Double ikat weaving

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!

patola final

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.

patola pattern threadspatola dyed warp

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.

patola on loom

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.

Meghwal embroidery

I haven’t had much time to post lately, due to pressures of the day job. So I thought I’d better try to get down some more memories of India, while they’re still (reasonably) fresh.

The Meghwal tribal people are originally from Pakistan, but many of them live in Kutch.

We visited the village of Bhirandiyara, a collection of circular and hexagonal bungha huts made from a mixture of mud, buffalo dung and sawdust. Apparently, during the big earthquake that devastated much of the area in 2001, this traditional architecture managed to survive while many modern buildings collapsed.

huts

Some of the roofs are thatched with bamboo and grass, but as you can see, many now have clay roof tiles, which obviously last longer (though may cause more damage in an earthquake).

The inhabitants also decorate the interiors with mirrored reliefs, and even build cupboards in the same mixture of mud, dung and sawdust.

hut interiorcupboard

The village lives off the handicrafts it sells, and every hut seems to have beautiful embroidered hangings on display both inside and out.

sales samples

What surprised me was that the women do still wear the heavily embroidered backless aprons that they sell,  over very full (often bandhani) skirts. They are accessorised by glittery headcoverings, elaborate nose rings and dozens of bangles on the upper arms as well as the wrists.

meghwal dress

One of the villagers told us that the Meghwal are known for pakko embroidery, which literally means “solid” – and you can see how almost every inch of the fabric is covered with stitching. The most common stitches are chain, double buttonhole, stain and fly, supplemented with mirrors, tassels and pompoms.

We bought one of the aprons, here modelled by the embroiderer herself.

embroiderer

We were also tempted by another piece, but budgetary constraints meant we had to leave it behind to tempt another buyer another day!

embroidery left

Bandhani in Gujarat

I was really looking forward to seeing a lot of Indian bandhani, or tie-dye, while I was in Gujarat. And I wasn’t disappointed!

bandhani samples4 bandhani samples1 bandhani samples2 bandhani samples3

Bandhani is so popular in this area that a lot of it is now printed rather than tied and dyed by hand. It’s usually quite easy to tell whether a fabric has been printed rather than tied, as the dots are too regular – they lack the organic irregularities of something produced by hand. Also, the printed fabrics are usually synthetics, whereas the hand-tied pieces are cotton or silk.

However, just to reassure customers that fabrics are tied by hand, many shops leave the binding on, and just untie one or two sections to show the pattern. I love this, because for me the most exciting part of shibori is undoing the resist to see the final result for the first time.

So by buying a piece of bandhani that is still bound, I get the vicarious thrill of seeing the result without having to do all the work! 😉

bandhani unbound

The shots of different bandhani saris below were all taken at a market in Chhota Udepur, eastern Gujarat. It’s a big tribal area, and it was fascinating to see bows and arrows for sale alongside more conventional fruit and veg!
bandhani sari2 bandhani sari1bandhani sari14 bandhani sari3 bandhani sari4 bandhani sari5 bandhani sari6 bandhani sari7 bandhani sari8 bandhani sari9 bandhani sari10 bandhani sari11 bandhani sari12 bandhani sari13

From the pictures you can see that most of the bandhani is of the tied variety, but I did spot one sari that used a stitch resist. Given the area’s reputation for stitching, I wonder why stitch isn’t used as a resist more often.

bandhani sari stitch
One of the very few bandhani saris I saw that used a stitch resist

The skill needed to bind the dot patterns ratchets up to a whole new level for silk wedding saris.

At Kachchhi Print, in Dhamadka, it was incredible to watch the wife of the proprietor demonstrate her tying skills on a silk jacket she was making. In the photo below, the marks on the fabric are where the dots are to be tied, and you can see the density of the knots that she has already tied.

bandhani tying2

Tying at this level is usually restricted to wedding saris, which take around a month to make and start from around £100. Even though this was a relative bargain I couldn’t really justify buying 6.5 metres of such fine work, but at Kala Raksha later in the trip I found some very fine bandhani scarves that were more manageable in terms of size and weight!

bandhani scarf 001

bandhani scarf 002

Back from India

What a culture shock, arriving back from a balmy India to a freezing cold, sleety London with not a single cow anywhere on the road! 😉

I had a fabulous time touring Gujarat for three weeks, saw some amazing sights, met some wonderful people – and bought some terrific textiles. Our driver, Deep Singh, booked through Northwest Safaries, was excellent – courteous, safe, and completely unfazed at negotiating junctions involving, cars, buses, autorickshaws, bullock carts, camels, motorbikes (not to mention cows, goats, and wild pigs). He’s been doing the job for nearly 30 years, so he took us to artisans and producers – including, to my surprise, a felter! – not mentioned in any of the guidebooks.

I’ll be writing about some of the textiles and techniques I saw over the next few weeks, once I’ve caught up with real life again! But here are a few photos just to whet your appetite from this wonderfully inspiring trip.

With our excellent driver, Mr Deep Singh
With our excellent driver, Mr Deep Singh
gujarat haul
Some of my textile haul!
gujarat tyres
Even tyres in Gujarat display wonderful textures!
gujarat bags
Patchwork bags at the market
gujarat chair embroidery
Faded embroidery on a chair in the street
gujarat children
Friendly children in the cotton fields
gujarat cow
Probably the best-dressed cow we saw in India
gujarat cushion
Gorgeous cushion in Ahmedabad hotel
gujarat fish market
The most intense fish market I’ve ever been to, in Diu
gujarat geometry
Wonderful Mughal carving
gujarat hodka ceiling
Colourful ceiling display
gujarat leaf plaster
Leaves were used to create patterns on the plastered walls of a hut we stayed in
gujarat market
One of the most artfully arranged markets I’ve seen
gujarat rope chair
Rope chair in hotel bathroom
gujarat stone peacock
Peacocks are a very popular motif

 

Out of office

The builders/decorators still haven’t finished, but I’m leaving it all behind for four weeks and heading to Gujarat in India for a shot of sunshine and a treasury of textiles, hopefully like the photo below.

Image by Meen Khadri/Flickr
Image by Meen Khadri/Flickr

I’m told that WiFi is not very common in that area, so I don’t know how often, if at all, I’ll be able to post – you might have to wait till mid-January for news.

So wishing you all a very creative Christmas and happy new year!