have geometric, zigzag, and angular designs. These patterns represent the strict and disciplined life of tribal people in Arunachal Pradesh.
Its craftsmen are regarded as the most progressive handloom weavers of India, as well as across various tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. Apatani is a daily wear fabric of the natives of Arunachal Pradesh.
Originally, the color of Apatni was monotonous and limited to naturally sourced orange-yellow, red, blue, and dark blue because of the availability of only a few plants such as Taemin, Sankhii, and Yango to extract the colors.
However, with access to global resources, artisans started experimenting with other colors too.
Muga silk is manufactured from cocoons of a very special silkworm found only in Assam, known as “Antheraea Assamensis.” It has a natural yellow golden tint and a rich fabric texture.
Muga silk, also known as golden fiber, was only reserved for royals during ancient times. Buying a Muga silk saree was considered equivalent to buying gold. However, now it is widely used to make dresses for Assamese women.
Muga silk was created to suit Assam’s temperature. It is said to work best in mild climates with temperatures ranging from 25-27°C.
Bhagalpuri or tussar silk is manufactured from tussar cocoons. Its fabric is made from colorful threads and gives the whole attire a beautiful finishing touch.
Bihar is also known as the Silk City because of the silk weaving industry at Bhagalpur.
Embroidery on Bhagalpuri silk illustrates the rich culture and natural surroundings of Bhagalpur which makes this fabric perfect for fancy events.
Kosa silk is pioneered by the Devangan community of Bilaspur, Raigarh, Korba and Champa. Kosa silk for sarees bring out an elegant appeal and can be worn during office events, evening house parties, etc.
Kosa silk is famous across the world for its durability. Handloom weavers in India take a good three to five days to weave a single saree of this handloom.
Silkworm, Aneres, used to make this fabric is very rare and found only in Korba and Champa district of Chhattisgarh. Hence, the production and availability of Kosa silk are mostly limited to these regions only. However, this silk is heavier than others and so cannot be worn in summers.
Kunbi handloom was very popular amongst tribal women of Goa. However, its production decreased significantly after the Portuguese invasion. Eventually, their weaving stopped after the 20th century.
Kunbi has chequered print and is made from cotton handloom materials.
Earlier worn by tribal Goan women, this saree is still popular among farmers and working-class women and is used as religious offerings in Goa. The checkered style of this handicraft piece varied for different communities.
Further, the ingredients needed for the dye of this saree are easily found in Goa. The ingredients being; toddy, iron-filling, and vinegar. The checkered style of this fabric can be creatively used to make shirts or office wear Kurtis for daily wear.
Bandhani is derived from the Sanskrit word “bandh”, which means to tie.
That’s why the technique of creating this handloom is also known as “tie and die”. The Gujrati Khatri community originally made Bandhani. Bandhani has small, round or square-shaped motifs formed as a result of dyeing.
Bandhani is a very important part of Gujarat’s marriage rituals. It is considered a symbol of good luck and happy marriage.
Women from royal families of Gujarat pass on their Bandhani sarees from one generation to the other as a family heirloom.
This handloom is made by using a tool called Panja; hence, it has been named Panja Durries.
It features gorgeous patterns and is manufactured from thick threads. Panja Durries are majorly used to make floor coverings, durries,carpets, etc. These can be made from cotton or wool.
During ancient times, they were woven only by the women in Haryana as a leisure activity, and the handicraft pieces were a part of every Haryana household. However, now their production is commercialized.
Kullu shawls are manufactured from a combination of three types of wool: Merino, Angora, and the local sheep wool.
The unique Indian handloom is a part of every local’s lifestyle. They create intricately designed items using this technique both for their own use and others.
Originated from Kinnaur Valley, Kullu shawls are made from bright colored wools and have geometric patterns.
Initially, they were made to protect locals from the cold weather of the Kullu region. That’s why Kullu shawls are unisexual and worn by both men and women.
Kashmir, also known as heaven on earth, is popular for its intricate tapestries such as shawls and carpets.
The handloom industry of this region originated in the seventh century. However, it became popular during the Mughal period. Kashmiri shawls and carpets are woven using either silk or wool. They have colorful designs and intricate stitching work.
Kashmiri shawls’ has an intricately designed floral arrangement that is extremely laborious and time-consuming to create; at times, it even takes months to create one piece of this handicraft.
The design of the bent-tip flower is considered Kashmir’s gift to the world.
Kuchai Silk is manufactured in the Kharsawan-Kuchai region of Jharkhand.
It is an organic handloom and has been witnessing rising demand in India as well as abroad.
As a result, the handloom craftsmen of Jharkhand are now getting worldwide exposure. Due to its sustainable production which includes no use of chemicals, it is preferred by many.
As the name suggests, Mysore silk originates from the Mysore city of Karnataka.
This handloom industry flourished when Tipu Sultan was the ruler of Mysore. Karnataka is also the largest producer of silk in India.
Mysore silk is embroidered with gold zari and pure silk threads.
Due to its rich fabric feel and look, it is often used to get a saree designed for important festivities.
From the land of ‘God’s own country’, Kerala’s Kasavu emerges as one of the finest traditional saris which define the essence of the beauty of every woman in Kerala.
Kasavu sarees are white and gold in color and are worn by Kerala women on special occasions such as weddings.
The Kasavu fabric is made from 100% unbleached cotton.
It has a gold zari border, with kara designs at the bottom. The Pallu usually features a peacock design.
The origin of Chanderi dates back to the times of Mahabharata.
It is believed that Lord Krishna’s cousin Shishupal introduced this handloom. Chanderi is also known as woven air because of its lightweight fabric.
Chanderi sarees are bought by people in multiple varieties such as cotton, pure silk, and a combination of cotton and pure silk.
Due to its lightweight feel, sarees or Kurtis of this fabric can be effortlessly carried for different occasions like house parties, get-togethers, pujas, etc.
The handloom industry of Paithan town in Aurangabad is popular for manufacturing Paithani sarees.
Paithani is characterized by borders of an oblique square design, and a pallu with a Peacock design. Plain as well as spotted designs are available.
Among other varieties, single-colored and kaleidoscope-colored designs are also popular.
The kaleidoscopic effect is achieved by using one color for weaving lengthwise and another for weaving width wise.
They were extensively used by royals during ancient times. Paithani looks beautiful from both sides (back and front) because of the unique weaving technique used by the artisans.
The sarees of this fabric are usually carried by women in bright colors like blue, green, and hot pink.
The phanek is the ethnic sarong worn by Manipuri women and is broadly of two types – the meitei phanek and the tribal phanek.
The Phanek is usually worn as a mini saree with a blouse and an upper cloth. They are mostly hand woven and are available only in block colors or stripes.
Mayek Naibi is a special kind of phanek, which comes in bright colors and has horizontal stripes.
Phanek is considered to be the traditional attire and handloom heritage of this region.
Eri silk is a staple fiber, unlike other silks, which are continuous filament. The texture of the fabric is coarse, fine, and dense. It is very strong, durable, and elastic.
Eri silk is darker and heavier than other silks and blends well with wools and cotton.
This silk is produced in an eco-friendly manner. Hence, it is more commonly worn by the Bhuddhist monks.
Kantha embroidery and Pattachitra art also use Eri silk. It is made up of comparatively shorter fibre, and thus has a highly textured appearance. This handloom is primarily gold in colour.
This fabric can be used for daily wear attires.
Puan, which can be simply described as a piece of cloth worn like a skirt, is the national dress of the state of Mizoram, and has always been woven by Mizo women.
Puans were traditionally a skirt of black and white colour. Now they are available in multiple colours, and can be used for other attires like sarees and salwar suits.
Puans were also considered as a symbol of a person’s societal status, depending upon the design which can be simple or intricate.
Naga shawls are woven from red and black wool, and are worn in chilly weathers.
They are highly symbolic for the people of Nagaland. Naga shawls have patterns like spear, human head, elephant, and tiger.
Each of these patterns represents one major tribe of Nagaland. Weaving is also a major traditional occupation of this state’s people.
The weaving technique of Sambalpuri is unique in the sense that its yarn is tye-dyed beforehand, and then converted into beautiful Indian handloom products.
Sambalpuri sarees are available in various other forms like Pasapali, Barpali, Bomkai, Bapta or Pata, and Sonepuri.
It is popular in Sambalpur, Boudh, Sonepur, and Bargarh region of Odisha.
Phulkari is derived from two words, phul, meaning flowers, and kari, meaning craftsmanship.
As the name suggests, this fabric has brightly coloured, gorgeous flower embroidery on a light background.
Its unique weaving technique involves creating the design on the opposite side of the cloth. Phulkari is very common amongst all Indian fabric names.
Shisha or mirror embroidery was introduced by Mughals in the 17th century. However, they were mostly used as home decor.
Soon, Indians adopted this embroidery to fabrics, and now it is one of the most popular handlooms of Rajasthan.
This mirror embroidery technique is used in traditional attires like lehenga, jackets, blouses, dupattas, etc. People also hang shisha toran on their entrance door to ward off evil.
This handloom got its name from a Sikkim community, Lepcha.
This community is known for making the traditional handloom, Lepcha, since ages. This fabric’s embroidery is made on a cotton cloth using woollen thread.
Lepcha designs are used on shoulder bags, napkins, cushion cover, table mats, etc.
Kanjeevaram silk is the most expensive handwoven silk in India. Its exquisite fabric and intricate zari work are famous across the country. Some Kanjeevaram sarees have embroidery done with gold thread.
Due to its elite feel, this fabric is perfect to be weddings, receptions, important occasions.
Since the fabric is heavy, it is more suitable for winters.
This handloom is manufactured in Bhoodan Pochampally of Telangana.
The village is also included in UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites, and is regarded as “Iconic Saree Weaving Clusters of India”.
Pochampally features intentional bleed and geometric patterns.
Pachra is like a skirt worn by women of Tripura as bottom wear.
It is also worn as a risa, a small attire covering the upper part of the body.
Embroidery on Pachra is done using multicolored threads and features a striped design.
Chikankari is one of the most popular and best handlooms in India.
It originated in Lucknow city of Uttar Pradesh. It was first introduced by the wife of the Mughal emperor Jehangir, Nur Jehan.
The fabric is first block-printed then the artisans weave chikan stitches on the outline.
Originally, chikankari was done on a white coloured cloth, but is now available in various other colours as well.
Panchachuli weave is made up of Tibetan cashmere and sheep wool. These are commonly made by rural women of the Panchachuli range of the Himalayan region.
The Panchachuli Cooperation was formed in 1990 to promote this handloom in foreign countries as well.
Panchachuli weave is used to make shawls, stoles, and wraps; suitable for cold temperatures.
Jamdani was originally used for making dresses for both men and women.
However, now its use is limited to saree patterns for women. Jamdani features embroidery done in colours like gold, white, green, silver, maroon, and black.
It is a very commonly used handloom in West Bengal.
With this, we end our tour of Indian Handlooms across 29 states of the country Some of them, like Chikankari, Kanjeevaram, Phulkari are more in demand than others because of widespread appeal. Still, each one is unique, and adds to the diverse culture of India.
The wide variety of handloom fabrics available in India has gained the global popularity it deserves, and makes us immensely proud of our rich and illustrious heritage.
Which ones of these handloom fabrics do you own? Let us know in the comments below!