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Twist in the weave

Artistans are adding value to good ole' Kancheepuram to make it appealing to the yuppie generation



TRENDY HISTORY: A painting of the Great Wall of China on a Kancheepuram saree. Pic: S. Siva Saravanan.

IT'S TRADITION with a twist. And, people are going all out to experiment with a fabric steeped in goodwill. In their effort to reinvent Kancheepuram silk and get newer people to wear a fabric known for its durability and sheen, manufacturers are on an innovating spree.

Such efforts have seen Kancheepuram silk take on different avatars. "Ten years ago, we would not have imagined tampering with the original zari work of a saree by adding embroidery or kundan work. Now, that's what people want," says Selvam, manager of Nalli Silks.

This year, their Perazhagu range of designer sarees — Kancheepurams sporting theme-based embroidery and paintings reminiscent of a bygone era — have done really well. Affordability is another factor that makes these designs popular. The amount of zari in a saree adds to its cost. These sarees substitute heavy zari borders and pallus with embroidery done using silk thread and stonework, effecting a substantial reduction in prices.

Everlasting nature

"Kancheepuram silk is part of our culture and will never die. But, to get more people to wear it, we must modify it to suit modern tastes. A general complaint against these silks is that they are too heavy - that is because of the starch. What we've done now is take the starch out to give the fabric a softer feel. That way, it drapes better and it's easier to work on it in terms of embellishment," says Radhika Prithvi of Tharakaram Silk House.

Another trend is to replicate traditional designs of other States on Kancheepuram. "Nothing can beat this silk when it comes to quality. Take sarees from Andhra Pradesh. Their craftsmanship and sense of design is excellent but the fabric is not good. When you mix and match both what you get is Kancheepuram with a different feel and look."

Banaras designs are also used on Kancheepuram. "You must always be open to influences in order to grow. That applies here too," she adds. Youngsters mostly go in for these value-added sarees, but older women don't hesitate to try out silks with small motifs and kundan work.

Embellished look

Those looking for really expensive sarees substitute the copper coils used for zardosi work with gold ones. The advantage, store owners say, of buying pre-worked sarees is that they are colour-coordinated with care. "Here, you know how a design looks. That might not be the case when you get a saree designed on your own. What looks good on paper might not work out so on a saree," they point out.

At PSR and Sons, the range this year includes fabric-painted silks and those with jewel-work embroidery. The pallus, both regular and Kalakshetra designs, have also been worked on for added effect. Srinivasan, partner, says that age plays no role when it comes to deciding what people prefer. "There is an embroidery style to suit every age group."

Some stores buy swatches of plain Kancheepuram silk and work on it as per customers' choice. At Sree Vasundhra Textiles, customers are shown what is possible before the sarees are worked on. "The allure of silk never fades. Even those in their late 50s go in for these sarees," says Kaushalya Sundaram, proprietor.

Kancheepuram silk is also a good platform to showcase the embroidery styles of other States. "Even Katha work from Gujarat looks good on this fabric," says Ajith Balchand of Mahaveers.

Most of the embroidery work is outsourced to Kolkata, home to skilled but cheap labour.

SUBHA J RAO

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