Geeta Patil, a textile designer from Ahmedabad, India, grew up in Gulbarga, located in the northern region of the state of Karnataka. She founded Kubsa to revive and revitalise khana, a traditional weave of northern Karnataka.
Please could you tell us about khana
Geeta Patil: Khana is a hand-woven textile traditionally used for stitching a bodice to be worn with an Ilkal sari. Traditionally khana fabrics are woven in dimensions of 30 inches in width and 20 inches in length that makes them adequate for a bodice. Khana typically has three warps - a ground warp for the field/body, ground warp for the borders on either side of the field; and an extra warp of silk yarn for the motifs of the field.
Image: on loom laxmi saree
Khana fabrics have intricate motifs and patterns in the field; patterns are created by the repetition of a motif sometimes set within a grid. There are five to six inch borders on either side of the field. The motifs have a soft sheen on account of the extra warp of silk yarn. Since silk was a very precious material in earliecan setr times, it was used judicially only to highlight the textile pattern.
Image: reed drafting
Contrasting fibres and colours of the yarns, used for weaving, give the textile a very attractive look and texture. Traditionally, the weft was always a deep indigo which added to the contrast of the bright silks in the extra warp.
Where is khana woven?
Geeta Patil: Khana is woven in Guledgudda, a town in Bagalkot district in the northern regions of Karnataka state in peninsular India. There are several historical references to trade and textiles in the region. There is a mention by Ptolemy, the Greek astronomer and geographer (about 100- 170 AD), to major trading centres that are now towns near present-day Guledgudda. However there are no specific references in the historical records of the khana textiles or its origins.
Image: reed drafting
The older generation of weavers in Guledgudda recollect it as a flourishing weaving town with at least six to eight looms in each household. Five decades ago, the town had 15,000 handlooms and now there are less than a hundred. The advent of power-looms and polyester devalued this textile. At one point a weaver was paid as less as 1 rupee per khana which is half of a meter of fabric.
How is khana woven?
Geeta Patil: Khana is a warp heavy fabric woven on a pit loom with a dobby mechanism. The dobby designs start from three shafts or levers and go up to eighteen shafts/levers. The more shafts/levers there are, the heavier the loom is to weave. Hence traditionally the width was kept smaller and this sufficed for a bodice. The dobby making and design setting skills are now completely lost. There is just one artisan left in Guledgudda who can set designs and repair dobbies.
Image: khana loom
Please tell us about khana bodices
Geeta Patil: Traditionally khana is woven to make a bodice worn with an Ilkal sari; this sari is woven in Ilkal town from the same region. Khana fabric has been used only for the bodice as its weaving technique is time consuming due to which the fabric is relatively expensive. The design of the stitched bodice incorporates sections of the fabric – field and borders, cut in sections and stitched, thus making it possible to stitch the bodice within the relatively narrow dimensions of the cloth.
Guledgudda is the only cluster in India that weaves only sari bodice fabric. These khana blouses are worn by women in Northern Karnataka and in some regions of the neighbouring state of Maharashtra. The khana bodice is known as Kubsa in the local language. I named my venture Kubsa in honour of this textile and its cultural significance.
Image: Chikki paras saree on loom
Does khana have cultural significance in the region?
Geeta Patil: Khana has an important place in local rituals, especially in northern Karnataka. It is offered to women along with the Ilkal sari during weddings to the bride and the bride's mother. Khana folded in triangular shape is offered to goddess Laxmi and other female deities. During the baby shower ceremony known as “Kubsa madodu”, khana is gifted to the mother to be. The motifs of the khana are inspired by deities like Siddeshwara and Suryanarayana or the Sun God; temple elements like the chariots; and the local flora and fauna.
Please elaborate on the motifs
Geeta Patil: One of the old weavers I met mentioned that there were once about a hundred motifs and now there are only thirty in use. The motifs are mostly geometric and sometimes set in a grid pattern or combined with the chevron pattern to create variations. Khana motifs are reflective of local culture. Some of the motifs are deities; temple chariots; animals and birds like the elephant and peacock, different flowers; leaves and spices. In some weaves, motifs alternate in adjacent squares-such as elephant and peacock.
Image: Badami Kyadigi Khana saree
Which yarns are used for khana weaving?
Geeta Patil: there used to be a variety of khana woven with a cotton warp and weft, and an extra silk warp. This was because silk was expensive. However, my grandmother mentions that there was also cotton khana. This is no longer available, probably due the ease of pre-loom processes for art silk and polyester. Cotton required an additional sizing process.
Now, khana is woven with silk in the warp, in the extra warp, and borders. Cotton is only used in the weft. In terms of colour, the weft traditionally was always an indigo dyed yarn. There is a tradition of indigo dyeing in Guledgudda. Now synthetic indigo or synthetic black dye is used for dyeing the yarns.
Image: Badami Ilkal saree
Please could you tell us about your work with khana?
Geeta Patil: I am working with weavers in Guledgudda to revive/revitalise khana weaving and have brought changes to the textile/textile weaving while keeping its ethos and craft identity intact. I want to revitalise the craft, help grow the income of the artisans, change their outlook towards their craft, and create an interest in the region as a destination for textile lovers. I believe that design has always worked as a means to sustain people and crafts and with Kubsa the approach is to relearn, revitalise and reimagine within the present context.
One of the main changes I have worked on is increasing the width of the weave so that the weavers are able to weave sari-width textiles, and this has expanded the market. I collaborate with weavers to weave textiles with the design/layout of a sari that has a field, borders along both lengths and one end panel with three-shuttle weaving along the width of the sari. For this, the loom was modified to fit the larger width and the weavers were trained to get accustomed. With the change in the width, the reed count and the layout structure also had to be explored to get the right fall, weight and also to make it feasible for the weaver.
Another change is replacing artificial fibres with high quality silk and cotton and using azo-free and natural dyes. I work on training weavers and other ancillary artisans and choosing to use traditional hand processes so the ecosystem can be rebuilt and sustained. Apart from saris, we are also designing khana stoles.
Image: Gulabi bormal Khana saree
What are the challenges faced by khana?
Geeta Patil: I am happy that Kubsa saris have been appreciated by women from different parts of India and Kubsa stoles by textile lovers from India and abroad. However, there are several challenges being faced by the craft and weavers. Cotton and silk yarns traditionally used for weaving are being replaced by yarns of artificial silk/ manmade fibres like polyester and art silk.
Old motifs/patterns are being lost. During the past few years, I have been documenting the craft as there is a lack of documentation. This has meant that visual reference is being derived from many interviews of my family members, senior residents and senior weavers in the cluster, and ancillary artisans who have immense knowledge and who talk of the glorious days of Guledgudda. This is an on-going documentation to understand the designs and processes in a better way. For example, no one remembers much about the cotton by cotton khanas. But we do now know that these were woven and worn as daily wear by women who could not afford to buy a silk one.
Traditionally, khana have been hand-woven on pit-looms. However, khana is being woven on power-looms by some weavers. Due to this handloom weavers are losing demand for their weaves as power-loom khana looks similar however is less expensive. The younger generation of weavers’ families were not keen to take up the traditional craft. They are migrating to cities for livelihood opportunities. In this context, a designer working at Guledgudda has to work on trust building and changing the mind-set of the artisans from the community
Image: Banna collection
How will nurturing khana weavers benefit the local community?
Geeta Patil: For centuries, Guledgudda flourished as a craft ecosystem which had all processes within one village, from warping, dyeing, reed and loom making, dyeing, and such done by various communities. It takes forty hands to make a woven textile as multiple processes are involved in the weaving that span pre-loom activities of preparing the yarns; on the loom activities of setting the warp and the actual process of weaving; and post loom finishing processes.
There are many crafts involved in weaving. To take just one example, the reed for khana weaving is crafted from the stalk of a local millet called mungaru jola. Weaving is all about mathematics and precision, and hence it requires highly skilled hands to construct this reed as per the specifications. Presently there is only one artisan who can make these reeds. Thus, by nurturing khana weaving, the craft as well as the community benefits immensely.
Find out more about Geeta Patil (@geetapatil.design), Founder and Creative Director of Kubsa (@kubsa_handcrafted).
Text: Brinda Gill
Images Courtesy of Geeta Patil