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Artisanal
THE HANDLOOM PROJECT:
A PERSONAL JOURNEY

By Cynthia Power

I went to India at Eileen's request—I work as part of her support staff—because our Handloom Project is one of her personal passions. I am excited to share my photo journal of our team's trip. Hopefully it lets you feel the curiosity and happiness I experienced—as well as see the detail and craftsmanship that goes into our scarves, something I found to be both eye-opening and inspiring.

Read More: Launching the Handloom Project

The rural Indian villages where our scarves are woven are small, tightly knit communities with rich textile traditions, passed down for generations. But today weavers question whether they want their children to carry on the family profession because the market is often unstable.

With our Handloom Project, we hope we can instill new confidence in traditional crafts, support the wellness and livelihoods of handlooming communities in West Bengal and help mitigate the need for artisans to migrate to cities to find alternative work.



This weaver asked me to take his picture. In turn, I asked him why weavers are usually male. I learned that weaving is the most physically demanding step in traditional fabric making. Spinning, winding the bobbins and prepping the loom typically involve the weaver's wife and family members.   A pit loom is dug out of the earth. When I sat on the seat, flush with the dirt floor in this small workshop , I understood the intense physical nature of weaving—pushing pedals, pulling shuttles. Most of our scarves take a weaver a day and a half to make, plus additional time for tying off, tasseling and tagging.   Working a handloom means constant movement, a coordinated dance of hands and feet, something my brain had trouble computing. The wooden board is for resting your elbows. I worked the pedals barefoot, like most weavers. Notice how complicated the loom is to thread.
I'm glad that we're using more organic cotton. It's a good way to protect local farmers from pesticides and to protect the weaving communities from toxins in their water. Part of our vision for The Handloom Project is to help with water treatment and source nontoxic dyes. Here our organic cotton arrives, pre-spun, wound into hanks and ready to dye.   Dyeing requires heat and constant attention. The yarn must be agitated every few minutes in order to get a consistent color. Then it must be stretched around wooden forms (top) and dried in the sun. In India, the rural textile industry is heavily dependent on sunshine. During monsoon season (July to September) there is little sun to be had and work slows down.   Setting the loom requires two people, usually women. The delicate and tiny nature of the threads is a strain for the eyes, and contrary to the norm, both of these women have glasses. One goal of the Handloom Project is to offer low-cost eye care to weavers and their families.
After trying to decipher this setup for a few minutes, I finally asked what it was: child's play. It made me happy to know that parents were weaving while their children played next to them. I learned that some families have a loom at home, and others borrow the looms of wealthier families, usually weaving in a small workshop. Either way, they are never far from home.   We passed this banyan tree on the wild, pot-holed road that connects Kolkata to the weavers' villages. The four-hour drive felt like a long game of chicken at 60 mph. I asked to stop at this tree because it feels like its own world. Banyan trees are sacred in India, and I wonder how old this tree is and how long people have been coming here to pray.   While walking between villages, we passed many houses like this one. Most families live in a one-room home and share a bathroom and water pump with other families. Cows, sacred in India, are everywhere and are not bothered, even if they are holding up traffic!

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