The traditional and folk artform of Gujarat, Patan Patola is not just a style of textile weaving but a part of the rich heritage culture and artform which has been practiced since time immemorial. The precious and exotic weaving process is regarded as an epitome of luxury and aristocratic taste of textile. Women stock Patola silk sarees for exclusive events like Vedic rituals, weddings etc. Since the weaving process involves tedious hard work by the weavers and artisans all-year round to process one product, the exorbitant costs and exclusive design make these sarees a grandeur and reflection of royalty. Popular amongst the western world, Patola silk is a dying artform and weaving process that shall be etched in the generations for a long time. The extraordinary colors, styles, designs are a sheer escapade from the power loom produced sarees. Let’s take a look at how it evolved over the time:
History & Origin
In the northernmost part of Gujarat, 127km away from Ahemdabad is a place called Patan which is worldwide popular for its exquisite and traditional craft of weaving the exotic Patola silk. The sarees that are considered auspicious and sacred by women, worn on special occasions only, these handcrafted beauties stirred into motion in the 12th Century AD when 700 silk weavers from Karnataka and Maharashtra belonging to Salvi cast moved to Gujarat. The weavers were in search of patronage and they heard a lot of good things about the glorious kings of Solanki Rajputs. The Solanki Rajputs were impressed with their breath-taking creation and therefore, in a way to support and save the formidable artform, they gave the patronage to the silk weavers. It is said and believed widely that the rosewood stick which is shaped as “Vi” sword which is used to adjust the yarn is where the Salvi wavers got their name from.
However, Solanki Rajputs who were ruling parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat at that time underwent a fall of the empire. Yet, the beauty of Patola silk didn’t die and the women treated this popular fabric as the treasured silhouette to be draped only on select occasions. This finely delicate and handcrafted silhouette was also used for stridhan i.e. a part of the bride’s property that she gets from her native home
The intricate weaving of Patan patola silk requires the technique of resist dyeing which is similar to die and die of warp and weft silk fibres. It is the double Ikkat process of weaving where the yarn is first placed with cotton thread in a way that the pattern is designed. Next, the master weaver scrutinizes the yarn measurements which can be as small as 1/100th and involves multiple cycles of tying and dyeing of the yarn while adjusting the same according to the design and coloring it with organic homemade colors. The colors have to be filled in exactly the same place as specified in the design for otherwise they might lose their significance and entire look shall be spoiled. The intricate work on yarn involves an eye to detail, followed by extreme precision, accuracy and finesse. The detailed design of the saree is so complicated that it might take months to years for weavers to finally come up with the lustrous and outlandish product. Another unique feature of Patola silk sarees is that the yarns tilted to one side which allows only two weavers to work on the gorgeous Patola saree at a time. Another reason why Patola silk takes a long time to weave.
Patola weavers are of the belief that silk is the only royal silhouette through which their timeless design will come across as opulent and eloquent instead of weaving it on a cotton or other fabric. Weavers employ organic and natural dyes including the likes of madder roots, turmeric, catechu, cochineal, indigo, natural lakh, harde, pomegranate, ratnajyot, katha etc. in the waving process. However, due to scarcity of resources and jarring of original textiles, alum, tin chloride, potassium dichromate and other artificial colors are used to produce fake vibrant colors of yellow, red, green and blue.
Since the warp and weft are both dyed in double Ikkat print, the design is absolutely identical on both the sides and often times, even the weaver cannot make out which one is the reverse side. Since the weaving process is so delicate ad intricate that eaves no scope for flaws or mistakes by the weavers, the cost and value of these elegant and timeless handcrafted weaves increases.
Talking about the symbols and patterns embedded in the fabric, it highly varies from one community to another, thanks to secular India. Jains prefer old-school approach and like to keep their Patola version simple and striking with geometric and abstract designs, Islamic community prefer their signature Vohra Gajji Bhat and the Gujarati Hindu women are of the opinion that everything natural and feminine works like an elephant, floral motifs, women, leaves, paan design etc.
There are two major types of Patola weaves: Patan and Rajkot. Rajkot Patola involves dingle Ikkat weaving with vertically resist-dyeing while Patan Patola weaves undergo double Ikkat weaving process followed by the horizontal resist-dyeing mechanism. This is what makes the exclusive and eloquent Patan Patola sarees stand out and steal the show, they are priced higher and valued all throughout.
Patan Patola silk weaver Kannahaiyalal Salvi, a legendary and remarkable Patola silk weaver is widely-acclaimed and played a key role in uplifting the stature of Patola weaves throughout the world. He has conducted weaving workshops to educate students at Honolulu Academy of Arts in the USA, National Institute of Design in Ahemdabad, Surajkund Mela, Crafts Museum Delhi and even passed n the legacy of the heirloom textile to the eminent President Jimmy Carter and his wife on their visit to India. His versatile effervescent designs are exhibited across the world in Festivals of India, Japan and the USSR.
With such a great weaver residing in our land trying to promote the cultural heritage of our country, Smriti Irani was highly impressed with the irrevocable knowledge of textile. She was elated and therefore, initiated #IWearHandloom campaign that emphasized on the promotion and rekindling the interest of people for handcrafted weaves o the homegrown country. The campaign is believed to have garnered a huge support from the luminary designers to active social workers, Bollywood celebrities and such.
The current state-of-art with Patan Patola silk weavers is unpleasing and unfavorable since the weaving process is only educated to the sons of the family in the remote areas. Due to limited resources, heavy and tiresome work load, excessive detailing, heaps of advance in monetary form, and disinterest of youth in manufacturing patan patola weaves are some of the factors that are making the survival of this artform very difficult and challenging. A few designer brands including Pure Elegance is investing sheer efforts in reviving the rich traditional heirloom and breathing life to the vintage handcrafted textiles.
How to Identify Real Patan Patola Silk Weave?
If you’re new to Patan Patol silk weave, you must look out for colourfastness. This is a true test of Patola weaves as it is incumbent that colors of this weave shall not fade till 300 years!
Check the design similarity on both the sides, if there’s any flaw or mismatch, it’s not an authentic handcrafted Patola loom.
An authentic Patan Patola silk saree shall be valued at an exorbitantly higher price as compared to the cheap, manufactured weave.