At the Selvedge Winter Fair, the Crea team also met Jennifer Evans, who divides her time between Wales and India, from where she imports gorgeous throws and other textiles for her company Jenpatola. ‘Patola’ is a complicated kind of weaving called double ikat, used to make beautiful sari fabric in Patan, Gujarat. The threads are tie-dyed according to the pattern before being woven. So, having discovered that, we went on to ask her…
What are Jenpatola’s origins?
Jenpatola has existed for about 12 years. I worked for many years in the NHS but in my fifties, I went travelling for two ‘gap’ years, loved India andset up a business enabling me to visit there often. I love textiles so I go there to source vintage pieces, such as kantha quilts, embroidered blouse fronts, wall hangings and costumes. I commission new, handstitched or woven textiles, such as cotton throws, woven shawls and embroidered bags.
How do you find suppliers and stitchers in a huge country like India?
People in India find you! The staff in your hotel or guesthouse, your driver or guide will have friends or relatives in the textile business. I started off buying things that caught my eye but now I know what sells for me. My travels in Kutch, Gujarat, introduced me to village embroiderers, weavers, block printers and dyers. These skills are hundreds of years old and passed down the generations.
Do techniques vary across the country?
Different areas of India favour different techniques, so in Bengal I look for kantha work; in Rajasthan, block printing and quilt making; and in Kutch, weaving, embroidery and ajrakh printing.
[Note: Ajrakh means ‘keep today’ and is an ancient, painstaking method of printing exquisitely patterned fabric. The pattern is printed on both sides by hand with a wood block and natural dyes, which include rusty iron, tamarind seeds, clay and indigo. There may be an interval of days (hence the name) or weeks between each addition of colour. The result is vibrant, intense, clear, subtle – and altogether glorious and unmatchable hues.]
Tell us how the relationship works between you and your stitchers and designers.
Over the years, I have built up relationships with suppliers and makers. Together we use traditional methods to make textiles suitable for the Western market. I pay fair prices, know how the products are produced, and sell at a modest mark up. This enables me to continue working with the makers, some of whom live in the villages and are dependent on this income.
There has been a surge of interest in Indian textiles – not the items popular in the 70s but textiles with a gentle colour palette and of high quality. I’m always amazed by the quality of workmanship produced in simple surroundings.
Tell us about your specific interest in vintage textiles.
I love vintage textiles and the stories behind them. Kantha work uses a running stitch to join together layers of old saris to make quilts and more recently, shawls and scarves. The reverse is always different from the front.
In the villages of Kutch, the women and girls wear intricately embroidered blouse fronts. I have framed examples and use them as wall art. The Rabari are a semi-nomadic tribe in Gujarat, and I have examples of their wedding blankets handwoven from local wool, then tie-dyed and embroidered.
What plans do you have for the future?
I’ve started putting together my programme of fairs for 2019 and this can be found on the Events page of my website (see below).
I hope to be selling online this year, but in the meantime I post regularly on Instagram and Facebook @jenpatola. I send purchases out to customers by Royal Mail or courier.
Jennifer can be found at several fairs around the UK in March, including the Selvedge Spring Fair at the Assembly Rooms in Bath on 30thMarch. See more of her programme on her website: www.jenpatola.com