Sitalpati is traditionally used as a sleeping mat having cooling effect. There are various kinds of Pati like Mota Pati, Dala Pati, Sitalpati, Mihi Sital, Bhushnai Pati etc. Mihipati is a better quality pati woven with Soru Sital. The finest Pati is the Bhusnai Sital. The best quality Patis are not made presently as the crafts persons do not get proper price for them. Though the sleeping or sitting mat is still the main product of Sitalpati, the artisans also make bag, folder, hat, mobile cover, coaster, panels and other home décor items, jewellery, lampshade with pati.
The weaving of Sitalpati involves a number of complicated processes.
Preparing the cane strips: After harvesting, the crop is soaked in water and sliced length-wise to obtain strips according to one’s specific needs. The cane is stripped in layers. The tough pulpy interior is first discarded and used for fuel when dried. The ash, when diluted and strained is said to be an excellent detergent and have strong bleaching qualities. The top layers of the stem and the branch are then sectioned into separate qualities of cane. The first cut that is obtained is called “chhotu” which is used for rough work owing to its extremely low and fibrous quality. The layer above that is referred to as Buka. Buka can be further layered down to another level to obtain the finest quality of cane that only contains the shiny top layer of the crop. This cut is used for finest works and provides a smooth and uniform finish. The surface texture is silky smooth with minimal apparent fibre. For making Sitalpati, the cane slips are kept in rice water for 24 hours and then boiled in the same. Then it is washed in water and kept in sun light for drying. After drying, it is left on the ground for night dew to accumulate on it which increases the finesse of the fibre. There is another variation where the cane strips are kept in water for 6-7 hours and not boiled.
Weaving: Women perform the weaving work with few exceptions here and there and they do 2 dimensional flat weaves. Common weaves are mostly diagonal. 2 or 3 slips overlapping 2 or 3 slips respectively (called 2 or 3 gachha). The open ended slips of this weave are closed on themselves. This is called muri bandha. Simple geometric patterns are developed using white (sada sital) and red (laal sital) slips of pati in both straight and diagonal weaves. The open ends of these weaves are closed on separate slips running parallel to that side. Straight woven patterns (chiknai) are rare. Complex imagery is also developed using the diagonal weaves (peacocks, lakshmi’s pot, elephant, deer,fish, etc). This is called Kamal kosh. Such skill is rare in the community. Extremely fine slips are used to develop delicate designs and intricate patterns called bhushnai. Such skills are also rare.
Colour: The colours of the strips are obtained after their slicing through various methods of processing. The natural reddish brown hue of the cane is obtained by soaking and sun-drying the strips alternatively over a whole day. During winters, the processing time might extend up to two days at a stretch. The natural white tone is created by boiling strips and then sun-drying them. Natural White and Reddish brown hues of Pati fibers are sometimes artificially coloured with synthetic dyes. Various designs are then woven with these coloured strands to get different effects.
Products and technique: Single sheet of woven fiber is generally shaped and tailored with faux leather/Rexine trimmings to achieve the structure desired in case of products like bags, hat, slippers etc. The stitch lines are visible on the surface of the products and are not well finished. Some products are made by weaving a 3D shape picking 2/3/4 corners. (jholui style). Jholui’s are made only using the diagonal weaves. Corners are turned from the mid-point of each side of a rectangular woven piece. Products are aimed at the local and other low end markets.
The steps of making Sitalpati
Mukta (pearls) is the local name for Maranta dichotoma as the fruits of the plant resemble pearls. According to local beliefs Lord Krishna wanted Radha to gift him pearls. Radha denied the gift. Krishna said he himself would grow pearls in a garden and planted a certain plant which grew that very day and bore seeds that looked and shined like pearls. Out of 12 famous gardens in Vrindavan, one is Mukta.