Patola silk has a royal history. It is believed that in the 12th century silk weavers from the Indian states, Karnataka and Maharashtra went to Gujarat to acquire the patronage of the Rajput Kings. The Kings ruled Gujarat and other parts of western India at the time. Legend says that over seven hundred patola weavers came to the palace of King Kumarapala and the ruler himself used to dress in patola silk on special occasions. The intricate designs and intense labour made this fabric very expensive. Patola saris quickly became a sign of royalty and aristocracy. After the decline of the empire, the weavers founded a rich trade in Gujarat. With the onset of machine-made fabrics and the high price of patola silk, the art gradually declined and lost patronage.
Patola-weaving was and remains a closely guarded family tradition. The patola is woven on a primitive hand operated loom made out of rosewood and bamboo. There are few families left that weave these heritage saris. Depending on the design, it can take up to three months to make one sari (about 6 meters of fabric).
In making patolas, silk is always used as a yarn. Patola weavers use the "Ikat" technique which involves tying and dying warp fibres in desired exquisite design patterns prior to weaving. Though Ikat is used in many regions in India and Southeast Asia, each region has its unique motifs and significance.
After dyeing, the warp threads of a pattern are put together in a sequence on the bamboo hand-loom, so that the design becomes visible. While weaving, the weft is interlaced into the warp with extreme dexterity and precision to get the desired motifs.