The historically and archaeologically significant city of Mau produces one of the rarest types of sarees called Mau saree that derives its name from the city. Popularly called as the ‘city of weavers’, the weaving industry has been prevalent for at least 200 years if not more. The origin of the Mau saree is traced back to the 16th century. Historical records state that weaving began in Mau during the Mughal period and was patronized by Jahanara Begum, the eldest daughter of Shah Jahan. A resourceful weaver, Tansen set up a handloom in Maunath Bhanjan in the 16th century and produced a wafer-thin fabric.
The initial products that were made in Mau were fishing nets, dhotis and gamchha. Over time, more people took to weaving and converted it into a large-scale manufacturing hub for handloom sarees. More than 60 percent of the population of Mau are engaged in the thriving textile industry. This has been a source of livelihood for many families and is closely associated with the rich culture and heritage of this city.
Mau sarees are renowned for their novel designs, technique of hand spinning using extra weft (crosswise yarns), unique colour patterns and extremely thin fabric. The fine sarees of Mau are much sought-after in the country and the superior quality of craftsmanship lies in the care and detailing taken in each step of production that has been passed down generations.
Mau sarees are produced by weavers using a combination of silk, cotton and art silk yarn through handlooms with pure silk and art silk used as warp (lengthwise yarns) and pure cotton and cotton yarn used as weft (crosswise yarns).
Each family has 1 or 2 handlooms in their home and raw materials like cotton yarn, silk, art silk, viscose, zari and others are locally sourced. The saree is produced using multi-colour warp fibre and weft of single colour. The yarn is dyed manually in 6 to 8 colours and wrapped on a stick called loori. Normally, threads in 3 or 4 colours are used for preparing the tanna (a machine for warping) depending on the design chosen. The warp for sarees is taken of 5 – 6 saree lengths with each saree length dyed in a different colour for variety.
Dobbies are used to make the conventional butties and small designs in the saree. The weavers use ‘hand lacing’ for larger designs. Designs are drawn onto the saree using the jacquard technique where designs are drawn on plain paper, converted on graph paper and then punched into cards as per the required sequence. These cards are used by the jacquard to provide the exact sequence of colours of threads required for the design. The jacquard is run by the weaver by moving a pedal and has a rectangular block on which the chain of punch cards run. Each card has a different pattern of holes as per their design.
When the block strikes against a set of needles, it pushes the requisite hooks backwards. The needles where the card is punched remains still while the other needles are pressed and hooks associated with them are withdrawn leaving behind the threads in the background. Thus, the threads in the hooks whose needles were not pressed due to the hole in the punch card come forward to be a part of the weft while the rest remain still allowing for the complex designs on the fabric.
The design frames used in these looms are unique as every jacquard has a different design plate which cannot be used in another. Once the saree is finished as per the design, it is checked for quality and finishing and extra zari warp is removed. Calendering is done using any one of three available methods of heat, wax and deca to render the final look for the Mau saree.
It is amazing that a single warp (lengthwise yarns) in 10 different colours is used to make 10 different coloured sarees! It is unsurprising that the intricately detailed sarees with their harmonious combination of butties, patterns, motifs and zari in their dazzling colours have found their way in markets across India and abroad.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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