Patolu, the unique, exquisitely skilled double ikat silk textile holds a rich cultural significance in Gujarat and indeed in India. Both the warp and weft yarns are tied to resist the dye thus creating a clearly defined pattern. Traditionally natural dyes were used.
Patola textiles originate from Patan, a small town north of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, and are woven by members of the Salvi caste. The traditional process continues today, albeit on a much smaller scale than its heyday in the middle ages. Production is now confined to a single extended family of Salvis in Patan.
Two weavers weaving contemporary patola stoles on the same warp
Natural dyes gave way to chemical dyes during the 20th century, but recently natural dyes have been revived by some weavers, appealing to the environmentally aware customer. The patolu sari is popular now amongst elite and upper class women who wear it to celebrate a part of India’s rich craft heritage as well as to look beautiful. It has also for centuries been a popular gift for the bride at her wedding.
Patola are thought to date back to the first century BC, and were a highly prized commodity in the South East Asia trade for over five hundred years. In Indonesia the cloths were used for ceremonial use and court dress and believed to possess protective powers. Patola were also used as ceremonial saris by Nagar Brahmins, Hindu or Jain Mahajan (merchants) and Bohra Muslims in Gujarat and Maharashtra.
In a leaflet published by the Salvi family on Patan patola, they include a folk song which conveys the attraction of patola saris:
Chhelaji Re, Mare Hatu patanthi patola mongha lavjo
O my dear! Do bring the precious patola from Patan for me!
The design is meticulously drafted out onto graph paper for the weaver to refer to as he or she goes along. The warp and weft silk threads are tied separately with cotton thread in the portions marked out by the design. These sections that are tied will resist the dye. Then the next portion which is to be the colour of the first dye is tied so that it can resist the next colour, and so on. Once the dyeing is complete, and the yarns untied, you can already see the design spread across the yarns, before it is woven into cloth. The weft yarns are tied onto bobbins and the warp yarns go through the warping process and onto the loom. In between sections of weaving the weaver uses a pin to re-arrange the threads to achieve the distinctive feathered edge that patola is known for.
Tying the yarns
Traditional motifs called ‘bhat’ consist of flowers, animals, birds and human figures. Names of designs include: narikunj, paan, phulwadi, rasbhat, chhabadi, choktha, navratna, paanchophul, sarvaryu and laheriya.
The market for patola saris is high end. A double ikat sari can take months to make, so inevitably is very expensive, and thus the reason single ikat is now more common. Motifs from the traditional patola are imitated in single ikat in Rajkot for a cheaper alternative to patola. Printed imitations are also produced to provide an even cheaper alternative. However, the real double ikat patolu is admired all over the world, and it provides makers and owners alike, a connection to an important part of India’s textile heritage.
- Textiles and Dress of Gujarat, Eiluned Edwards
- Woven Cargoes, Indian Textiles in the East, John Guy
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