Kotpad sarees are a vegetable-dyed handloom fabric, woven by the tribal weavers, of the Mirgan community of Kotpad village in the Koraput district of Odisha, India. The natural vegetable dye is manufactured from the aul tree grown in this region.
The Kotpad sarees are tussar silk sarees decorated with tribal art and are rich in their natural colour. The entire process of its making, dyeing, and weaving process is no less than an adventure for those hearts, who crave to drape themselves in these precious fabrics.
The Making Process of Kotpad Sarees:
● The natural process of Kotpad weaving is anchored in its tedious & painstaking yarn & due preparation.
● Washed hanks of yarn hang out to dry in the open spaces alongside the weaver’s home.
● The yarn is stretched & then wound onto a wooden frame called Bharani. The warping board is called Pawan by the weavers. It keeps the tension of the yarn uniform.
● Most of the pre-weaving activities happen in the open air in courtyards outside the weaver’s home.
● The weaver prepares the warp yarns so that they can go through the reed.
● The weaver attaches the ends of the yarn to the rod that fits on the loom. Ash is used to fusing the ends of the yarn.
● The hollow bamboo stick separates the warp threads to keep them even & avoid inter – tangling during weaving. The stick is called puri.
● Fine & experienced fingerwork is needed for some of the processes of weaving a Kotpad textile.
● Life’s many activities are interspersed with the weaving process, as different family members go about the necessary tasks of the day.
● Loose yarn is rolled onto a long stick which is stored upright against the wall, till it is ready to be put on the loom.
● Usually locally available & locally processed yarns, the entire chain of production, continues to be carried out in the traditional & tribal way.
● Women work on winding the yarn, around the Bharani, to transfer it, onto another implement.
● The yarn wound around the Bharani is transferred onto this stick, with a thick ringed end called tossar. The yarn from here will be later transferred onto shuttles.
● Then a broken thread is joined from the tossar.
● Yarn is wound onto a stick to be dyed, or wrapped into bobbins later.
The weaving part:
● The weaving process is resumed only well after the rains, as that is the time best suited for the processing of the dye.
● Men handle the weaving which is done on a simple pit loom.
● Fabrics are traditionally woven in the thick handspun cotton yarn of counts of 10s or 20s.
● The carved pole is called a Mahadeva Khoonta, & serves the purpose of steadying the stretch of warp to maintain an even tension.
● All pit looms have a Mahadeva Khoonta (tower) at the end opposite of the weaver, to steady the warp.
● Simple mechanisms pull the shuttle on a pit loom in the weaver’s home.
● The warp is stretched tightly across the loom, which is organic, handspun, cotton dyed red with the colour from the root of the aul (morinda citrifolia) which is also known as the madder tree.
● The selvage is dyed in red or black or brown and joined to the main body of the warp.
● The threads are then examined before interspersing in the weft to provide the motifs.
● The weaving process involves both hands & feet and is mostly done on handlooms.
● The pit loom is a horizontal ground staked handloom at which the weaver sits in a pit dug below floor level.
● Dyeing & weaving work go together & have to be coordinated with the season.
● The monsoon brings heavy rains, during which time there is a pause in their work for 6 to 8 weeks.
● The traditional rhythm is to follow the changes, in seasons & plan their production accordingly.
● A pit loom requires a weaver to sit at floor level with his feet dangling into a pit dug in the cool mud flooring.
● Dyestuffs are best processed after the monsoons when the air is not moist with humidity.
● The colour will stick firmly to the fabric or yarn, and dry satisfactorily under the bright sun.
The designing phase:
● Kotpad weaving techniques create an embroidery like pattern on the fabric.
● The wooden shuffle is inserted into the weft & provides the patterns woven into the body of the textile.
● Often a smaller spindle is used to insert the prominent designs in the weft.
● Kotpad handwoven weaving uses a pit loom interlocking pattern and the motif is developed manually by using an extra weft pattern.
● A small shuttle is inserted through the warp to create the weft designs.
● The weaver has to deftly manipulate the shuttle between a particular number of warp threads.
● Inserting designs into the warp with a contrast color yarn through a shuttle enables the weaver to create an embossed effect resembling embroidery.
● Fabrics are traditionally woven in thick handspun cotton yarns of counts till 20s.
● Most lengths & specifications are measured perfectly by the portions of the Kotpad weaver’s fingers, the length of the palm & other sections of the arm, from fingertips to shoulder.
● The yarn is of a fairly thick count.
● The surface of the traditional Kotpad fabric becomes thicker when a dense border pattern is added.
● As the weaver continues to weave patterns and motifs can be seen emerging on a warp.
Kotpad sarees and handloom fabrics are among the first items from Odisha that received the geographical indication tag in the year 2005.
The Mirgan community usually weaves this textile for Bhotada and Dharua, including other motifs of their neighboring tribal communities.
The Kotpad fabrics were originally made to be draped across the body as shawls and chaddars for both men and women and were worn casually over the shoulders.
These traditional handlooms, beautifully crafted Kotpad sarees are a golden history of Odisha, which is still alive today, as the urban people tend to be inclined towards the originality of handcrafted fabrics, recognizing and henceforth, appreciating the value of these rich traditional attires!
So, the next time you opt to look up some good hand-stitched sarees for your upcoming family gathering, make sure to add these lovely Kotpad handloom sarees to your wishlist which will definitely make their way into your cart, leading you to flaunt your gorgeous ethnic wear!
Written By: Namasya Nandini Swain