Chequered Mate! Kota Doria Sarees Trend For Win- Win Fashion Game
The news of the All India Handicrafts Board and All India Handloom Board getting abolished days before the 6th National Handloom Day (celebrated annually on August 7) by the Union Ministry of Textiles came as a shocker to the Indian handloom industry. Whether this step towards achieving “minimum government, maximum governance” is successful in removing the developmental block for the textile industry, only time ahead can tell. While the decision remains unreceived to many artisans, others have expressed some valid concerns. Ultimately, it is with the policies of the government that these indigenous crafts can survive and thrive in a market of fast-fashion.
One such fabric currently facing challenging times is the most open-weave fabric of India, Kota Doria. A uniquely woven fabric where the Tana-Bana of cotton with silk doriyas (threads) produce tiny woven squares (Khats), its timeless history with traditional roots has earned it a GI tag. Kota Doria is mainly woven in Kaithun, 20 km away from Kota city. By combining silk and cotton yarns in a 40:60 ratio a translucent material is produced which is super breezy, light-weight, and graceful. What was once mostly adorned with foil prints, floral (Buti), or abstract motifs, nowadays weavers are also combining the fabric with other traditional crafts like Leheriya and Bandhani, to create a new range of Kota Doria sarees & designs.
The most-widely accepted history of this fabric goes back to one general in the Mughal Empire of the 17th century, Maha Rao Kishore Singh Ji (1684-1695). While on a visit to Mysore, Karnataka he came across weavers who created distinct chequered weaves in tantalizing colors. He found the fabric to be light-weight and suitable for making their traditional turbans or Paags. Impressed, the general ended up bringing a set of weavers with him back to Kotah and settled them beside the river Chambal.
Initially, the fabric was produced under the name Kota Masuriya and was made 100% with cotton. Later the induction of silk threads brought softness to the strength provided by cotton and the fabric came to be known as Kota Doria.
The kings and their generals may have long perished, but the weaving traditions they once nurtured are still alive and breathing in the bylanes of the present-day Kota division of the state of Rajasthan, thanks to the 2500 families (mostly belonging to the Ansari community) living in Bundi, Baran, and Kota districts. Originally the Kota Doria fabric was woven on narrow handlooms because the end-product was a turban. With the advent of time, the looms became broader to accommodate new demands in apparel like Kota Doria sarees. The designs that ornamented the material also developed from small butis to larger ones according to changing tastes in fashion.
Kota Doria’s production and the processes involved can be broadly categorized into three stages.
- Pre-Loom Process: The raw materials of Kota Doria i.e. Silk and Cotton yarns are bought in hanks. Using a spinning wheel, they are wrapped around bobbins (for warp) and pirns (for weft). This process is called winding.
- Dyeing & Sizing: In this stage (called warping), the yarn is put on equipment called a beam & processed for dyeing using natural dyes. An onion and rice paste is also applied for its sizing and tightening which strengthens the yarn of the fabric.
- Designing & Weaving: Finally, the yarn is put on a pit-loom for the designing to take place using the throw shuttle technique. It is here where meticulously the characteristic graph paper-like patterns are produced.
Kota Doria fabric is ideal for hot and humid weather. Cotton x Silk is the most common blend for Kota Doria sarees nowadays, although they’re also available in the combinations of Cotton x Cotton and Tussar Silk x Tussar Silk. The sarees are produced in various ranges of styling and price; Block printed techniques and Zari work are giving the sarees a traditionally graceful look. Though the handloom-produced authentic Kota Doria fabric from Kaithun is an heirloom piece to be treasured, their industry is getting a tough competition from power looms mostly operating in Surat and Varanasi.
One google search on Kota Doria makes for grim reading; A dwindling market for handcrafted Indian textiles coupled with the impact of the current novel times have hit the hardest on these weavers. The good news is, ‘Vocal for Local’ campaign and sustainable fashion is fast becoming a part of the government and corporate agenda, respectively. But more policies need to be framed on their end to raise the earnings of the weavers and create a new marketplace for them.
The Indian fashion industry has also occasionally teamed up with the weavers from Rajasthan and brought their warps to ramps. This ally can introduce the much needed contemporary twist to the traditional craft and make an example out of it for sustainable fashion, like the pretty white dress which was adorned by Karishma Tanna and styled by Boutiquo By Saachi.