Weaving a traditional magic

Poonam Pandit keeps Goan handloom weaving alive with scarves

By Ankitha Joseph

Poonam Pandit
Poonam Pandit

SATISFYING THE URGE of many in love with handloom is the brand ‘Kalakar’ by Poonam Pandit. Poonam graduated in textile design and development from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi in 1997. It was at NIFT where she was initiated into weaving; and from there, she went on to develop her interest in handloom, during the course of her career with export houses, educational institutions, designers, government organizations and NGOs. Poonam has worked extensively with different types of handlooms in various weaving belts of the country to develop fabrics for garments, accessories, home furnishing including rugs and carpets

      Seven years ago, Poonam visited Goa to work on a weaving project with well known fashion designer Wendell Rodricks. During her research on Goan handloom weaving, she was fortunate to find, possibly the last of the traditional weaving family in Pernem district. Poonam and Kaka, the grandfather weaver of the family, who is Baburao Babaji Tilve, have been working together for the past seven years. When she first met Kaka, he was on the verge of shutting down his last operating handloom due to lack of demand for hand woven Kashtis and Joda Panchas.

      Kaka trusted and believed in Poonam’s knowledge of weaving and agreed to work with her. After many months of weaving, conceptualization, experimentation and sampling, they went on to create a stunning collection of saris and garments designed by Wendell. After completion of the project with Wendell, Poonam continued to work closely with the weavers and created her label, Kalakar.

      Constant work and good returns motivated Kaka to keep weaving and they kept the handloom weaving of Goa alive. Poonam confesses that the true inspiration behind her work has been Goa itself. “To start with, the very fabric that Kaka weaves has this simple, soft mesh like weave which reflects the ethereal quality of the air, sea and sky in Goa. The lifestyle and simplicity of the weavers family, the village of Palyem, home grown food grains, kokum and spices laid out beautifully to dry in the mud thatched courtyard, the revered tulsi, the local resplendent hen running back and forth as the pet cat chases them around, the cow shed with the majestic well looked after oxen, the handmade everyday appliances, the children playing with clay Ganeshas they make at the pond, the festivities and zatras, the haystacks and fields, the changing seascape and horizon, the textures of rocks, the red of the soil and ultimately the warmth and love I get from the weavers family are all a source of inspiration,” she says.

      Kalakar designs are influenced by the Bauhaus textile movement and by supremacist, abstract expressionist art. The designs are minimal, linear, colour blocked and many times experimental. Kaka’s openness to experimentation and trying out new techniques gives the weaving an edge. For example; inserting recycled threads manually or inserting jersey strings into the weave and creating joyous fringes makes the scarves very attractive.

Kalakar’s trendy line of handloom scarves
Kalakar’s trendy line of handloom scarves

      Working with Kaka helped Poonam understand the local terminology and she has picked up all essential Konkani words for communicating with him. Kaka in turn, learned some Hindi from Poonam. They refer to colours as Maati, Gobar, Hirva, Tambda, Pedo, Dhava, Kalo and Neelo. She writes down the designs and pattern in Hindi which is the same script as Konkani and Marathi, so that it is easy for Kaka to follow. She marks entire patterns by tying coloured yarns on to a string of the length of the fabric and Kaka follows the pattern as he weaves.

      One of the most interesting features about Kalakar is the process of dyeing and weaving. The cotton thread used for weaving is dyed in high quality natural/herbal dyes. The dye material which comprises of Indigo, Manjistha (Indian madder), Turmeric, Lac, Betel nut etc. has ayurvedic properties. The dyed thread is starched with tapioca and dried. On drying, it is wound with the help of a charkha onto bobbins, which are arranged on a creel according to the design. The thread is transferred from the creel onto the warp drum and the vertical length of thousands of threads is made ready. This thread is then transferred from the drum to the warp beam which is then put onto the loom.

      Kalakar produces two different looks – a classy minimalistic, all natural look and an edgy look that uses vibrant neon hues. Though the neon threads are not natural they are certified environment friendly. Poonam states that the neon range is especially popular among young travellers. The blend of neutral colours, interwoven with minimal lines of vibrant neon thread have become iconic in this range.

I get inspired a lot by Goa and everything that’s around here – from the family of weavers I work with, to the villages I visit. Whatever I see around, along with the activities happening, inspires my work. The horizons and the way the colour changes from morning to dusk    Poonam Pandit

      “People who have bought the scarves have come back with positive reviews telling me how soft and comfortable the fabric feels.” As natural dyes are used, these delicate scarves need a little extra care while washing. Detergents which maintain a neutral ph level are a best suited to wash these scarves. The scarves, if cared for well, last for a long time; and even with time, if the colours do fade, they leave behind mellow tones that are just as beautiful.

The weavers of Kalakar Goa
The weavers of Kalakar Goa

      Kalakar stocks up at various boutiques dotted around Goa like Paperboat Collective, Artjuna, La Plage, People Tree, The Private Collection, White Brick Wall and more. Other than these boutiques, Kalakar also has its products displayed for pop-up markets such as Bebook where along with sale, appreciation is also received in ample. Crossing the lengths and breadths of Goa, Kalakar has travelled across the world to countries like England, Spain, Russia, Germany and France. Poonam, enthusiastic about her future plans for Kalakar mentions that, “I would like to sell online, and I might get the business online and have a studio shop too, this year.” The one challenge they constantly face is the problem of not having enough stock. The rising demand also points out the lack of manpower. Kaka’s part in the weaving process has eventually decreased due to his health concerns, though fortunately his son helps out with the weaving on a part time basis. Despite the challenges, what still keeps the brand motivated is its consistent growth in the past five years through the products that they manufacture.

      The vision behind Kalakar is to keep Goan handloom weaving alive. It is more about preserving a heritage and following the heart. “I am dedicated to the cause of keeping this going. I will continue to work with the weavers as long as they would like to and I wish I get involvement from eminent people in Goa who can help collaborate to take Goan weaving further.”

      Poonam also wants to extend help in training people and facilitate the growth of weaving in Goa

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