Hyderabad’s Chitrika reinvents handlooms for young people, with contemporary jamdani, kuppadam and ballakammi

Chitrika develops contemporary designs using kuppadam, jamdani and ballakammi techniques

Chitrika develops contemporary designs using kuppadam, jamdani and ballakammi techniques

The Hyderabad office of Chitrika, a handicraft production company that works with 300 hand weaving families in Ponduru in Srikakulam district and Mandapeta in East Godavari, Andhra Pradesh districts and Narayanpet district in Telangana, is adorned with lockers containing sarees and fabrics. On a few clothing stalls are samples of Chitrika’s recent experiments – clothes with contemporary silhouettes targeting young shoppers.

Vijaya Switha Grandhi, who founded Chitrika in 2005, says experimentation is an ongoing process, alongside traditional weavings. The vocabulary of design gradually evolved: “We pushed the weavers to develop at least three new designs a year and offered them incentives. We do not modify the traditional techniques (jamdani, kuppadam and ballakammi) but research new designs.

Design Intervention

Chitrika wooed online shoppers during the pandemic via chitrika.in. The brand has rolled out its ready-to-wear collection for its online customers after successfully tasting exhibitions held by the Telangana Trades Council, among others.

The collection includes crop tops, anti-fit tunics, straight cut pants, dhoti pants, flare pants, and more: ” adds Switha.

Weavers at Chitrika handlooms, Hyderabad

The weavers of Chitrika handlooms, Hyderabad | Photo credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The clothing line is more than just sewing existing hand loom fabric into new silhouettes, but rethinking design at the loom level. If a pant is to have a design panel running along its outer edge, the pattern emerges from the weave itself rather than a patch sewn onto the pant’s fabric. Similarly, plaid patterns on blouses are conceptualized at the weaving stage. The design intervention received a boost when fashion graduates Mahima Khare and Amogha GS joined the label in 2020.

Origin story

Switha learned the essentials of working with the rural sector during her post-graduate degree in risk management at Anand Institute of Rural Management (IRMA), Gujarat: “We were taught to work with the community rural areas and help businesses grow. Thanks to my roots in Kanchipuram and my interest in weaving and handicrafts, I decided to work in the handloom sector.

The learning curve was steep until 2011. It was not easy to break into the artisanal network where established players, both government-subsidized units and private operators, had already collaborated with spinners and weavers. Chitrika started working with 10 weavers near Ponduru in 2006 and expanded to 300 families as it expanded its footprint to East Godavari in 2013 and Narayanpet in 2017. “We also have a network of pre-looms; and dyeing is outsourced.

Weavings and techniques

Chitrika weavers specialize in jamdani, Srigadi checks, butas, kuppadam and ballakammi.

In Srikakulam, ballakammi weaving is an additional weft technique used to create textured designs, mainly on the pallu.

Srikakulam kuppadam is an interlocking technique used to create temple borders in contrasting colors. A loom is operated by two weavers.

East Godavari kuppadam is an interlocking technique used to create contrasting borders, but not in temple design. A loom can be operated by a single weaver.

The label uses natural dyes in pastel shades for khadi and azo-free reactive dyes and vat dyes for other cotton fabrics.

Smudge-free colors

The label claims to offer zero-bleed looms. Switha attributes this to the quality of the dyes as well as the mechanized process: “People think it’s blasphemous to mechanize anything in the looms. Some repetitive and non-creative processes can be mechanized. The “asu” machine used for winding yarn by the weavers of Pochampally is an example of this.

Elaborating on the disgorgement of dyes in handlooms, Switha says: “Dyeing is a labor intensive process and overworked or insufficiently trained staff are likely to wash a dyed fabric fewer times. as necessary; hence the excess color that bleeds.

Looking back, she is happy that Chitrika achieved a cumulative business of ₹18 crore since its inception and weathered the pandemic. “We want to start a dyeing unit and it requires an investment of ₹3 crore; raising funds remains a challenge.

Chitrika sells direct to customers and supplies fabrics and finished products to well-established handloom retail brands. Switha takes the rhetoric surrounding the revival of the loom with a pinch of salt: “There are fewer weavers today than ten years ago, yet the demand has remained the same.”

Chitrika's team

The Chitrika Team | Photo credit: special arrangement

road ahead

By 2030, the organization hopes to enable an ecosystem that will benefit 10,000 artisan households. Design experiments will continue. Showing a design panel where the traditional ballakammi has been tweaked into new designs, she explains how minimalist designs on elaborate borderless sarees can make ideal work wear.

For garments, the team also evaluates fabric fall and tensile strength, aside from washing and shrinkage experiments: “Our goal is to offer garments in three ranges – below ₹1,000, 2 ₹000 and ₹3000.”

Chitrika will have its own store at the Crafts Council of Telangana in the CCT Spaces building in Banjara Hills later this year.

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