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Patola Silk


Gujarat has often been called the Manchester of the East. With its modern textile works this is hardly surprising. However, the State has been involved in the textile trade for centuries and during the time of the Sultanate, Ahmedabad had large factories where brocades were woven.

Almost all parts of the State specialize in some from the exotic textile weaving: the Patola silks are still made by a handful of master weavers from Patan and Surat known for its zari work. However, there is a little village in north west Gujarat which is perhaps not known so well outside the State. This hamlet called Aashaval is home to the Aashavali sari. Creating an Aashavali is a very tedious and time-consuming job as the weaving is done using the age-old technique of jalas.

The distinctive aspect of this fabric is its heavily textured, almost brocade-like quality. The elaborate pallavs and borders are dazzlingly adorned with motifs woven in warm colours. The zari of the sari has a sheen which is muted as it is woven in the twill weave. Diagonal borders in bright colours simulate the effect of enameling on gold. Some Aashavali saris which are for more informal occasions do not have such a spectacular use of zari.

Bright shades relieve the stark monotony of the desert landscape. The embroidered fabrics that come from Banni in Kutch are embellished with mirrors and beads. The Jats, a sub-caste of the Bannis, are known for their refined embroidery skills. The speciality of the embroidery here is the execution of architectural designs known as the heer bharat. The stitch derives its name from the floss-silk (heer). Long stitches, almost three inches running parallel to the warp in one part of the motif and to the weft in the other give it a natural texture. In the centre is a mirror secured with chain-stitch.

The Mochi community, who it is believed, learnt their craft from Muslim craftsmen, have almost perfected the fine art of embroidering chain-stitch on leather. Motifs derived from Mughal and Persian art as well as designs using animal forms are used extensively in their work.

The Ahir and Rabari community, on the other hand decorate the dark background of the fabrics they wear with strikingly vivid embroidery and mirror work. The mirrors are brought into relief by the use of dark coloured thread in herring-bone or button-hole stitch.

Immigrants from Saurashtra, the Kanbis, prefer the use of white, yellow or saffron base cloth for their garments. While working with chain-stitch in colourful motifs, their workmanship is not nearly as fine as that of the Mochis.

In Saurashtra, the most ancient and noteworthy embroidery was done by the Kathi, the oldest known piece being almost a century old. The women of this community showed preference for black cloth embroidered in crimson, violet golden yellow and white with greens and blues sparingly used to balance the colours. The main stitch was an elongated darn and chain-cum-interlacing.

Bead work was introduced into this region at a much later stage. Imported from East Africa around 1850, the Mochi craftsmen were the first to use them. By the turn of the century women of other castes replaced their thread-work by beads. Though the craft has attained a degree of commercialization, even today the finest pieces are those which formed a part of the bride’s dowry almost 30 or 40 years ago.

The best place to see the more exquisite works of Gujarati embroidery, bead work and other similar crafts is at their religious ceremonies, weddings and festivals. It is on these occasions that each caste proudly establishes its identity by wearing its own highly distinctive and original garments. And as long as there will be the hot afternoon sun shining down fiercely at them, the womenfolk from Gujarat will spend those long, hot afternoons spinning yet more of their colourful and aesthetically pleasing wonders.