Tussar Silk Story - Handloom Clothing

An Intervention Of South Indian Tussar

On the way to the Kaleshwar silk cluster, we sped past a board that said softly “I’m rusted.” We came across a group of people working on a construction job who told us on inquiry that Kaleshwar silk cluster is way behind us. The board apparently said more than “I’m rusted,” I realized.

On some desperate deciphering we realized this was it.

Halfway down the lane that we were on, we met our friend who was to introduce us to the weaver families. We heard delectable sounds wafting off of the terracotta tiled roof house and we knew that silk creations were being made here. We stepped over the Muggu and the yellow threshold and saw an ironical image.

“Don’t miss the Gucci!” Sharmila Ma’am said.

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The weaver working on the loom making the beautiful combination of turquoise and Gecha (silk which has a rougher jute like texture, known as ahimsa silk) wefts was wearing a T-shirt that had Gucci printed on it. A soft pale brown Tussar warp was glinting off the light of the morning that way silk does from the small window with the vintage doors of a sky blue shade behind the weaver.

Shankarayya, who is the head of the family, took to showing us the process. We saw cocoons yet to be processed which will create the Tussar silk for the future products they will make. They were hard shells with a crackly surface which created a ‘knock-knock’ when we shook it, a natural urge we came over. Shankarayya’s wife brought over the already boiled cocoons. Smaller, Browner and shrunken they were.

The weaver’s daughter started with her daily chore, extracting the Gecha from the Ahimsa cocoon. Ahimsa (non violence) silk is called so because the worm has escaped from the cocoon and no worm was killed to extract silk.
The girl procures the Terracotta pot, a jug of water and a newspaper. She tugs at the fly-aways of the cocoon, searching for a starting point.

She tugs and tugs, multiple fine filaments being pulled and twisted into one when she spins it across the bottom of the pot which she has already soaked with water to make the process easier. She pulls some more and the pile of Gecha on the newspaper increases while the continuous yanking makes a plastic rubbing like noise. While the pile has formed enough to tell the true color of Gecha, we notice that it doesn’t shine like regular silk. When remarked about the same, it creates a curiosity in our group as to how Tussar silk is extracted. When asked, Shankarayya leads us to Bhagyalakshmi’s home, two houses down from his where she spins the Tussar silk. They turn a golden as she keeps on tugging at the cocoons. The golden orbs diminish as it passes over her taut thigh; the only soft surface to sustain the filaments of Tussar to keep on forming a single thicker filament yarn without breaking. The cocoons have spun their silk in the 8 form, inspired from which Bhagyalakshmi spins it in the same form as well.

“Notice how she keeps a black cloth underneath the cocoons? So she can see the filaments clearly.” Sharmila ma’am remarks.

Bhagyalakshmi looks up at us, with a soft smile on her face, intuitively knowing we’re speaking about her, while the spinning continues, her hand automatically knowing the movement it has to take to create the 8 form.

We next move on to the man warping his Tussar, from three sets of pegs in vertical fashion protruding from a rectangular wooden frame. It looks complicated enough, still his hands glide over the pegs, going perfectly where he wants the silk to go, showing the path with such ease and perfection like a dandelion moving with the breeze.

This is what the whole trip was about, I realized, to witness the oneness of the weavers.

Curiosity sated, we rest in one of the weaver’s houses where the loom rests with us. Shankarayya shows us his Tussar blends, much different from the one we saw formerly, and cuts his wares according to the amount asked for.

Tussar Silk

Tussar Silk on the loom

Lunch is then served in pure Telugu fashion, Sabzi, roti, chawal, pappu, rasam, achaar and dahi. The whole works. It smells mouthwatering ( we were famished as it is) and the taste of the food justifies the smell. Subtle and simple in flavors yet extravagant to us at the same time, we enjoy our soulful lunch and praise the cook.
Shankarayya meanwhile tells us stories of when they built this village, around the time when I was born really, how their pit looms used to get flooded in monsoons because of the flow of the Godavari which was nearby. How collectors came and went until one collector finally gave them each a quarter of an acre, away from the river banks, how because of low allowances they built the homes themselves, from the cutting wooden beams to baking the bricks which has today put together the small community where lies the Tussar silk’s birthplace.