Andhra Pradesh is known for its ikat textiles and once upon a time Chirala in Prakasam district developed its own unique style of telia rumal ikats that made their way into markets in the Middle East and Africa. Known for their cooling properties because of natural dyes, these one square metre cotton cloths were used as headgear or wrapped around the neck to keep people comfortable in harsh desert climes. Y Venugopal, who runs a weaving and dyeing unit in Chirala, visited Pochampalli, where this art of weaving has found a permanent home. In an exhibition of his saris at Dastkari Haat Studio in Delhi, one sees full-bodied ikats, confident chequered grids and pliant jamdani weaves.
His curiosity and thirst to learn about weaving as a young boy took Venugopal to the Indian Institute of Handloom Technology in Salem, where he learnt various techniques of weaving. Coming from a region that is known for its textiles and a popular trading port along the coast, Venugopal realised that being entrepreneurial would yield great rewards. So when he recently met Jaya Jaitly, who asked him for a selection of his saris for her store in Meherchand Market, he didn’t think twice. “I had been to a workshop in Chirala where Venugopal was there. He brought along two of his saris and I could see he has a subtle understanding of colour and a way of making natural dye livelier than most others. He has beautiful weaves that should be encouraged,” says Jaitly, President-Founder, Dastkari Haat Samiti.
Chirala gets its name from Chira in Telugu, which means sari. Legend has it that Marco Polo mentioned the saris of this coastal town with its milky waves that could fit into a matchbox. Known as ‘mini Bombay’, it’s a hub for every kind of textile, from bedsheets and upholstery to dhotis and saris. Currently, there are about 1,600 weavers who weave on hand looms, says Venugopal, who began his weaving unit four years ago. He has 35 weavers and four dyers with him, informs Jaitly.
For his first outing in the Capital, he has brought nearly 30 cotton saris that have broad ikats, checks with white and black background, and simple jamdhani weaves of blue and red on white. All done in natural dyes, Venugopal explains how he uses materials to get the colours he wants. “I procure khadi yarns, which are then dyed in natural materials. For instance, for yellow, I use pomegranate skin, or marigold flowers or turmeric, there are annatto seeds for orange, madder root for red and indigo for blue,” says the 42-year-old. He sticks to traditional mordants such as alum, ferrous sulphate, copper sulphate and potassium dichromate to ensure the colour is fast and the fabric is protected.
His 10 years as a dyer for Dastkar Andhra show his assertive use of colours in his ikats, where greys and yellows, and pinks and madder come together rather well. While he has worked with textile designers, Venugopal also retails his saris in shops in Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Kerala and Pune, where he worked with students from Symbiosis. He is currently attempting a blend of ikat and jamdani techniques for his next creation.