Narsingdi, an area north west of Dhaka is one of the main weaving pockets for the industrial weaving production. They produce grey fabric, (plain cotton) which is then dyed and processed for the ready made garment industry. Narsingdi is also known for its handloom weaving, normally done on a 2 shaft or dobby loom operated with a fly shuttle.
Khalid Khan from Kaykraft took me to see 2 handloom weaving set ups producing cotton for Kaykraft garments. On the way to the village we passed a heavily polluted river, evidence of nature’s suffering from the textile industry booming near by. It was clear Narsingdi is a textile area, most rickshaws, vans and trucks were loaded with yarns and bundles of fabrics. Passing by the mills you could hear the sound of power looms working away. I thought it was cicadas at first, but then could recognize the loud thumping noise of the power looms and the rhythmic clickiting noise of the handlooms weaving away. We passed the Baburhaat market, one of the biggest textile markets catering for the local market with mainly industrially produced fabrics. Both handloom weaving set ups, though very near Baburhaat are working for a different sector, the middle to high middle market of Kaykraft and Aarong.
We first visited Gonargau village where Abul Kashem and his son Aziz run the weaving workshop, occupying 68 weavers working on dobby handloom fabrics. There was a plethora of designs being woven in a variety of colours and motifs. The weavers are experienced in creating complicated designs and have been working with Abul for the past 30 years. I met Abul’s mother, a very sweet lady over 100 years old. She gave me a big smile when I said I am a weaver.
We also visited Shuvo Weaving, run by Shafi Mahmud in a neighbouring village. Shafi has a handloom and a power loom set up and he produces fabrics for both the local market and export, most notably for People Tree.
Both Aziz and Shafi were keen to treat us to lunch, and we were twice presented with lots of different delicacies. I loved the strange colourful tile paintings in Shafi’s house, they seemed a surreal setting!
Leaving the handloom workshops we passed a bigger industrial unit producing grey fabric and I sneaked in to take more photographs. The looms run 24 hours a day with 2 shifts of workers. The powerlooms seem like beasts next to the handlooms. The noise is deafening and their speed is threatening. I was there for just a few minutes and my ears are still ringing over 24 hours later. No workers had ear defenders or masks, and most machines had exposed belts, a death trap for a clumsy worker.
We spoke with Khalid about the need to help preserve handloom weaving, and the danger this skill faces with competition from power looms. Is difficult to know how handloom will evolve in the next few years. Hopefully its value will be communicated and understood.
Every day I remember how lucky I am to be a weaver, not only because it has allowed me to travel and learn, but visits like the chance one this evening sadden me to think of the difficult conditions workers face because of our greedy appetite for throw away fashion.
a big thank you to Khalid for his time and answers to my million questions.