Handloom tussar silk sarees are wardrobe essentials; their unique texture, experimental prints and flawless drape make them versatile outfits for a multitude of occasions.
What is tussar silk?
Ever heard of tropical tussar? It’s tussar that’s grown in the eastern states of India, the second largest producer of this tussar silk in the world. Indian tussar, which is referred to as ‘kosa’ in Sanskrit literature, is harvested from the forests of eastern and central India. This earns it the moniker ‘wild silk’.
Tussar silk fibres are collected from the cocoons of Antheraea moths, which feed on the leaves of forest trees such as jamun and oak. As a result, the silk fibres have a grainy texture and golden glow. Tussar silk’s texture is very different from the smoother, softer mulberry silk, which is derived from Bombyx silkworms that are only fed mulberry leaves. You can learn more about the difference between tussar and other types of silk in our blog about Indian fabrics.
The motifs of tussar silk sarees :
Tussar silk has been traditionally grown in Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa; Madhya Pradesh also grows this silk variety, while Jharkhand has recently emerged as the largest producer. Additionally, several tribal communities are involved in the harvesting and weaving of tussar silk sarees. The patterns and design techniques that you’ll find on tussar silk sarees are largely influenced by the crafts of these states and communities.
The curvilinear, Nature-inspired designs of Odisha perhaps have the strongest association with this fabric. Flowers, fish, tortoise, and geometric patterns are typically associated with tussar silk sarees. In fact, Odisha’s celebrated Pattachitra paintings are inked on canvases of tussar silk. In Bengal, sarees with kantha embroidery are crafted from tussar silk.
Hand-painting and hand block printing are popular methods of creating patterns on tussar silk sarees. Kalamkari (from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh) is a well-known example of hand painted designs, and a kalamkari tussar silk saree is a must-have in your collection. Ajrakh and dabu handblock prints also enhance the earthy beauty of this fabric. Tie and dye-inspired prints are also popular for tussar silks. Ikat is a traditional method and shibori is a new introduction. More recently, digital printing has added vibrant and abstract patterns to the milieu.
Identifying authentic tussar silk sarees :
Tussar silk is pure silk that’s grown in forests. It has a few telltale characteristics, so here’s how you can check if you’re buying real tussar silk.
- The texture is rough and grainy to the touch.
- Real silk has a natural shine that reflects the light with a warm glow. In comparison, synthetic silk tends to have an artificial silvery glow that’s uniform throughout the fabric.
- Real tussar silk drapes well and only gets more supple over time.Synthetic varieties, on the other hand, tend to be stiff in comparison.
- A burn test is sometimes used to determine the authenticity of silk. Take a single thread from the saree (pick one from the inside so as to not damage the saree) and hold it to a flame. Real silk is organic and will burn (not melt), leaving behind a black crumbly residue.
Maintaining tussar silk sarees :
Tussar silk fibres tend to be shorter and more fragile than mulberry silk, so these sarees should be given extra care. Here are a few simple ways to do so.
- All silk sarees should be folded and stacked in muslin (not plastic or synthetic) bags.
- Whenever possible, spot clean stains using a mild shampoo and water. If the entire saree has to be laundered, dry cleaning is recommended.
- Silk sarees must be aired out every few months, but make sure you hang them out in the shade to avoid fading and sun damage.
- Since tussar silk fibres are delicate, ensure that you change the folds of your saree often. This will prevent breakage along the folds.
- While ironing, place a light muslin cloth over the saree to avoid overexposure to heat.
- Avoid using a brush to clean the saree, since it can damage the tussar threads.
No matter how many tussar silk sarees you have in your wardrobe, you’re always tempted to make room for more. With their soft rustle, natural glow and rich texture, tussar silk sarees are in a league of their own.