Patola is one of the famous textiles from Gujarat characterized by weaving of separately dyed warp and weft yarns to create surface motifs. It is one of the most difficult forms of weaving in the world. It uses a double ikat style where the warp and weft threads are dyed meticulously before weaving, according to a pre-designed pattern.
Patola are characterized by their distinctive geometric, floral and figurative double ikat patterns. Of these, the textiles with geometric patterns and tiger and elephant motifs constituted a significant luxury good that was exported to southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The warp and weft threads of the patola are tied separately with cotton thread and then dipped in colour so that only the open threads may absorb the dye. The areas that have been coloured are then tied and the threads are immersed in the second colour, so that once again only the untied areas may be coloured. The process is repeated depending upon the number of colours desired and after all the colours appear on both sides of the warp and weft the cotton threads are loosened.
The process of colouring the threads itself takes nearly 75 days, even with three craftsmen participating in the activity. The weaving requires two craftsmen to work simultaneously on the same loom. At the most, 10 inches of cloth can be woven in a day and it takes about 25 days for the craftsmen to complete the weaving of a sari and the finishing process.
These have equal design and are wearable on both sides. Even weavers can not identify which is the front or back once the weaving is over and only 3 families in Pattan make them today, out of the original 700 families.
Immense dexterity is required of the dyer, for visualizing the pattern of dyeing, especially for the weft threads which are woven in zigzag, and also of the weaver, for working at an even pace, so that the warp and weft meet at precisely the right place without breaking the silk threads. These extreme levels of craftsmanship give Patola artists enough reason to put a high price on their work and to guard closely their patterns as a trade secret.
Today, Indian designers are fronting the movement to make Patola mainstream again. Bengaluru-based designer, Deepika Govind paid tribute to the Patola art by creating a whole collection inspired from it titled ‘Pop Patola’ at Lakme Fashion Week Winter Festive 2012, while Hydrabad based designer Gaurang Shah also presented an entire collection inspired by Patola at the Lakme Fashion Week 2013.
With the changing times, Patola as an art form has also changed and has incorporated elements of contemporary prints, such as bold geometric patterns, leheriya and paan prints, within its bracket.