Recommendations For The Handloom Industry

Statement from Ashoke Chatterjee, Former Executive Director, National Institute of Design

Research Findings by Nesar Ahmed

Varanasi Weavers - Support and Regeneration

- Uma Prajapati,

- Rahul Kodkani, Udai

- SOS Children's Village
Ashoke Chatterjee's Briefings:
  • November 2005

  • February 2006

  • April 2007

  • At Craft Revival Trust

    Under the umbrella of the Craft Revival Trust, a review of the handloom sector and its needs was conducted in 2009 in the interest of assisting handloom workers throughout India to secure sustainable livelihoods, provide an equitable restructuring and make the industry competitive. Due to its immense scale and the many region and technique specific issues that were bound to crop up during research, the project was undertaken as a collaboration between a number of individuals and organisations whose experience in the sector and on-the-ground knowledge have greatly enriched the findings of the study. The core group comprised of Jasleen Dhamija, Internationally renowned Handloom and Handicraft expert; Gulshan Nanda, (Hon) Chairperson, Central Cottage Industries Emporium; Rathi Vinay Jha I.A.S. (retd), Formerly, Director General, Fashion Design Council of India, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Director General, NIFT; Kasturi Gupta Menon I.A.S. (retd), (Hon) President, Crafts Council of India; Ritu Sethi, Chairperson, Craft Revival Trust and Anjali Kalia, Fashion Designer with Shyama Sundari of Dastkar Andhra, an invaluable addition. While Uzramma of the Decentralised Cotton Yarn Trust provided insights from her formidable experiences in marketing and in the field. Thanks also to M. Prasanna of Desi for clearing doubts.

    These Recommendations are geared towards achieving the objectives of making the Handloom Industry viable, competitive and equitable structured

    The Handloom industry cannot be viewed through the prism of the mechanized textile sector as it needs focused attention with an integrated and a holistic approach.

    As the needs of the weavers and weaving community are quite different from those of the powerloom and large textile mills the handloom industry needs to be seen independently of the mechanized textile sector. A comprehensive HANDLOOM RENEWAL POLICY is needed to address the entire gamut of issues facing the Handloom Industry for its renewal in the 21st Century. This policy will need to keep in mind it’s pro-environment, pro-people, pro-rural employment impact and regional variations while achieving the objectives of making this industry viable, competitive and equitably structured. Additionally the policy will need to focus on improving lives and productivity of workers.

    To ensure continuity of weaving traditions, the skills involved in the entire production chain need to be preserved and supported with ancillary occupational workers who perform crucial pre-loom and post-loom operations being recognized as handloom workers and significant contributors. This category will span all ancillary skills such as preparation of the yarn, sizing of the warp, weft winding, dyeing (natural and chemical processes), warp-setting on the loom, card punching, graphing of designs, making of looms, heddles and reeds, finishing of fabrics (thread cutting, starching and washing of fabrics) etc., makers of looms and others. They therefore need to be enumerated in any mapping and diagnostic exercises in their own individual capacities and professions.

    • All ancillary workers should be included as beneficiaries within the IHDS, indeed into all DC (Handlooms) schemes and plans as unless this is done, weaving-centric skills and skilled workers shall be lost. It was also agreed that ancillary workers will be provided with handloom cards as well as insurance cards in their own right.

    • It is essential that training and skill upgradation modules and schemes designed exclusively for such ancillary handloom workers would be initiated and included in the ongoing IHDS to ensure continuity of ancillary traditional skills.


    • It must be ensured that those items listed on the Handloom Reservation List are not cannibalized by the powerloom and mechanized textile sector and the enforcement of this regulation be made stricter.

    • At present the Handloom Reservation List includes only those items woven with cotton and/or silk yarn, it was strongly recommended that the Reserved List be broadened to also include items woven with blended yarns, such as viscose and other blended fibers as this is now the requirement of the customers. Unless this oversight is corrected weavers will continue to lose market share with subsequent loss of income for the entire weaving chain.


    • The efforts of the Office of DC (Handlooms) in popularizing the Handloom Mark are commendable. It is further recommended that efforts be made by the Union Ministry of Textiles to introduce the Powerloom Mark to help generate product differentiation between the products of the hand and the machine as in the current situation powerloom has an interest in imitating and canabalising handloom and not the other way. The powerloom mark would act as a preventive measure of sorts to protect handloom.

    • Some sort of distinguishing mark is required so as to enable consumers to differentiate between the handloom product and the powerloom product. The possibility of inserting a ‘powerloom mark’ (either a symbol or text) in the selvedge of powerloom or machine-made fabrics that states/implies the product is so made needs to be explored thereby ensuring that machine-made products are not mistaken by consumers for hand-made or visa versa.

    • There is urgent need for investment and research to create simple easily applicable tests to help differentiate between products made on the handlooms vs. those made on the power loom.


    Yarn availability in small quantities, in required count, at correct price and quality, in the required fibre is a major lacuna

    NHDC sells cotton yarn in the minimum quantity of 2 to 3 bales. A bale is equivalent to 181 kgs. of 40 bundles (each bundle is approx. 4.54 kg and comprises 20 hanks of grey color yarn) though in principal an excellent assistance for providing good quality yarn at the right price it reinforces inequities as this quantity can only be purchased by large master weavers and traders, leaving the marginalized weavers unable to access the smaller quantities that they need thereby reinforcing their dependencies.

    • The decision to set up yarn banks/depots is laudable and should be vigorously implemented in all the weaving clusters across India. Unless this is done only the large Master weavers/traders can afford to buy the bulk quantities sold by NHDC. This setting up of yarn depots/banks where small quantities of yarn as required by independent weavers, at right prices and quality is essential. This, if well implemented and monitored will go a long way in ensuring that marginalized weavers are not dependant on large master weavers and/or traders for supply of yarn .

    • The supply of SILK YARN of consistent good quality and stable price continues to defy NHDC this has lead to great problems for weavers in silk weaving areas like Varanasi. This is a priority area to be studied and problems sorted out.

    • Greater awareness regarding local yarn depots is needed to publicize their existence and the nature of the assistance they may provide to weavers.

    • Ensure stricter observance and monitoring of the Hank Yarn Obligation Scheme.

    • As it has been reported that the Mill Gate Price Scheme has not been operating efficiently. It is recommended that the office of the DC (Handlooms) conduct an independent evaluation of the Mill Gate Price Scheme to study how to make it more effective.

    • Alternatives to the Mill Gate Price Scheme and the large-scale spinning mills (on which the handloom sector is currently dependent) need to be assessed. Reestablishing the link between farmers growing the cotton and weaving is essential. This link has always been a part of India’s rural economy. The production of cotton yarn could, if located in cotton-growing areas or in areas cultivating low-cost indigenous cottons, be one such low-cost, low-energy-consuming, alternative. This needs to be studied. This is working extremely successfully in several States including Andhra, Kerala and Maharashtra under the Malkha – Decentralized Cotton Yarn Trust.


    Revitalize Weavers Service Centers, State Agencies, Apex Handloom bodies, State Emporia’s and other Handloom related organizations.

    • Set goals for them.

    • Initiate system of measurable parameters for performance and delivery.

    • Monitor and evaluate them


    The ICICI Lombard Health Insurance Card must be issued with a photograph to ensure there is no misuse as innumerable instances of the same have been reported. This is important to ensure that the benefits reach the weaver and his/her family. The format of the card follow that of the Smart Card already in use.

    • Ancillary occupational workers and women workers involved in various stages of the weaving, pre-loom and post-loom process must also be able to avail the scheme’s benefits be brought into the social security provision.


    • HOUSING-CUM-WORKSHED: As the profile of the handloom sector is essentially a decentralized one housing-cum-worksheds for individual weavers are a necessity. Significant measures regarding this aspect are necessary. Provision for this must be made in any Handloom Scheme in the interest of reaching the benefits of the scheme to the marginalized weaver.

    • Marginalized weavers complain about the lack of electricity, which left their worksheds in darkness for large parts of their working day. Extending assistance to electrify the weavers’ homes in the designated cluster will increase productivity of weavers.

    • Bad sewage systems in the narrow lanes along which many weavers’ houses/ workspaces are located cause gutters to overflow and flood the pit-loom areas, thereby dampening output and cutting into their earnings. This issue has been largely neglected by local authorities despite complaints and needs to be looked into.

    • The supply of water, an essential component of everyday life and its problem alleviated by introduction of tube wells/ pumps in weaving clusters.

    • North-East Context: It is extremely important to make the IHDS Cluster scheme applicable in the tribal context where women are predominantly the weavers. Women contribute best to supplement family income by weaving in their spare time in their own domestic surroundings and the cluster scheme has to be suitable modified to evolve a decentralized housing cum workshed model suitable to the Northeast tribal settlement patterns.


    As indebtedness, access to and availability of credit is a big lacuna in the handloom sector we underline the recommendations that:

    • The Office of the DC Handlooms explores collaborations with the Banking Sector including SIDBI, NABARD etc to create development schemes targeting weavers. A possibility of issuing Credit Cards linked to identity cards needs to be studied.

    • Margin money/ credit facilities provided to producer groups cover one weaving cycle of production and sale.

    • Since the profile of the handloom sector is essentially a decentralized one housing-cum-worksheds are necessities. Significant measures for housing-cum-work-shed loans and/or improvement through housing projects or infrastructure loans are required.

    • The feasibility of making yarn available to marginalized weavers on credit under the Yarn depot scheme needs to be looked into.

    • Working Capital Loans need to be provided at easy repayment terms to ensure weavers have working capital for a 3 month period so as to cover them during seasonal market cycles.


    Constant, Regular, Consistent – reinforcing existing skills, upgrading and building capacities in the entire weaving chain and geared to the spectrum of skills.

    • Training programes need to be constant and consistent, reinforcing existing skills and building capacities, geared to the spectrum of skills and needs of weavers, inclusive of pre and post loom workers and ensure participation of women.

    • Training programs must be targeted at and developed keeping in mind the differing skill levels and capabilities of the players involved in the chain. As the clusters include artisans of varied capabilities working in differing areas different kinds of programmes have to be in place.

    • Care needs to be taken to ensure marginalized communities and women weavers who tend to be further marginalized are included as beneficiaries.

    • Training modules need to be designed for ancillary pre and post loom skills to ensure their continuity.

    • Training modules need to be provided for production planning, costing, quality control and marketing as well as for design development.

    • Training needs to be a constant and consistent process of skill upgradation and not a one-time effort. This is especially true for design development as weavers need to stay abreast of new market developments and be able to cater to changing consumer demand.

    • Young weavers training programmes need to be created to encourage continuity of the handloom skills.

    • It is urgent that dyers allied to the handloom sector convert to eco-safe reactive dyes. Training modules to assist in this conversion are therefore imperative and ought to include technical training, testing of dye recipes, and real-time production training.

    • It is also important that dyers and weavers be given color theory training and are aware of colour forecasts, colour preferences in various market segments, and changing colour preferences in various seasons.

    • High skill training programs on the Drawloom and Gattuwa Loom for skilled weavers to further upgrade must be considered for the higher priced Heritage niche markets.

    • There does not seem to be any effort to identify designers from among traditional practitioners and provide them training inputs – this must be done. A craft can be carried forward not by temporary inputs from designers from outside the community but by the efforts of the community itself. In Varanasi, for example, designers are not educated at design institutions yet they are steeped in design knowledge – this local talent needs to be tapped and trained. Urmul is another good example where the weavers themselves take all decisions including when necessary, the choice of designers who would be paid by the group itself.


    This assistance for new looms must also be extended to those weavers who operate outside the SHG and Cooperative fold.

    • The assistance provided for purchase of looms needs to be increased (see component wise recommendations)

    • The fund allocation should also be allowed to be utilized for repair/upgradation of existing looms.

    • Appropriate Technology: Research and development on loom improvement and technology should be a priority for improved productivity and quality. The tech. design must keep in mind regional variants, the needs of the decentralized nature of production in the handloom industry and rural infrastructure with issues of power cuts, irregular power supply and absence of three phase electricity. Weavers must be consulted through the process as they themselves modify their looms and these improvements needed to be studied, worked on and disseminated.

    With regard to improvement of loom if the heritage factor is to be furthered not only should the Drawloom be encouraged in the sense of allowing a higher priced product but some encouragement for production on the Gattuwa loom should also be favored in terms of higher pricing in market. The aesthetic appeal of both these heritage looms is much higher than the surface uniformity characteristic of the jacquard.

    • NORTH-EAST CONTEXT It is extremely important to make the IHDS Cluster scheme applicable in the tribal context of the North-East belt as it is extremely important to take into consideration the configuration of tribal settlement patterns where villages are sparsely populated and are scattered in hilly terrain.

    Attempts to substitute the traditional back-strap loom and substitute it by the frame loom must be discouraged as it is alien to the area and the pre and post ancillary system is neither set up nor available. It needs to be emphasized that the back-strap loom is ergonomically perfectly suited to the hilly terrain where women have to perform multiple domestic duties apart from the fact that the weave of the narrow back-strap loom has few competitors from the point of view of excellence and variety in weave.

    • A variant model is also need for Bastar, Chhattisgarh The tribal weavers need to be involved in the modification of the reeds of their looms geared to cotton weaves ornamented with variations in natural red dye to production in tussar, that is locally available, with the same design schema of ornamentation.


    The cluster approach has the danger of limited reach therefore long term weaver development programs, training and skill development, weaver welfare and institutional support programs need to be developed and continue concurrent to the IHDS as the IHDS is primarily a business development model and cannot replace long term investments by Government towards the welfare of the marginalized weavers and the weaving community.

    • CLUSTER CHOICE: Clear guidelines need to be laid down regarding how handloom clusters for the IHDS are to be chosen. A Committee comprising among others of reputed specialists, and civil service organizations must vet the choice of the cluster before the cluster is SANCTIONED.

    • It is essential to census all weaving clusters ensuring that the prioritization of selection of the cluster for the IHDS is lead by a distinct preference for those CLUSTERS THAT ARE AILING OR NEED URGENT INPUTS FOR REVIVAL. Clusters may be graded as A/B/C with parameters that include - access to raw materials, status of infrastructure and tools, current levels of production (both quantity as well as turnover), per capita income generated, connectivity to markets and awareness regarding market trends, access to credit linkages, access and awareness regarding government schemes etc. While those outside the cluster must be allowed to avail of the benefits of the scheme.


    The role of women in the handloom industry is largely unacknowledged. Weaving in its varied forms, would not exist without women’s inputs and labor. Although in some regions, women do not undertake the weaving itself, women are engaged in the production process right from the initial opening of the hank to the finishing of the final product. However, despite this significant contribution, their presence and participation in the handloom development schemes and programs is minimal.

    • It is essential that women workers be recognized as contributors and as beneficiaries and be enumerated in any mapping and diagnostic exercises in their own individual capacities, whether it be as weavers or as pre and post loom workers.

    • Women must be given weaver cards as well as insurance cards. Their inclusion as contributors and beneficiaries into the IHDS, indeed into all DC (Handlooms) schemes is essential.

    • Special attention must be paid to female heads of weaving households, including where women have stepped forward to be involved in the weaving.

    • Specific and focused training and skill upgradation programmes must be instituted to help women workers manage weaving and weaving related production. Existing training modules and schemes be more inclusive of women workers, and ensure that this vulnerable workforce get fair wages and equal access to training and infrastructure within the current IHDS.

    • Women employees should be inducted into the IHDS scheme to mobilize and work with women in the weaving sector especially on SHG’s as their experience in other schemes such as micro credit and women’s banking has shown that women can be very effective catalysts in developing community action.


    • NATURAL DYES: One of the important aspects of current development is natural dyes. This has been successfully introduced, especially in Andhra, benefiting the growers, the dyers, the weavers and the consumers. This should be considered as part of an integrated program of development. Special funds for innovative work in areas with expertise and possibilities of vegetable dyes need to be introduced. The entire aim is to create awareness and sensitize weavers as the future is organic

    • CHEMICAL DYES: In the current Handloom scenario a large proportion of handloom textile is dyed with chemical dyes. In addition to promoting vegetable dyeing, the DC (Handlooms) needs to conduct training and awareness-building workshops for chemical dyeing. Yarn and handloom dyeing units need to be made aware of the ban on azo direct dyes as products made using these dyes are in danger of losing their markets. Specific targeted training needs to be provided to convert to vat and reactive dyes and encourage their responsible use and disposal.

    • Another problem faced by the dyers is availability of good quality chemical dyes in small quantities. Small packages of good quality, affordable, standardized dyes must be made available keeping in mind the dispersed nature of pre-loom work, rural infrastructure and the requirements of the dyers/weavers.

      • NHDC has a mandate to supply dyes; this benefit is mainly appropriated by large Master Weavers and/or traders. An effort to set up a system of selling small quantities of standardized, quality dyes needs to be initiated. This will alleviate the issues of poor dying quality and rejections faced by weavers, who are then burdened with left over and rejected stock.

    • DYE HOUSES: Dye Houses may be need in some clusters but need not be an essential part of the scheme unless specifically required by the cluster. If the Diagnostic Report does not specify the need for a new dye house the funds should also be allowed to be utilized for upgrading existing dye houses, providing better equipment for dyeing including vessels, thermometers etc.

    • SAFETY: The most widely used dyes in India at present are Azo direct dyes however, these no longer meet globally accepted health standards and products made using these dyes are in danger of losing their markets. The dyers must be trained to convert to vat and reactive dyes and require specific training in order to do so.

    • TRAINING: The vat and reactive dyes usage taught in the trainings have to be put in practice through the entire process from training to testing through to production dyeing. Without engaging in production dying the dyeing training will not be meaningful. The groups trained should consist of dyers and dye house managers who are engage in day to day dyeing practice. Training modules must include modules on color theory, color palette usage, market segmentation by color and customer color preference information.


    Recognizing regional and cluster design identities

    • The weavers need to continue to receive consistent inputs in design and development.

    • These design interactions must, however, be sensitive to the particular characteristics and technique of the weaving tradition of each cluster, so that each area retains a distinct visual identity of its own.

    • Design interventions need to also build on the specific advantages of handloom.

    • The designers need to translate market information, keeping regional variations and characteristics in mind, into a production friendly design brief taking into cognizance the saleability of a new design introduced. The designers have no responsibility to ensure that the products they are prototyping find market success. This may perhaps be circumvented by paying the designer a base fee and providing sales percentages as further incentive.

    • There does not seem to be any effort to identify designers from among traditional practitioners. A craft can be carried forward not by temporary inputs from designers from outside the community but by the efforts of the community itself. In Varanasi, for example, designers are not educated at design institutions yet they are steeped in design knowledge – this local talent needs to be tapped and trained. Urmul is another good example where the weavers themselves took all decisions including choice of designers who would be paid by the group itself.

    • North-East and Tribal Context: It is extremely important to foster local design talent rather than institutionalization of dependence on distant institutes of design.


    • This is a consistent issue in all weaving clusters, irrespective of the scale. It has been noticed that often the beneficiaries of market linkages are larger traders and not the small, home-based weavers. The latter have no access to urban marketplaces or customers and are therefore unable to secure work orders directly, thereby becoming dependent on the large, commercially run units. It is imperative that this be addressed with the DC (Handloom) ensuring that small weavers are given the opportunity and financial assistance required to participate in trade fairs, exhibitions, and melas.


    • Extend GI to all clusters

    • It is essential to introduce a system of documenting the weaving skills, oral traditions and motifs that have made India famous throughout the world. This will provide a record of what is and has been, showcase regional, in fact cluster differentials and provide a record and base for times to come.

    • Document existing oral and written natural dye related knowledge

    • Recognize weavers contribution to preserving nation’s cultural heritage through

      • Conferring academic degrees to bearers of traditional knowledge

      • Actively involving bearers of traditional knowledge as faculty in design and technology institutions.


    Monitoring and evaluation is essential for all schemes/programs/initiatives to operate effectively in keeping with the best interest of the weavers, long term health of the sector and correct utilization of Government funds. This needs to be inbuilt into the IHDS and made mandatory using as a yardstick the measurable parameters in the Diagnostic Report. The NREGA evaluation process has clear, manageable and effective monitoring; this could serve as a model for the same. A methodology must be put into place for incorporating REMEDIAL MEASURES defined by the findings of the monitoring process. Awareness generation is key to bolstering interest and participation in the IHDS. The program requires more pro-active and in-built mechanisms and provisions to, educate, inform, create awareness and disseminate relevant information among weavers.

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