Throughout the seventeenth century, Gujarat was probably the most important centre for fine commercial embroidery in the world. Today, the belt comprising of Kutch and Saurashtra up to northern Gujarat to western Rajasthan and the Thar Parkar district of Sind in Pakistan is the richest source of folk embroidery in the world.
Marriage costumes, wall hangings, quilts, cradle cloths and animal trappings are embroidered, appliquιd, decorated with beadwork and embellished with mirrors, sequins, buttons and shells. Each caste passes on unchanged from generation to generation its own distinct designs, colours and range of stitches which, together with the cut of their garments and their own particular tie-and-dye and block-printed designs, form the major visual part of a castes cultural identity.
The Gujarati embroidery tradition was maintained for many years by the Mochi embroiderers of Kutch and Saurashtra, who worked for the court and for the merchant and land-owning castes.
The Mochis were traditionally cobblers and leather-workers by trade, who developed the art of embroidering in fine silk chain stitch, using the ari. This is a fine awl, which has a notch incised just above its point to form a hook, and is akin to the European tambour hook. The thread is held below the cloth to be embroidered and the point of the ari is pushed through the fabric to pick up and pull through to the surface a loop of thread. The point of the ari is then again inserted into the fabric through this loop and the process is repeated, so that a continuous line of chain stitch is formed.
The ari is an adaptation of the cobblers awl and the Mochis would appear to have developed their methods of ari-work embroidery from the craft tradition in Sind of embroidering leather belts, shoes and bags.
Until recently, the ari was being used for domestic embroidery by the Lohanas of Banni Kutch. The embroidered silk was imported from Europe or China, and the satin embroidered on was again either imported or produced nearby, in Surat, Mandvi or Jamnagar.
The centre for Mochi embroidery was Bhuj, the capital of Kutch, but some Mochis worked elsewhere in Kutch and others moved to Saurashtra to work for the Kathi landowners there. The Mochis produced ari work for gaghra (skirt) pieces, chops (bodices), borders, childrens caps, chaklas (embroidered squares) and torans (pennanted doorway friezes). They also embroidered the devotional pichhavai hangings for temples, illustrating the Lord Krishna, as manifested at Nathadwara, Rajasthan.
The motifs usually embroidered were buttis (flowers derived from Persian or Mughal sources) often with parakeets perched on them. These were interspersed with figures of peacocks or putali (women), sometimes both.
The heyday of Mochi embroidery was most probably the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During this period, the Mochi embroiderers practiced in Kutch and in Saurashtra; but the courts were to lose their wealth and powers of patronage, as were the Kathi landowners, and many of the merchant families who had traditionally commissioned Mochi embroidery left for Bombay. By 1947, Mochi embroidery was virtually extinct.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was a community of Chinese embroiderers living in Surat, south Gujarat, who nevertheless produced work that was completely Chinese in both design and technique. Their embroidery was known as chinai work and they made either garment pieces and shawls embroidered with fine floss silks, or saris, cholis (blouse), childrens dresses and borders, precisely embroidered with tightly spun two-ply silk. Long narrow border strips with interconnecting motifs of birds and flowers, predominantly in white against a coloured silk background, were a favourite of the rich Parsee community, and many examples of this work can still be found in Bombay.
Kutch, Saurashtra, western Rajasthan and the adjoining province of Sind in Pakistan are areas of arid scrubland, some of which is cultivatable, but much of which affords only seasonal pasture for flocks and herds of sheep, cattle and camels. Thus the inhabitants are mainly smallholding farmers or pastoralists, with merchant and artisan communities in the towns. They are divided by caste which, as in the rest of India, is here usually equated with a hereditary occupation. These castes reflect a cultural diversity that has resulted from the influx of people over the centuries through both Iran and Central Asia. This in turn has had its bearing on the domestic embroidery tradition in western India.
The people living in this region share a common dowry tradition. In addition to the usual gifts of jewelry and household utensils, a bride will bring to her husbands home a large number of richly embroidered textiles that she and the women of her family have worked on. This dowry will consist of costumes for the bride and groom, hangings for her new home and applique work often incorporating small mirrors.
When the bride leaves her parents home and moves to that of her parents-in-law (where the groom continues to reside after marriage), she traditionally brings with her a set of hangings, usually wrapped in a large chakia. In Kutch and Saurashtra a toran is hung above the doorway to the main room of the house, the pennants that hang down from it representing mango leaves, symbols of good luck and a welcoming device to gods and men alike. On each side of the doorway is hung an L-shaped textile known as a sankhia, and beside these are pantorans, smaller friezes and smaller chakia squares.
The display of embroidery takes pride of place at the great wedding celebrations and religious festivals, and on a more limited scale it brings color to everyday life too. Distinctive embroidered clothes are worn as the proud badge of caste, cultural identity. Each caste has its own style of embroidery, range of colours and repertoire of stitches. Caste and social status is indicated by the colours and materials used. The merchant communities often work on silk, whereas the farming and pastoral castes usually use cotton or wool.
Costume in this part of India is embellished with embroidery and mirror work and made as colorful as possible in order to provide a pleasing contrast to the generally dull shades of the surrounding desert landscape. Particularly vivid are the clothes of the children and young women. The cut is full, to combine maximum protection from the hot sun with a good circulation of air to promote coolness. The designs and motifs used are handed down unchanged from generation to generation; the indigenous flora and fauna and local mythology inspire them. It is a tradition that has survived intact and remains alive due to relative geographical isolation and the absence of industrialization.
Aside from weddings, the most important events of the year are the great religious festivals held at places of pilgrimage all over Rajasthan, Gujarat and Sind. At these festivals caste members can meet, marriages are contracted or celebrated, and religious rites performed. Here bards and musicians entertain the crowds, and camels, horses and oxen are traded and raced. These animals are decorated with embroidered trappings - on their backs, necks, ears, legs, chests, muzzles and even on the oxens horns. The patterned camel girths are woven out of goats hair, the wooden saddles padded out with patchwork quilts; oxen are bedecked in embroidered or appliqued cover called jhul. Families traditionally travel to a festival on their camels, or else in ox-carts. The wooden carts are covered with an appliqued tent known as a maffa, which provides shelter from the hot sun.
Styles of Domestic Embroidery
[ The Sindi Style | The Kutchi Style | Ganesh Hangings | Applique | Beadwork | Block Printing | Painted Textile | Roghan Work | Tie-and-dye Work | Brocade Weaving | Surat`s Zari Industry ]
The Sindi Style
This style is prevalent in the Thar Parkar and adjoining districts of Sind, in Banni Kutch and in the western Rajasthan districts of Barmer and Jaisalmer. Designs are abstract, or very formalized representations of flowers and foliage, worked in primary colors using mainly satin stitch. The most prolific practitioners of this style are the women of the Meghwal (or Meghwar), leather workers by profession and caste, who are centred on the Thar Parkar district of Sind, but may be found in Rajasthan, west of Jodhpur and in Banni Kutch. Their most delightful work embellishes marriage cholis, purses and bukhanis (wedding scarves). Their work is of two types: either profusely embroidered floral and disguised bird designs, mostly on a red ground, supplemented with mirrors and beaded pompoms; or else couched metal thread-work on a black background.
All the work in the Sindi style is characterized by a great range of fine stitchery and vivacity of embellishment and color-matching. Sadly, many of the women of the embroidering castes who would joyfully and lovingly produce such fine work for their own marriages have been drawn into the money economy and now produce shoddy embroidered piece-goods for the export market.
Designs and colours are imposed from the commercial fashion and trading world and they no longer have the time to embroider in their own beautiful style.
Other castes embroidering in the Sindi style are the Lohana and Memon merchant castes of Sind and Kutch, the Pali and Dars landowning castes of Sind, the Rabari shepherds of Sind, the Sutar carpenter castes of Sind and western Rajasthan and the Muslim hording castes of Sind, Banni Kutch and western Rajasthan.
The Kutchi Style
The Rabari shepherd, Kanbi farming and Ahir herding castes are the main practitioners of what can be loosely termed the Kutchi style of embroidery, characterized by predominant chain and open-chain stitching and the profuse use of mirrors in the case of the Rabari and Ahir women. They embroider in white, yellow, green and red and sometimes a little blue, mainly in cotton on red, orange, white, black, or green cotton or satin. Motifs are floral with accompanying parrots or peacocks, although human and animal figures are represented with women dancing, churning butter or carrying water pots on their heads. The shisha, or abia, mirrors used are bought in either pre-cut rounds, or in large pieces to be cut up with scissors. Much of the mirrored glass was once only manufactured at Kapadvanj in Gujarat, but now it is also made at Bhuj in Kutch and Limri in Saurashtra. Other castes embroidering in the Kutchi style are the Rajputs and Oswal Banias of the Wagad tract of Kutch, the Mistri carpenters and at one time the Bhansali farmers of central Kutch.
Some of the most characteristic of all the folk embroideries of Gujarat are the images of Ganesh (the elephant -headed god), embroidered on a white (and in the case of a `Ganeshtapana`, a pentagonal wall-hanging, often yellow) background. Ganesh is the remover of obstacles to happiness, and he is embroidered in the centre of the Ganeshtapana, often with his bowl of sweets and his companion rat, and almost always is set between his two wives, Siddhi and Buddhi. A border of flowers and birds, or else of animals, is worked around the edge of the Ganeshtapana.
The `bari`, a toran in the shape of an archway, has been popular over the last forty years. These are worked in herringbone stitch, with some of the outlines in stem stitch, and are produced by the Kanbi of Kutch and most of the embroidering communities in Saurashtra (with the exception of the Kathis and the Rajputs). Ganesh resides in the centre of the arch and is flanked by figures of the gods, interspersed with flowers and birds and animal figures.
Representations of pocket watch, bicycles, old British motorcars, and even gramophones are added, often seemingly at random. The best woman artist in the village draws out the embroidery designs with a thin stick in black ink or soot. At a later date, special wooden printing blocks were made, and the design stamped out with a clay mixture made of broken roof tiles.
Most of the embroidered articles from Kutch, Saurashtra and western Rajasthan that are sold to the tourists on the streets of Delhi and Bombay come from the dowries of women who were married thirty or forty years ago. Since then, much has changed. Most women of the landowning and merchant communities gave up embroidery long ago. Today`s women, of castes, which in former times would have banished them to the seclusion of purdah, now spend their youth acquiring a fine education rather than trying to emulate the superlative embroidery of their grandmothers. Women are now exposed to the influences of television, radio, cinema, video and magazines; they no longer want to wear the heavy and cumbersome garments of their mothers time and wish to fill their leisure hours with distractions other than embroidery.
Most pertinent to the decline of embroidery as a popular folk art, however, are two important factors. Firstly, the introduction of education for girls, which means that they now no longer have the time or the inclination to learn stitches from their mothers. Secondly, great upheavals in the caste structure over the last forty years, which have meant that many people, find work outside their traditional caste occupation. Consequently, in many areas, the need to keep up the appearance of caste identity through distinctive embroidered clothes and hangings has been superseded. Despite these changes in western Rajasthan and the Thar Parkar district of Sind, people`s lives have not undergone such radical changes and the embroidery tradition remains strong, despite extensive commercialization.
Applique comes from the French appliquer which means to "put on". In applique, one layer of fabric is placed over another layer of fabric and is sewn in place. Applique opens a whole new design world to the quilter allowing for many more possibilities than just piecing alone.
The appliques of western India are generally large canopies and friezes used for celebrations or as animal trappings. Applique is both quicker and easier to work than embroidery. The applique articles are harder wearing than the other works. Applique in Gujarat is known as `katab` (a word probably derived from the English `cut-up`) and usually takes the form in pieces of colored fabric stitched on to a cotton ground. No examples of applique work survive from before the nineteenth century and it is thought that the technique was introduced into the area through trade contacts with either Europe or the Middle East.
The Kathis and their associated Muslim landowning caste, the Molesalaam, produced large friezes and canopies with dramatically drawn figurative work. Details of human and animal representations, filled in with old cotton and silk prints, mashru, bandhani greatly enhanced the charm of the textiles.
From the beginning of the twentieth century, the Mahajan merchants of Bhavnagar District produced many appliqued textiles, applying mainly red cotton cloth to a white background. Designs of applied, highly stylized figures of bird and elephants were balanced by large areas of geometric `deplique` work - where squares of red cloth were cut into and folded back, to reveal a pattern on the white background cloth of flowers, birds, or elephants set within the foliage.
The Oswal Banias of western Raiasthan made large wedding canopies in applique. They came in panels of six, nine, or twelve and more squares. Most of these squares are decorated by means of a snowflake pattern in white, applied to different colored backgrounds. The cloth for each snowflake is cut with the help of a cut and folded paper pattern. The Rajput, Satwara and other farming and herding communities also appliqued chaklas, torans, chandarvo (canopies), dharaniyo (quilt covers). Some of the most interesting and practical applique textiles are the jhul (ox-covers) and maffa (ox-cart tents).
Beadwork is a needlework craft that was introduced into western India comparatively recently. In the nineteenth century, Bhattia and Bania traders from Kutch and Saurashtra were based in Zanzibar and were engaged in the trade with East Africa. One of the main items of trade with East Africa was the Venetian Murano bead.
Around 1850, these traders began to bring the beads into India. Of the beadwork articles that survive, professional Mochi craftsmen made the earliest datable examples but by the turn of the century, Kathi women were taking to beadwork as a replacement for the craft of embroidery, which they now largely left to the professional embroiders, the Mochis.
The Mahajans, some of whose men would have been employed by the Kathi landowners, then also adopted the Kathi style of beadwork. The Kathi beadwork motifs portrayed divine and human figures, combined with flowers, cradles, racing camels, other animals and birds, and were worked in translucent and semi-translucent colored beads set in a background of white opaque beads. The colors used were mostly orange, yellow, green, purple and red.
The beadwork technique entails first of all making a border of beads for the whole textile, then attaching a thread to a top corner of the border. Three or more beads are then threaded on to a needle. The needle is then either taken through a bead of the border or pulled tight or over one of the threads of the border and back again through the last bead threaded on the needle. With even spacing, the process is repeated, until a row of looped beads hangs from the top border of the textile. On reaching the far top corner of the border, using the same process and working back in the opposite direction, beads are threaded on to the first row. The process is continued row by row, each row being attached at both the side borders until the bottom of the textile is reached. Different colored beads can be worked in to form angular patterns.
The Gujarat region was one of the great textile-exporting areas of India. Textile patterns were usually applied by block printing, and evidence of Gujarat`s block-printed wares have been excavated at Fostat, near Cairo, the oldest of which have been dated as fifteenth century or earlier. These textile fragments are resist printed with unsophisticated yet pleasing designs typical of the hand-printed textiles of the region today. Then, as now, a resist substance was used on rather coarsely woven cloth (unlike the tradition of south-east India which uses a wax resist, on finely woven cloth). This method favors a fairly bold depiction of the pattern. The most important centres for block printing are Sanganer, Jaipur, Bagru and Barmer in Rajasthan, and Anjar, Deesa, Ahmedabad, Jetpur, Rajkot, Porbandar and Bhavnagar in Gujarat.
Hindu and Muslim Khatris make hand-printed textiles in Gujarat and the surrounding states of Sind, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Many of these Khatris claim that their ancestors left the Sind region after its conquest by the Arabs in the eighth century AD.
Today, block- printed textiles fill a niche left by the mechanized mill textiles industry that dominates the cotton yardage production of the subcontinent. Many types of hand-woven textiles disappeared, due to the competition from imported and domestically produced mill-made cloth during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. But there remained mainly localized demand for the block-printed, usually unstitched garments, such as dhotis, lungis, saris, rumals, pugris and jajam floor spreads; such a handmade commercial production has continued to find a ready market in Gujarat and Rajasthan, for the different rural castes have a preference for hand-crafted textiles for their own particular costumes.
In Gujarat and western Rajasthan, there are three main types of hand-printed textiles:
- Ajarakh, worn by Muslims, is thought to have originated from Sind and is wholly geometric in patterning. Ajarakh cloth is block-printed on one or both sides. The name is most probably derived from `azrak`, the Arabic word for `blue` certainly indigo blue is the predominant coloring for these clothes.
Ajarakh cloth is used as marriage wear by Muslim males. The Hindus in western Rajasthan and the Thar Parkar district of Sind wear a similarly patterned cloth in predominantly red colors called a `malir`. Ajarakh is produced in Sind at Khavda and Dhamadkha, in Kutch, and at Banner, in Rajasthan.
- Ahmedabad produces screen-printed and block-printed designs of floral sprays and simulated bandhani on a predominantly red background.
- The third type of hand rinted textiles are the floral prints, with Persian associations, made at Deesa, in northern Gujarat, and in the Banner and Jaisalmer regions of western Rajasthan.
All three types are printed against a background that is usually red, indigo blue or violet.
The Mughal-inspired floral prints of Bagru and Sanganer come from a different court-influenced tradition. Bagru and Sanganer are both close to Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan and though both now produce much block-printed cloth for the export fashion trade, they originally produced textiles for the local market. Sanganer fabrics were, on balance, more sophisticated. Bagru products were aimed mostly at local, rural women, but designs in both places reflected the Persian influence so prevalent in Rajasthan that dates back to the seventeenth century.
Bagru prints are usually on a light brown background whereas Sanganer prints have a white background. In recent years Bagru has been more adventurous in its choice of block-printed designs, whereas Sanganer has turned in no small part to screen-printing.
In western India, cloth-printing blocks are usually made out of teak or `sisum`. Blocks made at Pethapur, near Ahmedabad, are considered to be the best, and other block-carving centres are Farrukhabad, Mathura, Delhi and Jaipur. Poorer village block printers will use second-hand wooden blocks bought from their richer counterparts in the towns. Production in the larger towns is usually in the hands of the `seths`, the merchants who specify the kind of textile to be made, provide all the materials, printing blocks, dyes and fabrics, and contract out the piece rates to craftsmen specializing in each of the different operations required. In general, synthetic dyes have replaced some natural dyes, but the resists and ways of applying them and the sequence of dyeing operations all remain as labour-intensive as ever.
Printed and Painted Textile
The Vaghris were once a wandering caste, some of whom have now settled in Ahmedabad, the great-industrialized city of Gujarat. They make their living outside their houses, in a little lane near the Central Post Office. Block printing and painting shrine cloths, which are known as `matani-pachedi` or `mata-no-chandarvo` are produced here.
Traditionally, the shrine clothes are made for ritual use by members of castes such as sweepers, leather workers, farm laborers, or by the Vaghris themselves. The shrine clothes always have as a central feature, an image of the `mata` - the mother goddess in her fearsome aspect - sitting on her throne, or mounted on an animal, brandishing in her hands the weapons needed to kill demons.
When any of the mata`s devotees suffers illness or misfortune, he goes to the mata`s shrine and vows that he will make a sacrifice to her if she will relieve him of his trouble. If his wish is granted, he pays for the shrine to be cleaned and decorated, and an enclosure made up of `pachedi` (rectangular shrine clothes) is erected around the shrine, with the chandarvo, the great square shrine canopy, draped above it.
A priest-shaman, known as a `bhuvo` conducts a ceremony of chants and a trance-inducing dance. This is followed by the ritual sacrifice, which is the cooking and eating of a young goat. There is always a depletion of a bhuvo-priest, leading a sacrificial animal to the mata, on a pachedi, or chandarvo.
Before the decoration of these clothes can begin, the material must first be freed of starch and then bleached by a process that involves soaking it in a mixture of camel dung and water. Then after washing and drying in the sun, soaking it again, this time in a mixture of salt and cow dung and then boiling.
Next, it is immersed in water containing caustic soda and castor oil, and then dried. Once it has been dipped in a water -based solution of myrobalan and castor oil and dried, it is ready for printing. The motifs of the mata-no-chandarvo are then printed on with large wooden blocks, using a dye made out of rusted iron which has been soaked for a week in sugar solution thickened with a flour of tamarind seeds. This reacts with the myrobalan mordant to produce black. Most of the spaces between the black printed figures are painted with alum and starch using a chewed tooth-stick. The shrine clothes are then passed to Muslim dyers who dye them in vats of alizarin, which reacts with alum to from a deep red color.
`Roghan` is a thick, bright paste that is used to decorate inexpensive textiles. Oil of safflower, castor or linseed, is boiled for a minimum of twelve hours and then poured into cold water, thus forming a thick residue. This is then mixed with chalk, coloured pigment and a binding agent. The sticky roghan mixture is then applied to the cloth, with a short stick or metal rod, which is twisted in the hand to get the roghan to come off the stick and on to the cloth. Roghan can also be block printed on the fabric using metal-faced blocks.
Roghan work is now only done at Nirona village in the Nakatrana Taluka of Kutch, where cloth decorated using this method is used as skirt lengths and for wall hangings. Formerly it was produced at Chowbari in eastern Kutch and at Ahmedabad, Baroda and Patan. In Ahmedabad where skirt and sari borders were a speciality, roghan was painted on one strip then another plain strip was pressed on top. These were left to dry in the sun and then peeled apart, leaving a colored pattern on both strips. When roghan has been dusted with metallic powder it is known as `tinsel work`. After a cloth has been painted or block printed, it is left to dry in the shade. When dry, it is gradually moistened with water, till the roghan softens. Cold or silver powder is then sprinkled on. Printing in this manner is done at Jaipur, Sanganer, Udaipur, Mandasor, Nasik, Ahmedabad, Baroda and Bombay, as well as at several centres in Madras and Andhra Pradesh.
Clothes are tied, either with string or rubber bands into some sort of pattern. Then the clothes are dyed, either by submerging them or by squirting dye solution onto them. Where the fabric is tied, some areas do not absorb dye, forming a pattern. This is known as a resist technique.
The following are the different styles of tie-and-dye works:
`Bandhana` and `bandha` are Sanskrit words meaning `to tie` (and it is from this Indian word that the English name for a spotted handkerchief, `bandanna`, derives), but this tie-and-dye technique is internationally known by its Malay-Indonesian name, `plangi`. The term `bandhani` refers both to the technique and to the finished cloth. By pinching up and resist tying areas of the fabric before dyeing, circular designs may be produced. Rajasthan and Gujarat are famed for their production of fine and prolific bandhani.
Coarser bandhani is worked in Sind and Madhya Pradesh. The traditional garb of the rural women of western India includes the odhni shawl, made with the bandhani method. These shawls are of striking, swirling yellow or white dots, set in stylized floral patterns against a bright red or deep red ground. As part of the traditional set of choli, gaghra and odhni, the bandhani odhni looks stunningly colorful.
When simply tied, bandhani textiles are inexpensive and this is one of the cheapest ways for women of the poorer communities to dress in a colourful fashion. When tied with many fine knots, the price of bandhani rises steeply and is then the preserve of the richer classes. In Gujarat very fine bandhani odhnis tied on silk or fine quality cotton are worn as wedding garments by the women of the richer communities of merchants, landlords and the higher class of craftsmen. A bandhani sari that is traditionally worn for Gujarati weddings, and one that has become increasingly popular, is the `garchola`.
The Garchola is patterned with a gridwork of small bandhani squares of yellow dots against a bright red background, with motifs of lotus flowers, dancing women and elephants. The centres for this fine work, as well as for much of the simple work, are in Kutch and Saurashtra.
Bhuj is a town with great many bandhani workers, but it is in the beautiful old coastal port of Mandvi that some of the finest bandhani in India is tied. Kutchi bandhani patterns and colors tend to be more traditional, as they still have a local market to serve, though most Kutchi bandhani is commissioned by the merchants of Jamnagar, where it is often taken for the final dyeing process which adds red to the colors of the cloth. The water around Jamnagar is reputed to bring out the brightest red.
The largest bandhani workshops are in Saurashtra, especially at Jamnagar, though bandhani is also made at Porbandar, Morvi, Rajkot, and at Wadwhan, near Surendranagar. Simpler bandhani is made around Ahmedabad at Pethapur and at Deesa, in north Gujarat.
All these towns have good river water available for dyeing and rinsing. The craft of bandhani is practised at many places in Rajasthan, but the finest bandhani is tied at Bikaner, and in Sikar district. In Rajasthan, a greater number of colors are used than in Gujarat and a lot of the colors are spot dyed by hand, rather than by being submerged in a dye-bath.
Mainly women or young girls carry out the tying of bandhani textiles within the home. The material used is thin mill-made cloth, either a loosely woven silk known as `georgette`, or cotton known as `malmal`. The white, generally unbleached cloth is folded into four or more layers before the tying commences. The traditional technique of laying out the pattern in pins or nails set in a wooden block, upon which dampened cloth is placed and then pinched up between the nails with thumb and forefinger has long fallen into disuse.
Two methods are currently employed, the first using wholly traditional materials. The `Rangara` (colorer) first marks off the fields with a cord dipped in a fugitive mixture, which in Kutch is known as `geru`. This is usually a water-based solution of ruddle (red ochre) but can be of burnt sienna, or even soot. Then he stamps out with geru coated wooden printing blocks the individual patterns. Any gaps in this printed pattern are made good by tracing over with a bamboo split.
A much faster and more precise method has become increasingly popular. A thin sheet of stiff, clear plastic is pierced with pinholes forming the desired pattern. The sheet is then placed over the fabric to be tied and a sponge or rag dipped in geru is then washed over the sheet, leaving an imprint of the desired pattern on the cloth.
Once the pattern has been transferred to the cloth, the tying and dyeing can be undertaken in five stages:
- With the fabric lying loose on the lap, the pattern is tied with plain cotton yarn. The material is pushed up from underneath with the long, pointed nail of the little finger of the left hand (or if this finger-nail is broken, a spiked metal ring is used). The knob of protruding cloth is then very rapidly tied round six to eight times and the thread led on, uncut, to tie up the next knob, and so on until all the dots to be left white are tied. These ties will act as a resist when the fabric is dyed, and upon untying will leave a pattern of little white rings, each with a tiny centre colored by the last dye to be applied. (The fabric is always dyed with the lightest colors first.)
- After the initial tying, the cloth is usually dyed with yellow or, very occasionally, another light color.
- Once it has been rinsed, squeezed and dried the cloth is tied again in the pattern that is to appear as yellow dots, and then dyed in darker colors such as green or red.
- If darker colours like black, brown or dark red are required, the cloth is tied again in the pattern that will appear as green or red dots. The parts of the cloth that are not to be dyed by the darkest colors are wrapped tightly in plastic, to stop them from absorbing the dye.
- After the last dyeing processes have been completed, the cloth is washed and, if necessary, starched.
It should be noted that spots of colour could also be applied by hand, or by dip dyeing at different stages of the process. This technique is used a good deal in Rajasthan, but only sparingly in Gujarat. Light colours can be applied after the cloth has been dyed yellow and before it is tied for the application of the next darker colour. Alternatively, at the end of the dyeing processes, particular white and yellow dots can be untied and spots of a darker colour, like blue, can be applied.
The finished cloth of two or three bright colors, against a dark background, is sold with its ties still intact. This shows that it is a genuine bandhani and not a printed imitation.
Before World War II, Indonesia was a major buyer of patolas. Historically, the art of Double Ikat patola weaving dates back to centuries. Paintings in Ajanta caves resemble the tie-dye technique of patola. Legend indicates that sometimes in the 12th Century AD, King Kumarpal of Solanki dynasty invited 700 families of patola weavers from Jalna (South Maharashtra) to settle down in Patan in North Gujarat.
Salvi family is one of them who has continued this traditional art and has preserved it even today.
The technique involved in Patan Patola is that both the warp and the weft threads are tied in areas where the original is to be retained and then dyed. They continue to tie the threads from the lighter color to the darker color until the final pattern is dyed on to the unwove thread. After this both tied and dyed weft and warp threads are woven and the design emerges. This is known as patola.
Internationally this technique is known as ikat, an Indonesian word. The finest example of ikat known in the world is the patola of Patan, which is the double ikat, where the warp and weft is the tied and dyed before they are woven. The pattern emerges as the warp is laid out and then gets brilliantly delineated when the weft is thrown across. Tenganan in Bali is the only other centre where double ikat is still practiced. Salvi communities, who weave the patola in Patan, have perfected this technique into a fine art.
The warp for the border and the body are prepared separately. The warp is then stretched in a narrow long street using lease rods to stretch the threads. The pattern to be created is marked by using powdered charcoal mixed in water. The weft is prepared by wrapping it around two rods, which are inserted in to a beam stretched according to the required width. Inserting thick twisted cotton threads between them separates the groups of weft. The pattern is then tied. First those sections, which are remaining white, are tied, since the design is outlined in the base color. The main pattern color emerges during this process. The final dye bath is the main background color, which more often than not is red. Each color requires that the tied sections are untied and threads to be protected are tied and then the cloth is dyed. This process is painstaking and great precision is required from the very beginning, when the warp and the weft are prepared, and when the warp threads are laid.
The dyed warp threads are once again stretched to their entire length, which is normally 20 yards, needed for saris. The warp for the borders is attached at this stage and the entire warp of the sari is then tied to the lease rods, rolled and stored ready for weaving. This is then mounted on the simple single harness loom and the weft threads are reeled into the shuttle bobbins. The beam is placed at an angle with one side raised higher. The weft is thrown across and is carefully adjusted often with the use of a long needle so that the patterns synchronize and solid color emerges. So the patterns are based on a square grid, the lines are never distinct, causing a slight haziness, giving the impression of viewing the pattern through flowing water.
Patan used to export patolas from ancient times to the Far East. In Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia the patola played an important part in rituals and ceremonies and became integral part of their lives. A large scarf or kerchief with the line motif was a popular item, which was sent out from Multan to Java. Since Cambay, today`s Khambhat, was another port from which patolas were exported, the name Cambay became associated with them. Some of the motifs drawn from the repertoire of these countries were absorbed into the designs woven on the saris for local use.
The saris have patterns like the pan bhat, leaf pattern, the nari-kunjar-jhar, lady, elephant and plant motif, enclosed in a border or a jal, trellis work pattern. Chhabadi bhat, basket design, chowkdi bhat, square or lozenges, pattern with flowers in each corner, ratan chowk bhat, the jeweled square, raas bhat, the circular dance design, vohra gaji bhat, the design woven for the Vohra community, and many others.
Today only three families of Salvis continue this tradition in Patan. As a result of a training centre started by the Khadi and Village Industries Board in the late fifties, single ikat saris are being woven in Rajkot also.
The products of the patola loom are predominantly sari lengths, which are among the most famous textiles in the world. These double ikat textiles were woven in Patan, Surat and other centers, but there are now only two families of Jains weaving them in Patan. Cheaper patola imitations are woven in single ikat at Rajkot, Saurashtra, and in both single and double ikat in Andhra Pradesh in the south.
Within Gujarat and some adjacent areas, the richer Hindu, Jain and Muslim communities each had their own preferred patterns. Motifs were of flowers and jewels, elephants, birds and dancing women, used either around the border or in the central field, and always interspersed with geometric elements. Muslim communities, as would be expected, restricted themselves to abstract designs. All the communities who patronized the patola were wealthy (a patola sari now costs between 15,000 and 30,000 rupees); it was never a fabric the common man could afford. Indeed, patola was valued for its purity, because it was made of silk and, in addition to that, the weavers were of high caste.
The influence of patola was not restricted to India. Probably before, and certainly during the period of the European domination of Asia`s sea routes, patola cloth was exported to the Indonesian archipelago, where it was used for ritual and court wear. Some of the very finest patola work, with many of the most striking designs, was sent to Indonesia. Fine patola in the `vagh-na-kunjar` (elephant-and-tiger) design were particularly popular. Much of this export patola, however, was of coarser and looser weaves than that made for the home market.
Although the loom of the patola weaver looks simple, the methods of yarn preparation, weaving and adjustments to the woven cloth are labor-intensive requiring patience and excellent skills.
The Gujarat region is generally considered the home of silk and brocade weaving in India. Until recent times, Ahmedabad, Surat, Jamnagar and other towns in Gujarat produced `kinkhab` brocade. Motifs, small in scale, of flowers, animals, birds and human figures were set out in regular horizontal rows, against a purple, red or green background. This Gujarati kinkhab was used for furnishing cloth or as skirt lengths. The other important weaving centres are Paithan and Aurangabad in Maharashtra, and Maheshwar and Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh. Paithani saris are famous for their brocade `pallavs`, which were woven with a weft of gold thread. The saris of Chanderi, near Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, with silk warps and cotton wefts, have stylistic similarities to those of Paithan. Whereas those of Maheshwar in southwest Madhya Pradesh, traditionally have a checkered field with reversible borders. This is to ensure that the border pattern is the same on both faces of the cloth.
Surat`s Zari Industry
Surat is a famous port, situated in south Gujarat, north of Bombay. Three centuries ago, it was one of the biggest cities in India and the chief port of the Mughal Empire. At Surat is produced nearly all India`s zari (metal thread for brocading and embroidery), and the thin silver wire used for weaving.
The traditional method of manufacture involves the fusing of a covering of real gold on to a solid silver bar in a furnace. Then the metal is drawn through a series of dies of ever decreasing diameter, until thread of the fineness of human hair is obtained. This wire, by now a few miles long, will still retain a covering of fused gold. It is then beaten flat and wrapped around a silk thread.
In Mughal times, before Bombay superseded it as the main west-coast port, Surat was the premier port for the Haj pilgrims. These pilgrims provided the market for zari-work weaves and embroidery. The zari industry declined in the nineteenth century, due to competition from French machine-made zari thread, and only revived after the industry was given tariff protection in the 1920s. From then on, Surat maintained a stranglehold over the Indian market. Although it lost some of its main markets in Pakistan in 1947, it has recovered through partial mechanization and the introduction of artificial zari thread, where copper wire is silver gilded by electrolysis.
As we have seen, western India is a prolific area for the production of a great range of textiles. Climatically it is blessed with ideal conditions for growing cotton, and is traversed by slow-moving rivers which, except at monsoon times, are well suited to the washing of textiles necessary between dyeing operations, and whose exposed areas of parched riverbed can be used for the drying of cloth.
Gujarat is very much the textile lynchpin of the area, from where skills of weaving, brocade, block printing, bandhani work and ikat seem to have spread out to the adjoining areas and the rest of India. Gujarat`s geographical position provided easy access to the inland market trade, and from its long coastline Gujarati merchants set out to trade in textiles with the Arab world, Southeast Asia, Indonesia and China.
The rural people of western India comprise of many castes. The diversity and quality of textile crafts is maintained because of the continued strength of traditional demand, with its vast variety of distinct localized preferences.