WHEN I saw my Patwa artisan, Sathish Patwa, effortlessly making thread beads, I wanted to give it a shot. Three rolls of thread and 25 attempts later, I realised it was anything but simple. Making a thread bead that is even and strong, with a clean finish, is a craft that one masters over many years, Sathish tells me, who has been threading jewellery since he was seven. “I’d come back from school and make thread necklaces and beads at my father’s shop. He was a tough taskmaster and would make me work hard till I got it perfect,” says the 30-year-old, who hails from the Patwa community in Rajasthan.
The Patwas were weavers and today are popular as jewellery makers, working with silver and gold threads. Both Sathish’s father and his uncle, the famous Kailash Patwa from Ajmer, strung necklaces and arm bands for the royalty of Rajasthan, during the British Raaj. Kailashji fondly remembers the days he’d spent at the palaces saying “things have changed so much since then—the jewellery, the attire. It was a different time and a different charm at the havelis.”
Having had the chance to work with some of the best Patwa artisans and Dhokra beading women in Odisha, I realised they used the same techniques, but the knotting styles differed. The women use knots that are very close and tight. Interestingly, the stature of a woman is often decided through her bead work—the more efficient and elaborate the beads, the higher the stature she is given. The craft tradition is passed down the generations, from mothers to daughters, and the designs are mostly inspired from tribal art with slight changes to suit contemporary tastes.
The bead necklaces are named according to the number of threads used—from three to 12. Certain colours are worn to mark special occasions, like white for weddings and green for engagements. Some of the traditional patterns are phulki, hayedi and toteni, which are inspired from nature. No sketches are made; the women verbally decide on the designs.
Since I’ve explored India’s beading and threading techniques, going forward I’m planning to explore similar endangered traditions from around the world, like crochet (looping yarn to create a lace-like fabric) and macramé (a combination of loops and knots), and incorporate them into Zola’s collection of necklaces, anklets and waist belts.
In this context of beaded jewellery, how can I not mention the famous Hyderabadi satlada haar? It refers to a seven-strand necklace made with graded Basra pearls. These are designed without a clasp and the stringing and knotting is done in such a way that all the pearls are displayed in the front, with none hidden behind the neck.