Patan Patola of Gujarat is the most extraordinary woven sarees anywhere in the world. It is only in Bali, Indonesia that this type of weave is created. The technique involved 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 patter is dyed on to the un-woven 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 are 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 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 outline 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 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 these sarees. The warp for the borders is attached at this stage and the entire warp of the saree is then tied to the 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 an 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, todays 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 sarees for local use.
The sarees have patterns like the pan bhat, leaf pattern, the nari-kunjar-jhar, lady, elephant, 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 jewelled 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 sarees are being woven in Rajkot also.
Ikat weaving is done in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. In Pochampalli, Andhra Pradesh, it is known as pagdu bandha baddabhasi or chilka. The finer tie and dye patterns earlier woven in Chirala were woven in geometric patterns, known as telia-rumal. The origin of this style is not known; some trace it to Gujarat, others to Orissa. Yet another possibility is that it might have been developed in Jalna, since the fishermen of the coast used the rumals. In rural areas people still use the rumal as turban and as an upper cloth called baddabhasi. The telia rumal used to be exported to Aden in large quantities in the early 19th century and were then distributed to the Gulf countries and Africa.
Pochampalli began the production of these rumals as late as the beginning of the last century and began to export them to Iran and the Gulf. The Second World War disrupted the trade causing difficulties to the weavers. In 1955-56, Pochampalli was a poor isolated village with not even a road. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, who was the Chairman of the All India Handicrafts Board, went by jeep to Pochampalli. She persuaded the weavers to weave the first cotton saree of 60 counts, which proved to be very popular and the weaver seized the opportunity to begin producing sarees. Later the Board sent two weavers to Varanasi to study silk weaving and this resulted in the production of ikat work silk sarees, for which the demand has been growing steadily. Today Pochampalli is a prosperous village and a few master weavers are also copying the Patan patola. The weaving of ikat furnishing is now done in the entire Nalgonda district and involves nearly 18,000 looms.
Orissa has a distinctive style of ikat known as bandha. In this tradition the single ikat is worked in the warp and the borders are prepared separately. The Sambalpur Vachitraouri sarees has an extra warp pattern on the body and a Hand-Printed, Dyed and Painted Fabrics extra warp pattern on the pallu, while the shkarpara designs of squares of different colors-white, red and black- are in double ikat. The famous silk ikat sarees of Navapatan combine woven patterns on the border and pallu. They also wove calligraphic ikat shawls with verses from Geeta Govinda, which were offered to Lord Jagannath at Puri.