Power and the powerless.I am often requested to explain the difference between hand-loom and power-loom and how could consumers understand and differentiate between both. Depending on where and on which platform, I usually recommend "check for the unevenness in the weave, slubs, missing threads, coarseness and pinholes on the selvedge, etc.,"
But unfortunately, all these symbolic marks can be duplicated by power-loom also. So, I eventually suggest them to buy hand-loom from a person, brand or an organisation whom they trust most and continue to explore, read and question everything they invest in.
But now more than ever, it has become imperative to see the differential factor beyond material identification. It's about the people behind it. Who is this power-loom weaver and should we be shunning this person? Is the machine a beast or the person behind it? Or is it the flawed-system and the over consumeristic-society which has led us to this place?
The power-loom machine is a technology used poorly. Instead of making state-of-the-art textile, say, space suits, parachutes, waterproof tents for the poor, sleep-bags for the army, and what not., these power-driven loom end up weaving fake Maheshwari, Kanjeevaram, and Khadi because of the market demand. It's not shameful or a crime to sell power loom fabrics by its name. But let's note that weaving and selling power-loom sarees as hand-loom is a punishable offence.
Here are some of the differentiation between power and a powerless.
In contrast to a hand-loom weaver, a power-loom weaver rarely shows his/her work proudly, many a time they avoid showing their loom altogether and call the fabric PL, a codeword for Power-Loomed.
Unlike pit/frame wooden looms which employ rural carpenters, and the repair of it is already known to the weaver, power-loom machines are manufactured in cities by large companies and repairing it is often outsourced to a company mechanic. (The energy and raw material used to even produce these machines is a story for some other time)
Hand-weaving runs on human energy. Whereas power-loom consumes on an average 8 kilowatt per day. The problem also fluctuates between non-existent power supply during the day to mounting electricity bills.
If you find the rhythmic beat of the hand-loom as music, the power-loom machine is a noise. This machine running at odd hours in the family's living room affects both the young and the old.
A weaver on a pit-loom can change the designs every 25 metres or so and have the yarn starched, dyed, warped and wound locally. Not only many hands come together for this process but also the weaver can be creative. But on a power-loom, the warping, colour, design, and quantity is not only pre-determined but also outsourced, reducing the weaver to a machine operator.
Handloom is less capital intensive whereas power-loom machines are unaffordable to many. While few sell their jewellery and land to buy them, many more end up taking a loan and/or subsidies and continue to pay EMIs or get into additional debt.
Though a power-loom can produce three times the quantity compared to hand-loom, it's a myth that a power-loom weaver also earns three times more. Apart from EMIs, electricity bill, repairs & services, the wholesaler often pays less as it's after all a PL saree. I still have to come across an individual power-loom weaver who has flourished amazingly because of the machine.
Because of the sheer volume of over-produced inventory, a power-loom weaver always has to depend on a local wholesaler to liquidate his/her stock because of which the weaver is never in a position to bargain for the right price. A hand-loom weaver with less inventory with more design variety has a better chance to command the price.
When many of us talk about the importance of handmade, we are not demonising machine-made, instead, we build a case for them.
There is nothing wrong in indulging on a power-loom product as long it's in a proportion of a pickle in your meal, and the hearty everyday nutritious fulfilling food should still be handmade.
As consumers, the more we align to handmade and pay a better price and show that it's economically viable, there are higher chances that we could probably motivate power-loom weavers to switch back to their traditional tools.
So, where does the power lie? Is the hand-loom weaver more powerful? and the power-loom weaver powerless? or is the power to change lies within us?
Disclaimer: These observations are from my travel and experience. This post is FOR all the hard-working weavers and not AGAINST them.