The black sari or patasi is the distinctive dress of the jyapunis, the women agriculturalists of Lalitpur in the Kathmandu Valley. The women are instantly recognisable by this distinctive black sari with a broad red border. Village-dwelling women in Nepal retain a very traditional repertoire of colours and patterns in their clothing. Choice here is dictated not by changing fashions or taste – as it is in more urban contexts – but by a traditional community-based aesthetic. It is not uncommon to visit a village in Nepal where all the women are dressed in similar clothes, or to go to a fair and with ease distinguish the different communities.
Traditionally made of homespun and hand-woven cotton cloth this dress identifies the wearer’s community; through subtle colour differences it also distinguishes the inhabitants of one village from another.
THE SARI: A DESCRIPTION
The most dramatic sari is about 700 X 75 cm in size, with a strikingly colourful border (kinara), which can vary in width between 3 cm to 10 cm. The kinara, though predominantly red with an orange stripe, can also be yellow, and sometimes green, with strips or other patterns incorporated in various ways. Through these variations the women seek to emphasise their uniqueness and individuality while still retaining their community identity.
The patasi is draped around the body is an unusual manner – it is pleated both in front and at the back thereby allowing easy movement of the legs while doing the heavy work in the field and house. The patasi is also worn much higher than the conventional sari, thus allowing for ease of movement and avoiding excessive wear and tear of the fabric while at work.
PRACTITIONERS & LOCATION
The cloth is woven by men and women belonging to the jyapu agricultural community of Lalitpur in the Kathmandu Valley. They work on traditional hand-operated looms in their leisure hours. The art of dyeing the threads to the dark black colour is the speciality of the ranjitkars, a special caste of dyers.
PROCESS & TECHNIQUE
Traditionally, the white cotton yarn was pre-dyed blue with the washi colour and bought readymade in the market; it was dyed black either at home or with the aid of the ranjitkar. When dyed by the farmer, the black dye was obtained by boiling the bark of the kafal tree with water in a phosi (copper) vessel. The boiled bark yielded a deep black dye extract. After being immersed completely in the black dye bath, the blue coloured threads are taken out, squeezed, and pounded with wooden hammers to ensure that the dye is completely absorbed by the yarn. This process is repeated three to four times, until the threads become completely black. The blackened threads are then squeezed and left to dry. When dry the process of weaving the sari starts.
New black-dye methods that are replacing traditional methods include the use of potash in combination with papado (a vegetable root) and copper sulphate that is used as a mordant. This technique uses white yarn that is locally purchased and not the traditional washi dyed yarn.