Karvati silk saris hail from the Vidarbha region in the Bhandara district of Maharashtra. These saris are made from Tussar, a variety of silk with a grainy, textural feel. What is unique about the silk used in Karvati saris is that it is exclusive to this specific region that is rich in high-quality silk cocoons, straight from the wild. The tribes hailing from this area assume the responsibility of protecting the silk cocoons until they are ready to be harvested. The Tussar is unlike any other silk; it has a unique shade of deep yellow-brown that looks regal.
The word ”karvat” is a Marathi term that refers to a saw-tooth pattern. Karvati is the name lent to the style of border rather than the fabric itself. What is different about the sari is the making-technique and the mixed usage of yarn. The border is woven out of mercerized cotton yarns with traditional temple motifs of various sizes, using an extra warp while the rest of the sari is woven using pure, hand-reeled Tussar silk which provides a texture that has irregular stubs all over.
The speciality lies in the fact that in its entirety, the sari is woven using three-shuttle, tapestry-style of weaving with a pit loom mounted with a wooden lattice dobby (Nagpur style) on the top of the loom. This means that it uses three different styles of weaving, i.e., Leheri, Jeali and Karvat, all at once! This laborious process not only ensures delicacy but also sturdiness to the piece. A Karvati sari is an ideal heirloom treasure! So sensitive is this hand-weaving style that each piece is affected by the weaver’s hand and even the weather. These “imperfections” bring an edge to the finished product!
What would sadden a handloom lover is the influx of polyester and faux silk into the market that has forced the Vidarbha weavers to find an alternate occupation, most often in the food industry. So much so, that today there is a cuisine specific to Nagpur called “saoji”, which means weaver.
What was once a community of over 5 lakh craftsmen in Nagpur alone is left with less than a few hundred. This sorry state was brought to the attention of the Maharashtra State government a few years ago, which took the initiative to revive the dying craft. More than a thousand weavers have been re-directed to their roots and given new opportunities. Today, Karvati is not just limited to saris but has dived into more trendy pieces like scarves and stoles. The same style of weaving is incorporated into home-furnishing and upholstery.
This movement of revival has been very significant to the community. Connoisseurs of traditional Indian crafts have spotted the potential of Karvati and it is slowly but surely becoming an investment piece for the tasteful.