Organza is an age-old fabric that is traditionally made from silk. Its origin can be traced back to the times of the Silk Route, and today China and India remain its largest producers and exporters. The Indian equivalent of organza is Kora silk, which comes from Benaras. Technically “kora” means untreated, undyed silk fabric but in consumer terms it is simply known as “organza”. Often coupled with zari threads, Kora silk saris make for the perfect occasion wear in Indian traditional styles.
Primarily made by twisting silk filaments only and woven in a plain weave, Organza silk has great tensile strength and graceful sheerness. Its light weight is perfect for the Indian climate and when dyed, it absorbs color beautifully. Just like most textiles available today, there is an infiltration of polyester yarns in the industry that make the fabric more accessible and very popular in other textile categories such as home décor.
In order to achieve the transparency that makes organza so popular, a few technicalities have to be followed. For the yarn, two fibers are twisted together which cling to each other due to opposing kinetic forces. Before this yarn is woven into fabric, it is combed and treated to increase stiffness. This is the key step that differentiates organza from other silk fabric. Being such a delicate textile with several unique qualities, factors such as seam appearance, seam stiffness and seam puckering have to be taken into careful consideration. That is why most organza is woven by hand, as machine-made organza would compromise on quality.
In the case of Benarasi organza, the additional step in the weaving of the fabric is the use of zari thread, which is silver yarn coated in gold, intertwined amidst the silk yarn to form a rich, ornate border. The specialty lies in the fact that the zari is embroidered in both the warp and the weft of the fabric. Benaras brocades still resonate with the Persian aesthetic that inspired the weavers during the Mughal era. The motifs are intricate with floral or foliage patterns and have been passed down from generation to generation. Besides the “butti” style, a “jhallar” or string of upright leaves is also seen in the design.
Painstaking precision requires more than one person to weave a Benarasi Organza sari – a three-member team works on a single piece. While one handles the dyeing, another one works the loom and the third member engages the bundle of silk which creates the power ring. The designs are drawn on graph paper and imprinted on punch cards that guide the movement of threads in the weaving process. A sari can take anything between 15 days to 6 months to be woven, depending on design complexity. Pieces specially made for royalty used to take up to a whole year to be finished.