While in Gujarat we visited Patan, famous for its patola, or double ikat, where the design is dyed into the threads before weaving.The process of making this cloth is incredibly labour intensive and time consuming – it takes three to four months just to dye the warp and weft threads for a single sari!
The Salvi family showed us round their showroom and workshop and explained the process. They get their silk thread from China, wind it into hanks and degum it to remove the sericin. Then they twist the threads and set up the warp and weft threads.
Now comes the hard part. Using a similar technique to bandhani, they tie portions of the silk threads with cotton thread before dyeing. The cotton acts as a resist and prevents the dye from reaching the silk threads. They repeat this for four or five colours, untying and retying the resist threads each time. And they do this on both the warp and weft threads (hence the “double” ikat).
The pictures below show some of the tied threads that have been dyed once, below a diagram of the final pattern, and the final dyed warp threads set up on the loom.
As you can see, the dyeing process requires a very detailed knowledge of the pattern and extremely precise calculation of the thickness and tension of the threads, not to mention how the colours of warp and weft will combine. No wonder it takes so long!
The actual weaving is relatively straightforward by comparison. It’s done by two people on a hand-operated loom, with careful matching of the warp and weft threads to ensure that the pattern is maintained. The weavers comb four needles over the fabric afterwards to help align the pattern and ensure an even tension.
The Salvis use mostly natural vegetable dyes, such as madder, persimmon, indigo, onion skins and turmeric. They have a waiting list of three years for a natural-dyed sari, costing between $3,000 and $10,000, depending on the design. They make four or five a year.
They say that originally there were around 700 families in the area producing double ikat – now it’s only two or three.
The Patan Museum had a small section on patola, and said that there were originally different styles for four different markets:
- Jain and Hindu: all-over patterns of flowers, parrots, dancing figures and elephants
- Muslim Voras: geometric floral patterns for weddings
- Maharashtrian Brahmins: plain, dark-coloured body with borders of women and birds, called nari kunj
- export markets: mainly Bali.