Paresh Patel, 35, is spinning a time-honoured textile tale. At his workshop in Ridrol, near Ahmedabad, he is supervising the weaving of brocades made especially for the Thai textile market. The designs are based on patterns of sarongs that were made in Ahmedabad during the 1800s and 1900s. Patel, who comes from a long line of weavers, recounts how the brocades called Ashavali fabrics were exported to several countries.
“Gujarat was the centre for brocades between 10th and 11th century. Ahmedabad was called Ashaval after Asha, a tribal chieftain of the area. Later it was renamed Karnavati after a Solanki Rajput ruler, and then Sultan Ahmed Shah in 1411 built his capital city of Ahmedabad at this site. Brocades were in demand among the ruling families. Sashes for the Mughal emperors had Persian or Mughal influences, with stylised paisleys, floral borders, creeping vines and other themes done in pure gold thread. Therefore, my label for Ashavali textiles is called Royal Brocades,” says Patel.
A distinctive feature of the Ashavali brocades is the jewelled or enameled look made by strong outlines in a contrasting colour. However, after the decline of the Gujarat sultanate, Ashavali brocades were only woven for mercantile families. Apart from clothing, the brocades were also used for canopies, floor spreads, hangings, yardages, saddlecloths, bags and fans. Researchers have found that weavers from Gujarat migrated to other regions to escape a fire in Ahmedabad around 1300 AD. This led to the weaving of brocades in Varanasi and Tamil Nadu. But Ashavali continued to be in demand for pallus and borders to adorn saris and odhanis (Indian scarf).
With the boom of textile mills, weavers moved to nearby villages such as Ridrol, Nardipur, Upera, Gajhariaya and Charda. One of them was Patel’s grandfather Somabhai, who set up looms in the first half of the 20th century. Over the last few decades, Ashavali has become unprofitable for weavers. “It is a labour-intensive process, and weavers outsource the punching of the cards, dying and other processes. The rising labour costs make it expensive,” rues Patel.
But he continues to revive old weaving styles and motifs, and experiments with designs. “Silk and metallic thread are traditionally used, but I have added wool and other fibres. I have introduced the ikat process of dyeing yarn and created fabrics with indigo. In this era when sustainability is focal point, the fact that I am using traditional pitlooms and vegetable dyes is fascinating for tourists who visit my unit,” he says.