The korvai technique is unique to handwoven Kanchipuram silk sarees, and creates a brilliant contrast of colours and textures.
The unfurling of a handwoven Kanchipuram korvai silk saree is always a sensorial delight, with its intricate patterns, sparkling zari, and the pairing of surprising yet perfectly matched colours brought together by the korvai technique.
Korvai is an ancient handloom weaving technique that’s exclusive to Kanchipuram silk sarees. It involves weaving the body and the border separately on the handloom, and then joining them using an interlocking weave in the weft. The pallu is then attached using the petni method, where the interlock occurs along the warp.
This requires great skill, and gives the bridge between the border and a body a slightly embossed texture. One could say that a handwoven Kanchipuram korvai silk saree doesn’t just look, but also feels distinctive.
The making of Kanchipuram korvai silk sarees
These sarees can only be handwoven, since the process requires two skilled weavers to work simultaneously on the same loom. Additionally, three shuttles are required to weave a Kanchipuram korvai silk saree; the weavers are seated at the weft ends of the loom, creating the body and border separately.
The complexity of this process is easier to understand when we compare this to how a regular handwoven Kanchipuram silk saree is made. For a non-korvai saree, a single weaver works on the handloom, weaving all three parts of the saree himself.
Designing, dyeing and weaving Kanchipuram korvai sarees are time- and labour-intensive, which is why they’re priced higher than most handwoven silk sarees.
The colours and textures of Kanchipuram korvai silk sarees
Weaving the parts of the Kanchipuram silk saree separately gives the weavers room to experiment with patterns, colours and textures. Remember, a korvai silk saree isn’t the work of one artist, but two. This creative flexibility and collaboration produces some of the most artistic and vibrant sarees in the Kanchipuram mileu.
Korvai sarees are referred to as contrast sarees, because the colours of the body and those of the border almost always exist at different ends of the colour spectrum. The patterns enhance the contrast; a solid body with minimal motifs might be paired with an ornate border and pallu that are heavily detailed. Similarly, an intricately-designed body might feature a bavanchi border with simple zari stripes.
The interplay of contrasts is what makes each Kanchipuram korvai saree one of a kind.
The interlocking weave of Kanchipuram korvai silk sarees
The body and border of a handloom Kanchipuram korvai saree are joined with an interlocking weave, which often becomes an elaborate pattern in itself.
Temple or gopuram motifs are a favourite connecting pattern among weavers.
You’ll easily recognise the pillayar mogu interlocking pattern; the temple motif resembles small triangles or closed flower buds, which give the motif its name.
The thazampoo reku, on the other hand, boldly announces the presence of a korvai border. This temple design is reminiscent of the screwpine flower in full bloom.
Plain korvai sarees have a simple, single line connecting the body and the border. The colour is usually inspired by the border and emphasises the contrasting colours and patterns.
Korvai silk sarees might be the result of ancient handloom techniques, but the designs are easily adapted to contemporary trends. The result of inherited skill and individual creativity, korvai silk sarees remain the pride of the Kanchipuram weaving tradition.