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The History of Handloom Weaving Through The Ages (4) history of handloom - The History of Handloom Weaving Through The Ages 4 - The History of Handloom: Weaving Through The Ages

The history of handloom weaves its way through a millennium of artisans, revolutions, fabrics and associations. As one of the oldest forms of textile production, handloom weaving has spun itself into a tapestry full of life, colour and the story of humanity itself. Handlooms have seen the rise and fall of societies, economies and governments.

Handlooms are thus an instrument that requires immense skill and produces fabrics unlike any other. It has a rich history spanning continents, civilizations and revolutions. However, over the years, handloom weaving has been facing challenges and questions regarding its relevance and necessity. This blog will chronicle the history of handloom in India, and dissect the variety, skill and authenticity handloom weaving offers.

Unravelling The Secrets of The Handloom

You may be wondering, what is the meaning of handlooms and what is handloom weaving?  Simply put, the handloom is a contraption made of wooden frames of various specifications. This is used by incredibly skilled weavers to weave fabrics from natural fibres such as jute, cotton, wool, silk and such. It is operated manually and requires no electricity, making it the most environmentally friendly textile production technique.

The process involves interlacing two sets of threads called ‘the warp’ and ‘the weft’ to create the fabric. These fabrics are made using multi-coloured thread on a vast variety of looms that can create anything from simple fabrics to complex designs and artwork. What are handloom products that you might be familiar with? Think sarees, dhotis, shawls, bed sheets, and curtains.

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Before spinning the yarn further, let’s understand the handloom vs handicraft conundrum. While these terms are often used interchangeably, handlooms and handicrafts are very different from one another. Handicraft refers to any object that’s made by hand, such as pottery, stonework, woodwork, metalwork and handmade jewellery. Handlooms, on the other hand, specifically refer to hand-woven fabrics.

Handlooms have been an integral part of human life for centuries. It is a heritage craft that was and is an important source of livelihood. The history of handloom spans thousands of years, with tons of variations and gorgeous tapestries. There is a unique history of handloom all across the world, from India, Egypt and Iran to Greece and the Balkans.

The Types of Handloom

There are many types of handloom, depending on specific use, country of origin, available materials, and technique. The most common types of handloom (the machine) include pit looms, frame looms, backstrap looms, and fly shuttle looms.

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The most common types of handloom (the produced fabric) are even more diverse. If you’ve also wondered ‘How many types of handlooms are there in India?’, here’s a quick guide:

  • Banarasi Handloom: Originated in Varanasi, these handlooms are made of fine silk and tend to have gold or silver thread (zari) work.
  • Chanderi Handloom: A lightweight fabric typically made of silk and cotton blends, known for traditional designs such as peacocks, flowers and geometric patterns.
  • Maheshwari Handloom: With bold, vibrant colours and intricate designs, the silk-cotton blend of this technique is airy and lightweight.
  • Kanchipuram Handloom: Known for its durability and lustre, this silk is a saree godsend.
  • Tussar Silk Handloom: A famous silk used in sarees, shawls and clothing items, this fabric has a unique softness and sheen.
  • Pochampally Handloom: A famed Telangana treasure, this silk or cotton fabric is known for its geometric patterns across the world.
  • Ikat Handloom: Created by dyeing yarn before weaving, this technique produces bold fabrics.
  • Patola Handloom: A Gujrati technique, it is known for its incredibly colourful and intricate designs.

Tracing India’s Artisanal Heritage: History of Handloom

Handloom weaving has its roots in ancient Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) in about 6000 BC. It is also said that ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Romans and Greeks also used handloom weaving techniques to create their fabrics. There are stories and myths, such as the legend of Arachne, that point to the existence of handloom weaving.

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A Legacy: The History of Handloom Weaving in India

India has been weaving with handlooms for over 5000 years. Archaeological evidence found in ancient Indian civilizations such as the Indus Valley Civilization and Mohenjodaro indicates that handloom weaving techniques were being used back then as well. In early societies, these handlooms were likely used to create necessary clothing items like clothes, blankets and sheaths using natural fibres and simple techniques. There is also evidence that these fabrics were being exported to western civilizations.

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Sophistication in Weaving

In ancient India, every village had a family of weavers and spinners who wove fabrics for the village. These weaving techniques started becoming increasingly sophisticated, allowing for more intricate patterns and opening up room for trade. The silk fabrics were famously transported to western nations through the Silk Route.

It was in the 16th to 19th centuries however, those handlooms were elevated to the status of art during the Mughal Rule. It was during this time that artisans were commissioned to make tapestries illustrating kings’ conquests and stories. Handloom grew beyond clothing to a medium of storytelling during this time.

Death of Handloom Weaving: The Eve of Colonization

The British colonization dealt a severe blow to the handloom industry. Since the British focused on exporting raw cotton to the west and importing machine-made fabrics to India, the demand for hand-woven fabrics declined. The handloom industry was brought to its knees by these policies, and many skilled artisans moved to unskilled labour to make a living.

Khadi and Beyond: The Rebirth of Handloom

During the struggle for independence, Mahatma Gandhi emphasised the importance of self-reliance and began wearing handwoven fabric, encouraging others to do the same. The Charkha and Khadi became symbols of Indian independence. That has been a memorable step in the history of handloom in India.

Post Independence, the handloom industry received protections from the government against competition, and it was allowed to thrive. This period saw a boom in handloom products, and the industry became a heritage cottage industry, widely loved to this day.

Handloom Weaving: The Present-Day Scenario and Challenges

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The handloom industry is a beloved part of the Indian heritage. There are many societies and non-profits working to preserve it as a way of life in the face of fast-paced machine production. But what are the problems faced by handloom weavers? Competition from cheaper and faster machine-reproduced fabrics, decreasing government support, and problems with sourcing natural fibres produce challenges to handloom weavers, which many struggling to make a living wage.

With the movement for more sustainable and ethically sourced fashion, handloom weaving is expected to boom further, provided that there is support from people and the government. Handloom weaving produces truly unique and one-of-a-kind fabrics, which tell the story of the people who made them and our country itself.


The history of handloom weaving in India and beyond is a beautiful tapestry in and of itself, containing threads of community, colours of time, and the story of humanity. It is a unique and vibrant part of our heritage that deserves its place even today. The move to sustainable fashion provides even more relevance to this eco-friendly technique.

If you’re someone interested in this unique craft, why not consider enrolling for JD School of Design’s M.Sc. in Fashion and Textile Management? This course has in-depth modules in textile design and production and how to translate those into modern fashion design. How will you weave the fabric of your life? Propel yourself forward with a textile design course today!