Indira Loom

Weaving Futures

The consumer majority is moving fast into digitalization but the marginalised communities that include weavers seem to be disproportionately excluded. It not only increases the great financial inequality but weakens the chances to narrow the gap. There has been an increase in companies focusing on handmade goods in the last decade. This trend was accelerated by the global demand for green consumerism and the massive social media campaign for slow, sustainable products. In the 21st century, green consumption has risen into a global trend, which inclines textile companies to be more environmentally friendly and to have a greener product portfolio to satisfy these new consumers’ needs. Social media contributed to this trend, shaping consumers’ attitudes into more environmentally conscious behaviour. Whether this trend resulted from altruism or egoism is a question that needs answering. It has increased the number of designers coming up with iterations of the existing product line that these weavers have been making for generations, many of whom seem to be running into obscurity within a couple of years. This newfound attention that the handicrafts sector seems to be enjoying hasn’t translated to an increase in wages or better working conditions. E-commerce companies market the history and the handmade tag of these crafts. This retro marketing banks on the power of nostalgia linking the customer and the brand on an emotional level by highlighting the usage of traditional handmade equipment by the artisans associated with the brand. This has only further deterred the brands from adapting to newer technology. The labour-intensive, back-breaking work that goes behind the creation of these handloom clothes is not rewarded monetarily. This disparity in wages deters the younger generation from continuing this as a career. The sustainable methods of production practised by these communities need to be updated with the advancement in technology and re-equip them to practise their craft with increased productivity and better quality. There is a need to preserve and document this heritage. It also calls for exploring the possibilities of new methods of production. Artisans and weavers are the third largest segment among the poor in India. Even though the Indian government is implementing initiatives like “Make in India” and “Atmanirbhar Bharat”(Self-reliant India campaign) their dire position receives relatively little attention. Their struggle became even harder with Covid-19, due to the “non-essential” nature of the products they make.



Smart handloom project will make it easier to create an electronic module that can convert the existing handlooms used by handloom weavers into a smart loom to make a wider range of more complex designs without changing the equipment/looms that they are working on.

The latest invention in handloom is Jacquard(1804) which has now become obsolete  for the weavers to create complex designs. Control over every yarn is not easily possible in existing handlooms. Prototyping is hard and table looms are very costly, and are mostly imported from the US. Smart Handloom project is a foldable tabletop handloom that can be made using digital fabrication with a CNC machine, integrating electronics to it and adding a user interface which can use the output from a Textile design software will encourage new, younger weavers to explore handloom weaving. Smart textiles can be woven easily with such a loom expanding the market for handloom weavers. Prototyping textiles would become easy for a designer and they get to produce swatches before commissioning the whole yardage.


Among the objectives are enabling control of every single yarn in the table handloom(which is currently not possible in handloom) through electronic integration, to create an interface for the weaver to input designs into the loom, and easy to manufacture table loom at low cost on demand from anywhere in the world. Smart handloom project will make it easier to create an electronic module that can convert the existing handlooms used by handloom weavers into a smart loom to make a wider range of more complex designs without changing the equipment/looms that they are working on. Develop a community that would generate and share videos and documentation, in addition to the documents created as part of this project.

Hand-driven-jacquard-loom 500px

Controlled by a series of punch cards, the jacquard loom brings precision to the weaving process. The cards, laced together in a continuous sequence, determine the lifting of each individual thread of warp. Representing digital data through the presence or absence of holes in predefined positions enables the weaving of intricate and detailed designs.

Target Audience

The target audience for the Smart Handloom Project will be design students, weavers, COVID migrants with weaving knowledge, craft collectives, smart textile developers.

There are about 1900 design colleges in India, with an average of 50 students per college. The design student universe is 95,000 students, who will benefit from a new way to explore handloom design and an easier way to collaborate with the weavers.

According to the  All India Handloom Census there are about 40 million weaving families in India, the project looks at reaching about 10% of the weaving families, and help in social and financial empowerment during COVID and beyond.

The economic downturn due to COVID has affected about 40 million internal migrant workers, who could possibly find new job opportunities during the pandemic.

There are about 150,000 workers in the craft sector in the Europe who will benefit from the opportunity to explore new materials and technology.

Additionally there are about 2000 smart textile practitioners who get a new interface for smart textile production while working directly with artisans.






According to the  All India Handloom Census there are about 40 million weaving families in India

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

According to the 4th All India Handloom Census 2019-2020, there are about 40.1 million handloom weaving households in India. Some important matrices from these households are as follows.

  • 71.6 % Women of which only 14% have attended high school or above.
  • 68.7% of weavers are from Other Backward Communities (OBCs) Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Scheduled Caste ( SC)
  • 66.5% of households earn less than INR 5000 monthly from weaving
  • 54.3% are above the age of 36 years
  • 208 is the average work day in a year

Given these figures any systemic intervention in the handloom sector will bring about social and economic changes in the life of women weavers, without a school leaving certificate, above the age of 36.  The Smart Loom Project’s electronic modules help in providing a hydraulic effect thereby reducing the physical effort needed to work a loom.  User Interfaces and output signals are not just text based, rather have the choice of being visual, tactile and/ or  auditory. Therefore physical disabilities, or lack of formal education shall not be an obstacle in becoming a smart handloom specialist.

Benefit to Indian Craft Sector


The Smart Handloom Project can be a watershed moment that allows the existing handlooms to utilize all the advantages of digital design and still produce the handcrafted specialized products.

The hereditary nature of knowledge transfer that allows families and communities to take up art and craft in India is sounding the death knell of this sector as the traditional practitioners normally do not want their children to take up this profession as the financial and social benefits associated are almost negligible in the current economic scenario. The professionals who are interested in exploring the possibilities of weaving are intimidated by the long learning curve and the relatively low design flexibility. These challenges call for a systemic change in terms of technology update that allows weaving to become a new age skill that got democratized due to technological changes, like photography or graphic design. We believe that the Smart Handloom Project can be a watershed moment that allows the existing handlooms to utilize all the advantages of digital design and still produce the handcrafted specialized products. This change will help in creating faster swatches, that leads to greater design possibilities that ultimately help in setting up ‘weave on demand’ systems. The most immediate benefit of such an integration changes the production cycle of a particular type (Style, design) of weave from months to weeks if not days. In the long term, will contribute to developing an ‘open source’ community of weaving practitioners. The traditional weaving communities will also transform, economically & socially, from poorly paid skilled labourers to in-demand specialists.

Benefit to European Craft Sector

We are planning to carry out the pilot introduction project outside India among a craft collective in the Europe, in order to understand the demands and expectations of a global craft practitioner who is well versed in technology.

The immediate benefit for Europe craft sectors would be an avenue for first hand explorations of the Smart Handloom that extends the capability of handloom weaving to that of a jacquard loom. The project would eventually lead to collaborations, design excellence, new expressions and markets.  This could also encourage new and young people to take up weaving as a hobby craft and build small cottage industry businesses. Since we are planning to follow an ‘open source community’ approach to this project, similar prototypes and applications would naturally evolve or can be developed for various sub sectors that are facing problems similar to weaving in India.

The Smart textile community and academic institutes in the UK will also be interested in experimenting with the Smart Handloom to create smart textile swatches and prototypes.

Address Post-COVID recovery

The project attempts to bring about a systemic change in handloom weaving in particular and a perspective change in the Indian craft sector in general. The technological stagnation and lack of economic viability of the sector can be overcome through skipping the existing pre COVID model by making the sector future-ready. The combination of ‘ produce locally – distribute globally model’ and ‘open source community model’ of implementation helps overcome the challenges COVID poses to global supply chains. The project also addresses the need for a sustainable textile production method that caters to a global demand amidst climate change exigency by creating an ease of access for new practitioners and customers while providing social and economic transition for current practicing communities for whom the COVID pandemic has been the proverbial ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’.

Immediate and long-term expected results

The project is divided into various phases with achievable weekly targets and evaluation can be done on the basis of whether each has been met with. The immediate result of the project is to create a foldable smart handloom that has an electronic module. The smart handloom design has to be such that it can be easily made on demand in a fablab. The documentation in the form of pamphlets, youtube videos and a git website should be simple, and available in English and at least one Indian language. 15 swatches should be made by the UK partner on the smart handloom with at least one being a smart textile swatch. The assembling and weaving using the smart handloom should be done by at least 5 from each of the sectors- craft enthusiasts from UK, students and unskilled labourers from India. The long term result is to create a community that is interested in weaving, creating prototypes and sharing their explorations across various platforms. This would create demand for the existing handloom weaving to manufacture these prototypes. The creation and installation of the smart electronic module will ensure it’s realization. The output of each phase also has a revenue generation possibility.

Design Process

I was inspired by the simplicity of the loom designs of the master woodworking writer Franklin H. Gottshall and intended to design with the minimum possible pieces. A frame loom was reimagined to fit the table considering the size and movements of a laptop. The modularity of design was also a major concern as I intend to add the electronic functionality later on. The initial designs were created for wood with thickness between 8-12 mm and were intended to be cut on a milling machine. Mr. Jogin Francis, my fabacademy instructor at Superfablab, Kerala supported me in this endeavour. A version for 4mm craft Plywood that can be laser cut was made and prototyped in Fablab Barcelona on December 12, 2022. The electronic integration and user interface are developed under the mentorship of Professor Philip Heidkamp, Chair Interface / Interaction Design at Köln International School of Design. 

Challenges and Risks

The major risk is the potential outbreak of a new variant of COVID-19 virus which will completely disrupt our schedule. In such a scenario, we will extend the timeline. Although we have secured access to machines, people falling sick in the labs we are planning to work would also delay the milestones. We have given provisions for a loom with a lot of features, limiting these features to essential functions might be required in such a scenario. Availability of electronic components and the potential increase in price due to the supply chain disruption especially in availability of microcontroller chips and processors. We will use the ready to use electronic kits and make the smart handloom, revise the scope of the outreach programme, limit the number of external collaborators. If availability of yarn variety is restricted, we shall try to reuse yarns from previous projects. Although sustainable power options can be found for the loom, the research for it would take a longer period and needs more funding. Hence we are using off the shelf solutions.

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