One of the only surviving examples of hand-spun cotton in India, Patnulu khadi is spun using the single-spindle Gandhi charkha as opposed to the multi-spindle ambar charkha. The textile is prepared in a variety of counts, ranging from a coarse thread count of 44 to a finer count of 100.
Patnulu khadi is also known as Ponduru khadi, after the Ponduru village in Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh, where the yarn is spun manually using indigenous tools by women of the Pattusali community. After the yarn is spun, it is woven in a process that is undertaken by both men and women of the community. At present, there are over 300 spinners and 350 weavers engaged in the production of the fabric in Srikakulam and neighbouring Vizianagaram, of which only about fifty spinners and fifteen weavers live in Ponduru.
The cloth is spun on a single-spindle charkha using two indigenous varieties of short-staple cotton cultivated in the area and used exclusively for Patnulu spinning — konda patti (“hill cotton”), which is used in the production of cloth with finer counts, and yerra patti (“red cotton”), which is used for coarser thread counts. The cotton is first ginned using the jawbone of the catfish to separate the seeds and impurities from the wool before it is straightened using a balni (a hand-operated double drum roller). The repeated use of the balni ensures that the cotton fibre attains a smooth texture. Additional impurities are cleaned through carding the cotton wool using a carding bow, with a spinner continuously plucking the string of the bow to open up the loose cotton. The resulting airy fibre is rolled into a sliver using a rolling pin, and the sliver is held within a dry banana stem from which the spinner draws and twists the cotton to make yarn and wind it onto the spindle of the charkha. The yarn is then wound around the spindle to create hanks that are used for weaving. The yarn may be dyed in vegetable or chemical dyes depending on the kind of cloth being produced.
Once the yarn is prepared, it is stretched out by winding it on bamboo stalks placed at even distances. The stretched yarn is then spread out on the street and sized by applying dried rice gruel and brushing it multiple times to strengthen it. Subsequently, the yarn is wound on a beam and drafted through the loom in order to achieve the required yarn length. The weft is prepared by winding the yarn hanks around pirns inserted in shuttles.
The weaving process involves two weavers, who weave the textile on a pit loom using the fly shuttle technique, although some weavers also use the frame loom. The fabric may be woven using the plain weave, basket weave or twill weave, depending on the nature of the product. Sometimes designs may be woven using the supplementary weft technique or inlaid in the fabric as seen in jamdani. However, the most common form of Patnulu khadi is the plain, undyed cloth in ivory or cream colour, depending on the variety of cotton used.
The textile became popular after MK Gandhi visited the village in the 1920s. He subsequently sent his son Devdas Gandhi to the village to research the process. The adoption of khadi spinning as a nationwide symbol of resistance and self-reliance helped further establish Ponduru as a major khadi-spinning centre in independent India. In 1949, the Andhra Fine Khadi Karmikabhviruddhi Sangham (AFKKS) was established to promote and market Ponduru khadi products. Since 1956, the AFKKS has been managed by the Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC).
Today, commercially sold Patnulu khadi products consist primarily of undyed or plain fabric, as well as woven sarees and dhotis made on a per-order basis. There have also been sustained efforts to provide intellectual property protection and support to the spinners and weavers through the establishment of handloom clusters. To preserve the textile, the Intellectual Property Facilitation Centre’sTechnology and Support Centre in Visakhapatnam prepared a proposal to attain a Geographical Indication tag for Patnulu khadi. The textile was also highlighted during the National Handloom Day 2021.
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