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Past perfect

Textile motifs inspired by a hundred archaeological sites? That's what the Weavers' Service Centre's project is about. SANGEETH KURIAN reports

JACQUELINE KENNEDY was so enchanted with their work that she snapped up an indigo silk wall panel decorated with ivory-coloured motifs for a handsome price. So did Italian textile designer Naani Costa and British film maker Kenneth Girissith.

Welcome to the Weavers' Service Centre, Besant Nagar, a research and development organisation that comes up with exquisite designs on fabric. Established in 1956 by Pupul Jayakar, the centre is under the purview of the Ministry of Textiles. Started to render technical and design assistance to the handloom industry, it's not just the ethnic craftsmanship that's appealing here. The centre has embarked on a project to draw motifs from as many as hundred archaeological sites it has identified in South India. It has set 2010 as the deadline for completing this task.

"One of our objectives is to assist weavers by creating alluring designs on fabric swatches (up to three-and-a-half metres long) for saris, furnishing and dress materials," says V. Rajendran, director, South Zone.

Be it the ubiquitous parrot, dove, peacock, lion and elephant or the intricate motifs inspired by frescoes, murals and sculptures found in monuments and temples of archaeological significance, design is a creative challenge.

Before developing a motif from a particular archaeological site, the designers have to get a feel of its history. "We then take photographs and do spot sketches," says A. Viswam, art designer. "If the motifs are damaged, we try to improve on the design without compromising on originality."

The images are then assigned the prescribed colours, depending on whether the fabric is to be used as a sari, dress or furnishing. The market also determines the choice of colour and motif.

For export, we follow the colour forecast made by the International Colour Authority, while for the domestic market, the shades used are mostly Indian red, ultramarine blue, maroon, yellow, ochre, emerald and black," says Rajendran.

The `paper painted' designs are then sent to the Graph Section and then woven into fabric swatches on the looms. The samples are later dyed. Printed samples are another attraction here.

The swatches thus created are named after a popular dynasty, legend or ruler. For instance, the designs created from an archaeological site in Thanjavur were called the Chola Collection. Those recently adopted from Gingee and Thiruparuthikundram, near Kancheepuram, were named Neelavani (the horse of Raja Jayasingh) and Chandraprabha (the name of a ruler) Collections, respectively. Such names give the weavers a sense of belonging and pride about their heritage.

According to Rajendran, the paper painted designs and samples will be distributed to weavers through an integrated handloom training project to be held at its six sub centres in South India. "We expect around 1,600 weavers working in the cooperative and NGO sector to participate in the project."

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