A heritage fabric caught in the warp and weft of the economy


Like much of the country’s textile sector, the Woraiyur cotton saree, famous for its fine texture and color palette, and more recently, for its application for a Geographical Indication (GI) label, has been affected by the soaring cotton yarn prices. .

“The price of a bale of cotton has risen to ₹55,000 due to several international market factors, so even ordering two bales can set weaving companies back more than a lakh rupees today. It is difficult to ensure a stable production flow when raw material costs are so unpredictable, especially for those who do not keep stock of yarn,” AM Veeraiyan, Showroom Manager of Woraiyur Devanga Handloom Weavers’ Co-operative Society, Narrated The Hindu.

A steady decline in the number of weavers has also added to the challenges facing this heritage industry that is said to have flourished since the reign of Rajaraja Chola.

The industrial body which brings together members of the Devanga Chettiar community began its activities in 1936 and had more than 600 weavers until the 1990s, when the advent of electric looms and synthetic fibers in the Indian textile industry has slowly overtaken hand weaving.

“The cooperative has more than 334 members, but we only have 50 (middle-aged) weavers working on the looms. About 80 weavers in the district, who worked until the age of 60, receive government old-age pensions. Although the work has decreased, we are still producing sarees, with direct sales of around ₹1 lakh per month,” Mr Veeraiyan said.

The finesse and simplicity of the sari’s design is believed to be linked to the British Raj’s use of Woraiyur looms to produce lightweight cotton medical dressing fabric during the World War.

In its modern avatar, the Woraiyur cotton saree is actually a composite product, with the yarn coming from the National Handloom Development Corporation in Coimbatore. “Yarn dyeing, rice starch application and warp preparation, which used to be done in Woraiyur, have now been outsourced to nearby places like Jayamkondam, Thuraiyur, etc. The main weaving is done in Manamedu,” Mr. Veeraiyan said.

The co-op is wary of e-commerce and exposure via social media. “In the past, we had saree retailers who bought our products in bulk and then sold them at a huge profit margin. A five and a half meter Woraiyur saree which we value at ₹700 is resold for up to ₹2000. That is why we tend to avoid wholesale buyers,” Mr Veeraiyyan said.

“Young people should be encouraged to join the handloom sector to preserve heritage weavings like Woraiyur cotton sarees for posterity,” said a senior official from the Department of Looms, Handicrafts, Arts and Crafts. textiles and khadi.


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