Life & Style

Belaa Sanghvi on challenges of handloom

BHUMIKA K 27 October 2021 12:09 IST
Updated: 28 October 2021 12:35 IST

Yet, the textile revivalist believes there are innumerable possibilities with innovation and is in the process of creating a new series of Gujarat’s famous Patola sari using the Fibonacci number series

Weaving is such a precise and mathematical process that textile revivalist Belaa Sanghvi is in the process of creating a new series of Gujarat’s famous Patola sari using the Fibonacci number series. “It will be a weft-only Patola and creates asymmetrical designs,” says Belaa on her recent visit to Bengaluru. Various weavers the world over have used the Fibonacci series before for various textiles, but it is probably a first for the Patola.

Belaa collaborated with Bengaluru-based cultural activist Chandra Jain and fashion entrepreneur Yashodhara Shroff for a discussion on The Mystery of the Patola at the BIC. Belaa also later showed her label at the ffolio store just in time for the Deepavali festive season.

The Mumbai-based handloom revivalist and researcher at present works with eight weaver clusters across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. She came into the limelight for her revival of the Ashawal weave, but is a name synonymous with the Patan Patola saree. She broke into the patriarchal weaving community by offering them weaving challenges for which they had to come back to her for solutions, she says.

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Belaa’s family is in the business of making machine looms and textile making machinery, so she never really was far away from weaving. While she lived in the US, she was amazed by the Mughal collection in a textile museum there. But when she came to India and tried tracing the weaving style, she could not find it. And so began her journey trying to trace, research, and revive the Ashawal, a weave initially exclusive to the Mughal courts, brought to Gujarat by traders, and later woven as a sari.

“Consumers are becoming more aware of handloom. That is vital for ensuring markets. If the consumer has information, they understand and are willing to pay more to the karigar (weaver), which translates to better skills and execution.”

“I started off with the Ashawal when no one had even heard of it. As also the Patola. Today people know what is a double Patola (where the design in woven in both the warp and weft, making it a richer fabric) and are able to identify which is a good quality one.”

Belaa has been researching textiles, and gathering information and material for the last 44 years. She has worked with 56 techniques in handloom. Her extensive research is taking shape as two books – one on textile techniques of India, and another on the Patola itself. “I want to create a foundation for my karigars (weavers) so that book sale profits go to them,” says Belaa.

Newer experiments

A tie up with jewellery brand Voylla resulted in a series of Patola textile-based jewellery. “I’m a purist until the number of weavers practising Patola is limited,” says Belaa, indicating that she is open to experimentation. She is still in the initial phase of around three collaborative projects to produce upholstery, jewellery, and bed linen using the Patola weave. “For creating bed linen, we will first have to calculate changes and manufacture larger looms.”

Where areweavers headed

“We live in a country where employment schemes to break stones pay four times more money than spinning khadi. This is an issue plaguing the entire handloom industry.”

Belaa gives an example of the situation in Kanchipuram district (the hub of Kanjeevaram silk saree weaving), where automobile factories pay more with free meals and transport. “Why will anyone not take up such a job?” she argues, stating that hardly 20% of the weavers in the district remain now in the weaving profession. She admits it is also not right to stop a weaver from aspiring for a better quality of life.

She talks of a similar situation in Gujarat with new technologies and options available. Weavers around her are dabbling online in stocks and shares — an easier and faster way of making money. She elaborates with the example of Patola weavers — on an average a weaver, depending on his skill, earns a minimum of ₹2,000 to ₹3,000 per month and a maximum of around ₹15,000 to ₹20,000. When they create a better quality piece, they get a better price. The raw material for the yarn to make a Patola silk saree costs ₹25,000 to ₹30,000. Making a Patola is a complex and mathematical precision process where once the design is decided, the yarn has to be tie-dyed pre-weaving, according to the entire pattern. A good quality double (warp and weft) Patola sari takes sometimes over a year to weave.

“At present there are about five weaving families in Patan district in Gujarat who work with me. They are teaching others. Most of them have one of the three necessary skills – yarn making, tying and dyeing, and weaving. It is rare for a weaver to have all three.”

She also points out how we have such misnomers when we say that Patola is only Gujarati. “It is world heritage. No weaver outside this small region can weave a Patola.”

How social media helped the sari

Sari revival movements in India like the “100sareepact” brought about awareness on various kinds of textiles and saris. “People were wearing and looking good in saris on social media, it inspired everyone. That is why I always tell people…please share your photos on social media,” says Belaa.

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