The Fabric Tour Of India: Exclusive Handlooms From 29 States

India is a treasure trove of diversity and intricate artistry that stems from every corner of our motherland. From the picturesque mountains in the east to the majestic palaces and forts of the west, each of our 29 states holds a unique story to tell. The clothes that we wear are as different as the traditions, religious customs and festivals that we celebrate and practice. Did you know that every state has its own signature fabric or textile associated with it? The stunning silk city of Kanchipuram and Bandhani-tie and dye in Kutch are just to name a few from a melting pot of variety that our country boasts of. Let’s dive in to this exotic fabric world of India. 

ANDHRA PRADESH – KALAMKARI

Kalamkari used to be known as “Pattachitra” in Sanskrit which means cloth picture; this beautiful art form contains historic depictions of works like Ramayana, Mahabharata and other classics on cotton fabric. During the Mughal rule, it came to be called ‘Kalamkari’ penmanship under the patronage of several of its rulers. Even now this natural dye technique remains popular in trends of everyday clothing on saris, shawls, bed-sheets, etc. Masulipatnam Kalamkari,Sri Kalahasti ,Karrupur are a few well-known styles in this art.

ARUNACHAL PRADESH – APATANI

This is a hand-woven fabric from the Apatani tribes living in the Ziro valley in Arunachal Pradesh. Their work is a true reflection of their rich traditional ecological knowledge and values. Characterized by geometrical motifs such as zing-zag lines, stripes, angular and floral patterns, they include bold, flavorful contrasts and symmetry. The patterns and symbols of the fabric often denotes the social hierarchy of families in the tribe, their occupations, marital status, achievements and are specific to different festivities. Adi and Mishmi are other simpler fabrics native to this region which are greatly influenced by Tibet and Bhutan.

ASSAM – MUGA SILK

Muga silk is a variety of wild silk predominantly available in the Garo and Khasi hills of Assam, it is known for its extreme durability and natural, shimmering gold texture. Several records show that silk came to India via Assam and received royal patronage from the Ahom dynasty as its chief export item. This expensive “golden fibre” is the strongest, natural fibre and its maker, the Muga silkworm is predated to the age of dinosaurs. Dresses made out of this fabric sport a rich embroidery of natural landscapes and forms like flowers, trees, etc. and is unique in that its lustre only increases with age and wear. It is also used in the manufacture of hats, caps, scarf’s, wraps, stoles, quilts, bridal wear, upholstery, etc.

BIHAR – BHAGALPURI SILK

Bhagalpuri or Tussar silk is native to the small town of Bhagalpur on the river banks of Ganga that is exported internationally for over two centuries. A rich lineage of skilled craftsmen are associated with its making that differs this dyeing technique from that of other silks. This weaving industry boasts annual trade value of 100 crores in some 25000 Handlooms in the country including the states of Chandigarh, Orissa and West Bengal. Although the sari is its main by product, it also finds use as a base material for handicrafts and furnishing textiles.

CHATTISGARH – KOSA SILK

Kosa silk is known for being rare, sturdy and a stiff competitor to pure silk in the state of Chhattisgarh. The Kosa silk produced in “Champa” and “Korba” is treated as the best quality of silk in the world drawn from cocoons especially on Arjun, Sal and Saja trees native to this geographical area. From yarn extraction to weaving, a simple Kosa sari may take three to five days to make. Available in the natural hues of pale gold, dark honey, orange, fawn and cream it is also a popular material used to make wedding apparel like Lehengas.

GOA – KUNBI

This Goan fabric was the identity of thousands of women farmland laborers who belonged to the region’s oldest tribe the Kunbi and Gadwa people. This 100 percent cotton fabric is coloured with subtle hues and ideal for making scarves and everyday saris especially for women in tropical climates. Mumbai-based designer Poonam Pandit and Goan designer Wendell Rodricks are dedicated to the revival of this extinct form of fabric artistry and even featured it in the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week a few years ago.

GUJARAT – BANDHANI

This skilled tie-dye textile process is characterized by a plucking the cloth with your fingernails into many tiny bindings that form a required design. The term bandhani is derived from the Sanskrit word bandh (“to bind, to tie”) and evidences dates it back to the Indus Valley civilization. The technique involves dyeing the cloth which is tied tightly at several points, thus producing a variety of patterns like Chandrakala, Bavan Baug, Shikari, etc. depending on the way the fabric is tied. Exclusively carried out by the “Khatri” people of Kutch and Saurashtra, these brightly coloured fabrics convey different messages in society according to the hue worn. For example, Red symbolizes good luck to a happily married life when worn on the wedding day.

HARYANA – PANJA DURRIES

Panja weaving is a glorious member of India’s cultural tradition which was earliest reported in Buddhism in 500 BC. This is mainly used to make durries, heavy woven rugs as a part of floor covering in authentic homes. The art gets its name from the tool “Panja” which is used to beat and set the threads in a cluster. Under the patronage of rulers like Akbar and Shahjahan, Durrie making travelled far and wide across the country. Popular durrie making areas in India include Panipet in Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. Cotton and wool either hand-spun or mill-spun is used to make carpets depending on the quality and its consumer.

HIMACHAL PRADESH – KULLU SHAWLS

These woolen cloths are globally known for their exclusive hand-made collections featuring basic yet elegant designs traditionally worn by both men and women. Kullu shawls are made of three types of wool: Merino wool, Angora wool and local sheep wool. Despite being costly, there is a great demand for these shawls and thus they also helping in improving the economy of the valley. They are thick and warm, ideal for colder climates and usually feature simple, geometric patterns in bright colors.

 JHARKHAND – KUCHAI SILK

Today’s much in demand silk, Kuchai of Seraikela- Kharsawan is taking the world by storm with the demand from its enthusiasts. This attractive fabric in rich colors and embellishments has taken over all business in expos all over India. The state’s artisans and craftsman are also receiving their due praise and recognition and exchange know-how on learning new designs. Saris, shawls, dupattas, kurtas, suits, etc. depicting tribal art, traditional Sohrai and Khobar are especially famous.

KARNATAKA – MYSORE SILK

Karnataka produces 45% of the nation’s mulberry silk under Karnataka Silk Industries Corporation Limited (KSICL) which is mainly grown in the Mysore district. The growth of this industry was because of the patronage of the Maharaja of Mysore, Sri Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, in nearly 1500-1600 BC. They are exclusively known for their Zari and gold lacework at the edge which gives it a sleek look and exquisite craftsmanship.

KERALA – KASAVU

Kasavu is a cream coloured saree worn by women from God’s own country, Kerala. Kerala Kasavu or Mundum Neriyathum is the traditional ensemble of malayalee women worn especially during the celebration of new year “Onam”. The intricate gold border and cream design gives it a more auspicious look which has also found its appeal in classics like the Ramayana and Mahabharatha. This elegant fabric outfit found its origin in the Buddhist era and also has Graeco-Roman roots as the “Palmyrene”.

MADHYA PRADESH – CHANDERI

A fabric chosen by the royalty, Chanderi has been known for its age- old weaving customs of fine silk and cotton garments. Believed to be founded by Shishupal, Krishna’s cousin in the Vedic period, three types have garnered special attention: pure silk, Chanderi cotton and cotton-silk. Traditional patterns include coins, floral and peacock symbols, these days they are known for their delicate sheer texture and shiny transparency. Chanderi saris provide its wearers inimitable sophistication and an air of regal majesty.

MAHARASHTRA – PAITHANI

Considered the finest silk in India, Paithani is a type of hand-woven sari named after the town of its origin Paithan in Aurangabad. Paithani is a plain weave sari constructed carefully according to the principles of Tapestry; Plain, spotted and peacock designs are always in demand for its connoisseurs.

Three types of silk threads are used in its manufacture the Charkha, Ciddle-Gatta and the pricey China silk. Woven Paithani motifs are often influenced by the Buddhist paintings like the symbol of the “kamal” or lotus.

MANIPUR – PHANEK

Manipuri Phanek is worn as a Sarong or long wrap-around skirt complemented with a top or blouse. It essentially resembles a half-saree hand-woven using cotton, silk and other synthetic fabrics. Phanek-Innaphi is the traditional attire of the Manipuri woman where “innaphi” represents a shawls that covers the upper torso. Only available in colour-block patterns and stripes, these Phaneks usually do not include bold symbols or colors whereas the innaphi is a beautifully crafted sheer blouse of finesse. Phanek is a comfortable, summery garment whereas the innaphi is sleekly designed following the latest trends.

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MEGHALAYA – ERI SILK

The word “eri” is derived from the Assamese word “era” which means castor, castor plants are fed on by the silk worms responsible for producing this fabric. Eri silk is mainly manufactured in areas of heavy rainfall and humid atmosphere not unlike the north-east of India.The characteristics of this silk include a coarse, fine texture and extreme durability and due to its special thermal properties, it is all-weather garment.

It is a popular silk favoured by Buddhists all around the world for its non-violent origins. Eri silk finds use in the making of winter scarf’s, furnishing, jackets, wall hangings, quilts, etc. These products promote an all-natural and vegan approach to quality fashion and also help provide jobs to many tribal folk.

MIZORAM – PUANS (LOIN CLOTH)

Puans are the traditional clothing of the native people of Mizoram. Different kinds of Puans, their colors, motifs and designs all symbolize the social ranking and hierarchy amongst the Mizos. Patterns like ginger flower, stars, roses, tiger’s skin, black and white contrasts etc. are traditional motifs symbols used in the weaving of Mizo puan. These motifs have a traditional and cultural significance to each tribe of Mizoram. The yarn for weaving cotton has been replaced by an artistic, durable acrylic substitute. Sadly however, Puans have lost their significance as more and more people favor western garments.

NAGALAND – NAGA SHAWLS

These shawls are distinctive patterned shawls made by Naga tribes of Nagaland. They are able to make a lot of things starting from shawls to spears, each of which gets a reflection of their tradition and cultures. There is also the guarantee that two such shawls will never be completely alike. Deep black, blazing red and a vibrant blue are popular colors which are complemented with an array of different symbols. The 16 or so tribes have their own unique style for the manufacture of these shawls and convey various meanings to each. Nowadays however this same material is also used to make pillow covers, bags and furnishing.

ODISHA – SAMBALPURI SILKS

Produced in the Bargarh, Sonepur, Sambalpur, Balangir district, Boudh District of Odisha, This traditional fabric is hand-woven and tie-dyed. These ikat saris are known for their detailed and deeply symbolic motifs like the shells, wheel and flower.  Different varieties of the Sambalpuri sari include Sonepuri, Pasapali, Bomkai, Barpali, and Bapta saris, which are most in demand. Sambalpuri fabrics reflect “Bandha” with images of flora, fauna and other geometric patterns. Most of these saris have been named after the place of their origin and are collectively called “Pata”.

PUNJAB – PHULKARI

This Punjabi technique involved adding brightly coloured floral patterns unto a lighter shade of fabric. Spun from Charkas. Although the Phulkari tradition was associated with Sikh heritage, it also found its way into Hindu and Muslim cultures and goes back ages to the 15th century. Over the ages, more freedom and creativity has been applied into these works but back then they were a true representation of the life and struggles of a typical Punjabi woman. A family made fabric, it was never meant for commercialization, and different designs were created for different occasions.

RAJASTHAN – SHISHA

The term “Shisha” means reflective glass or mirror in Persian. Shisha or Mirror work originated in 17th century India under the Mughal rule and is now popular in the Indian subcontinent in parts of Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, etc. This type of embroidery involves attaching pieces of mirror reflecting metals to fabrics to give off a sparkly appearance to the bright apparel worn by the natives. The spiritual belief associated with the locals of this region is that this cloth must be tied to the front door to ward off all evil. Popular usage includes tapestry, clothing and domestic textiles.

SIKKIM- LEPCHAS

Sikkim is the home of three different races – the Lepchas, the Bhutias and the Tsongs. Rising from the ethnic ground of Sikkim, traditional attire has a loose cloak-like appearance that needs to be tightened around the neck and waist portion which are worn by both men and women. Made of either cotton or silk, this outfit denoted status, class and position amongst the various communities. Lepchas are used not only in the manufacture of traditional clothing but also to make bags, table mats, cushion covers, etc.

TAMIL NADU – KANJEEVARAM SILK

Kanjeevaram or Kanchipuram silk sarees are the staple for women in every south Indian wedding or celebration. These long-lasting, lustrous fabrics make these sarees popular attire to wear on an international scale. During the reign of Krishna Deva-Rayain the 15th century, famous weaving communities of Andhra Pradesh migrated to Kanchipuram and brought along with them centuries of silk weaving customs. The silk reflects the scriptures and structures embossed on the walls on the walls of the temples in this village. The regal Zari work is a characteristic of this fabric and sometimes even includes work with pure gold or silver.

TELENGANA – POCHAMPALLY IKAT

Native to Bhoodan Pochampally in Telengana, This fabric is composed of a unique geometric pattern and intricately colored threads woven together. Locally, Pochampally Ikat is known by names like Pogudubandhu, Chitki and Buddabhashi in Telangana where it is produced. The fabric is usually Cotton or silk or sometimes a mixture of both called silk-cotton and is derived from natural sources and blends. Pochampally consists of some 80 villages all invested in this craftsmanship and age-old traditions of looms in a popular cottage industry.

TRIPURA – PACHRA

Pachra is a hand loom material worn as a bottom wrap-around cloth similar to the South-Indian lungi and Dhoti’s which are decorated with stripes and exquisite embroidery. Riha is the traditional cloth that covers the upper half of the body and is generally either blue, black or red in colour. Pachra also has signature motifs scattered in different directions, popular symbols include stars, dots, and flowers or are specific to each tribe. The rich heritage allows for a variety of designs to be displayed on the garments which caters to the respective beliefs of each community.

UTTAR PRADESH – CHIKANKARI

Chikan is a traditional embroidery fashion that is native to Lucknow in India. It is a very delicate, flowery embroidery done on yarn, cotton, chiffon, Georgette and several other fine fabrics. Popular explanations credits Noorjahan, the queen of Mughal Emperor Jahangir with the introduction of Chikankari works. Three types of thread work is utilised here – flat stitches, embossed stitches and Jali work. The most common motif used in Chikan Kari work of Lucknow is that of jasmines, lotus, leaves and floral creepers. Chikankari is usually made on brightly colored and pastel fabrics.

UTTARKHAND – PANCHACHULI WEAVE

Based in high-altitude mountains ranges of northern India, a community of rural women have joined forces to create beautiful masterpieces of Tibetan cashmere and sheep wool. They earn their livelihoods selling a range of products that includes shawls, stoles, wraps, knit-hats and various other items. Vegetable dyed organic products are not only a hit in local markets but also on the global scene with high demand in United Kingdom and the Americas.