Once worn only by those belonging to royal and aristocratic families, is a double ikat woven sari, usually made from silk made in Patan, Gujarat, India. A symbol of wealth and coveted by many, these are popular among those who can afford the high prices of these time-honored one-of-a-kind designs. Considered heirlooms, an authentic patola is intricate and stylishly impactful.
The name patola is derived from the Sanskrit word “pattakulla.” There are three families in Patan that weave these highly prized double ikat saris. It is said that this technique is taught to no one in the family, but only to the sons. Patola-weaving is a closely guarded family tradition. It can take six months to one year to make one sari due to the long process of dying each strand separately before weaving them together.
These are made by a resist-dyeing process using the warp and weft technique. The dyeing process is different because the yarns are dyed before the weaving process. The design takes form as the yarn is woven into cloth. This is an incredibly complicated process requiring the weaver to place them correctly to form patterns when woven. Displacement of even a single yarn can disturb the design arrangement which needs careful alignment during weaving. Such intricacy requires extreme precision and patience. The complexity and time-intensiveness is what makes the patola so valuable. The unfading bright colors, reversible sari, and rich history add to their uniqueness.
Patola are renowned for their colorful diversity and geometrical style. There are four distinct patterns which are woven primarily in Gujarat by the salvi community. Double ikat saris with entire designs of parrots, flowers, elephants, and dancing figures are generally used by Jain and Hindu communities. In Muslim communities, saris with geometric designs and flower patterns are typically worn for weddings and other special occasions. Maharashtrian Brahmins wear saris woven with plain, dark colored borders and body, and a bird design called Nari Kunj.
Patolas are essential in ceremonies of these communities for not only their beauty and intricate patterns, but they are believed to have magical powers that ward off evil. Lotus flowers are often weaved into these saris as a sign of fertility and given to brides as a part of her trousseau.
Unlike digital printing and mass-produced textiles, these are skilled artisans weaving artworks. Keeping tradition and handicraft works alive teach new generations of people to appreciate the skill, time, energy, and tradition of patolas. These are not expensive, they are priceless.