On the first evening of Navratri this year, I had the opportunity to attend a session organized by Craft Circle, Mumbai; home for exclusive handcrafted clothing & Accessories located in Dadar, Mumbai.
‘The Mystery of The Patola’ was a mesmerizing 90 min session, by textile revivalist Bela Sanghavi ji, who has spent 40 years in the research and revival of handlooms, handicrafts and Khadi Techniques.
This blog is my humble effort to present the strands of knowledge I picked up in those 90 minutes. It also allowed me to appreciate the rich weaving tradition of this land and the efforts combined with human genius behind creating these masterpieces.
Unlike block printing or embroidery, where designs are printed or embellished on a fabric, or weaves like Paithani, where designs are incorporated during the process of weaving, for weaving a Patola, yarns are pre-dyed using the tie and dye technique before they are set on the loom.
Dyeing is an integral part of Patola weaving involving meticulous calculations, creating an almost perfect match between warp and weft. From a distance, one may get an impression that the design is printed, but with a closer look, it becomes clear that the design is woven and not printed.
In Single Patola Warp (length of the fabric), yarn is tied and dyed whereas the weft is in a plain color. The process gets interesting and more complex for a double Patola, where resist dyeing is performed on the Warp (length of the fabric) as well as the weft (panah/ breadth of the fabric). It’s not just once, but depending on the number of colours used, the process of tying-dyeing and untying and retying and re-dyeing will be repeated from light to dark colours.
Let’s take the complexity to the next level by adding a complex pattern consisting of elephant, peacock, and flower motifs on 6-yard long yarn leaving hardly any margin for error. An error in calculation can produce hazy designs.
Patola is a perfect example of the human genius fusing together two disciplines that are generally perceived as opposites: Creativity (it cannot be fitted with a set pattern) and Mathematics (where nothing is unpredictable). However, the beauty of this weave lies not only in the precise mathematical calculations in creating these designs and the expertise in dyeing, but also in the colour combinations. Generally, one will find red, yellow, green, blue, and black colours. Only an experienced eye can choose the perfect shades that create perfect contrast, while maintaining the overall harmony. Depending on the complexity of the design, the entire process from tying, dyeing and weaving may take more than a year.
Though Patola is an indigenous weave, today, most of us call it ‘Ikat’ which is derived from a Malay word (Mengikat) which literally means ‘to tie’. Though the technique is the same, the process is not as sophisticated, and the designs are far less complex.
Trying to understand about Patola or Bela ji’s role in revival of the Patan Patola weave, which was on the verge of extinction in a 90 min session, was like the tip of the iceberg! It’s just enough to inspire me to start my own journey to know, educate, and contribute towards the sustainability of these rich traditions.
As a tribute to her work and in response to her appeal, I’ve started recognizing the Patola weaving traditions from Andhra and Odisha by their local names, Telia Rumal and Bandhakala/ bandha respectively, rather than simply calling them Ikat.