Author: Wendy Weiss

In celebration of the fourth annual New York Textile Month, members of the Textile Society of America will author Object of the Day for the month of September. A non-profit professional organization of scholars, educators, and artists in the field of textiles, TSA provides an international forum for the exchange and dissemination of information about textiles worldwide.

Acquired in 1946, this well-worn patola or double ikat textile, has a central field pattern known as Ratan Chowk Bhat or jewel mosaic. A border of elephants and parrots flank the side, while a double row of tulip flowers sprout at one end, with an arrowhead motif in single warp ikat at the palluv edge. Telltale signs of wear, cut edges, and hand stitched borders suggest the variety of incarnations this patola must have lived. It likely made its first public appearance at a Gujarati wedding. The mother of the groom may have worn it draped as a sari or it may have been given as a gift to the bridal couple. After much use, the owners stitched a red border to the treasured textile, perhaps to use it as a decorative furnishing in the home.

The motifs in this fabric are popular ones, with extant examples in numerous museum and private collections.[1] In this example, a section of the striped border is stitched over the main field. Possibly it served as a “sari fall,” a piece of fabric hand stitched to a section of the border to provide stability when draped and pleated. It would disappear into the petticoat at the waist. Normally, the fall would be made from an applied fabric, suggesting a different explanation for this alteration, where the actual fabric border was folded and handsewn to the main field. A patola virtually identical to the one illustrated here is reproduced in The Patola of Gujarat, showing the alternating elephant (kunjar) and parrot (popat) border pattern.[2] Sometimes the decorative endpiece, the palluv, was cut off the body of the fabric, for another use or to reclaim the precious silver thread.[3]

This odhani or sari was made in the double ikat technique of Gujarat, India, probably in Patan. To produce the complex color design, the threads were grouped and bound with cotton to resist dye the desired pattern. Look closely at the top right to see the red parrot reverse direction, indicating where the warp was folded for the binding process. Most likely members of the household of weavers completed each of the tasks required to prepare the silk thread for dyeing and weaving. The binder—the person who tied the cotton resist threads onto the measured sets of warp and weft yarns—marked regular lines of charcoal across the length of the mounted threads, creating a veritable grid, before binding the design. Areas meant to remain white were bound first. Careful sequencing of the dye procedure required that some bindings remained in place, others were removed to receive dye, and still more binding was added to preserve specific colors. This process was repeated for both the warp and weft. The weaver, working with an assistant, aligned the threads exactly when weaving the cloth, to produce the pattern. The cloth demanded time consuming work by a team of people, establishing the value and cherished quality of the double ikat patola of Patan, Gujarat.

Wendy Weiss is a weaver and natural dyer. Two Fulbright-Nehru Senior Scholar Research Awards allowed her to study ikat in Gujarat with master weaver, Vitthalbhai Vaghela, and she in turn provided training on digital design platforms to weavers.

[1] For example, see Victoria and Albert Museum, IS.195-1960; Ikat, The Aichhorn Collection, Vol. 1, (2016) 53; and Mrinalini Sarabhai, Patolas and Resist-Dyed Fabrics of India, (Middletown, NJ, Mapin Publishing, 1988), 8-9, 64.

[2] Alfred Bühler and Eberhard Fisher, The Patola of Gujarat: Double Ikat in India, vol. 2 (Basle, Switzerland: Krebs AG, 1979), see color illustration, Plate XX and black and white illustrating both side borders, plate 55.

[3] Alfred Bühler and Eberhard Fisher, The Patola of Gujarat: Double Ikat in India, vol. 1 (Basle, Switzerland: Krebs AG, 1979), 15.

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