weaving magic

17th-century patka at Bharat Kala Bhavan

17th-century patka at Bharat Kala Bhavan

My studies of the Kashmir shawl have been blessed by an abundance of visual resources in the many lavish, large-format picturebooks – not to diminish the authors’ texts and ideas.  Because of the interest in dating individual shawls, often from little more than their placement within the design history, the pictures are usually arranged to illustrate the evolution of style from early botanical naturalism to the irresistible influences of foreign markets, technological changes, and fashion’s craving for newness.  As a tapestryweaver I respond most to the early painstaking representations of real flowers, and the recognizable bouquets, sprigs, and meandering vines they directly inspired.
There is a shawl that I have found extraordinarily elegant in the restraint of its composition and the naturalism of its imagery, that I have kept returning to, to analyse and reconstruct the three basic pattern repeats that are intricate in themselves but simply-arranged to form the whole design.
It’s described as a patka, a narrow length of shawlweaving worn as a waistband, dated variously as from early or late in the 17th century, from which few fragments of fragile pashmina fabric survive, let alone such an intact and beautiful example.  Today it resides in the collections of Bharat Kala Bhavan, Benares Hindu University at Varanasi, and the clearest published photo I have of it is from “Pashmina: The Kashmir Shawl and Beyond” by Janet Rizvi with Monisha Ahmed, Marg Publications, Mumbai, 2009, p. 76, photo by Dilip Kumar.  As a gardener, I’m drawn to the fact that the floral subject of this design is the columbine (aquilegia sp.), just like ones which have colonized the roadside ditch outside my rural Canadian home.  The Mughals were connoisseurs and patrons of flower gardens – no surprise that as the patrons of shawlweaving they would appreciate a recognizable and flattering portrait.
component designs

The patka as a whole demonstrates a straightforward use of the principle that the overall composition can be efficiently archived and reproduced by the weaver simply repeating pattern units of a manageable size.  Three pattern units are all that were required: the main motif a boteh composed of blossoms and leaves repeated across the palla end-panels, enclosed by a band design above and below, and a side-border hashia design running the length of all, with a plain central field.
band pattern in repeathashia in repeatOne of my earliest reconstructions leading to a woven sample was of the band design – the size of the repeat is 34 lines of talim instructions (68 wefts) long by 81 nals (324 warps) wide.  The hashia design obviously has different proportions and is more elaborate, 42 nals (164 warps) wide, by 284 lines of talim (568 wefts) long in one complete repeat, but the second half of the unit is the reverse of the first half, so “only” 142 lines of talim are required – for the second half each talim line can just be read in reverse.

original - brick grid - square grid


Now I want to tackle the project of drafting the entire boteh motif, leading to a woven sample copy.  Up until now I have drafted one selected blossom and woven samples to illustrate another key point in the process, whether a line of talim instructions should be followed for two, or four, weft picks.  This draft will contribute to the overall draft, as I follow a process I developed before, of assembling the drafts of individually-worked-out details.  The one blossom covers about 30 nals (120 warps) in 50 talim lines (100 wefts), projecting the size of the complete motif to be about 90 nals (360 warps) wide in 400 lines (800 wefts) of talim.
Tasara Feb 2014This winter 2013-14, I hope to be visiting India while I undertake the project, with a loom set aside for me at Tasara Centre for Creative Weaving, in Calicut/Kozhikode, and I will be available for consultation and travel.  Contact me by e-mail.
With the completion of this boteh design draft and revision of the two border designs in the light of now having a clearer published photo, an accurate modern reproduction of the whole ensemble can be attempted, of this rare and beautiful 400-year-old precedent, using traditional talim and weaving techniques, by traditional weavers.  I would be pleased to provide the talim.


~ by Peter Harris on 06/11/2013.

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