The cottage industry of hand loomed Chitrali Patti is on decline owing to the emergence of factory-made cloth which is cheaper and finer than the hand-made cloth.
The coarse cloth made of sheep wool, known for its attractive look and durability since long, was also a source of sustenance for a large number of families till 1970s.
With the passing of time, the people of Chitral switched over to other professions and livestock keeping registered a sharp decrease. Keeping livestock has a direct effect on the Patti industry as it provides wool, the main ingredient of the product. The Chitrali Patti is an identity of this remote area as it has been named after the district. A sizeable number of Chitralis in Peshawar established a bazaar for trading this commodity in late 1940s when the Hindu and Sikh traders migrated to India after the partition of sub-continent.
Every village, small or large of the district, used to have a number of looms for weaving Chitrali Patti to supply cloth to the market in Peshawar. The industry provided jobs to thousands of people, both men and women, directly or indirectly when the employment sector was narrowly based. Till last decade, Chitrali Patti had no competitor in the market but it started to face a tough competition in the market in the form of power loomed industry based in Lahore and Swat.
Haji Zahidullah of Chitral says that Chitrali Patti is left far behind the products of power loom, which is three times cheaper than it. Dealing in Chitrali cloth for the last six decades, he says that demand of the locally woven cloth has registered a downward trend among the common people.
He says that the machine woven cloth looks similar to Chitrali Patti in shape and appearance that’s why it is given preference by common people, who want to save money.
Zahidullah says that although Chitrali cloth is superior to the machine woven one in quality and durability, yet its price is out of the reach of a common man. “Only the affluent and status-conscious people purchase it for cloak, coat and waistcoats apart from cap,” the trader says. However, he adds that it is more durable than the machine woven cloth.
Regarding the emergence of the competitor in the market, Anwar Baig, working with a development organisation in private sector, says that in 1990s, the demand for Chitrali Patti increased manifold in the market while the product did not commensurate it leaving a big difference between supply and demand. To fill the gap, the traders approached the textile industry in Faisalabad and Lahore with an idea of manufacturing it on larger scale, he says.
Mr Baig says that the local weavers have curtailed the production drastically which is attributed to a number of factors including the declining tendency of livestock keeping, promotion of female education and the lower amount of dividend derived from the cottage industry.
Mr Baig recalls that in his village Garam Chashma, the production of Chitrali Patti used to be a main source of income in every household in 1980s. Presently the number of such households has decreased by 90 per cent, he adds.
He says that preparation of Patti involves more than five tedious steps while the return is too low to compensate the labour.
Regarding the current prices of both the hand loomed and power loomed cloth, Sadiq Amin, a shopkeeper at Chitrali Bazaar in Peshawar, says that price of power loomed cloth ranges from Rs70 to Rs150 per metre while hand loomed cloth is sold at Rs650 per metre. He said that in the power looms, wool imported from New Zealand is used in weft while cotton thread is used for warp which makes the price lower but the quality inferior.
“In the hand loomed cloth, both the weft and warp are made of pure wool derived from the indigenous sheep whose wool is superior to the imported one,” he says, adding that the customers prefer the power loomed cloth. He notes that the product of hand loom is on sharp decline and it might be the most sought-after and rare thing in near future.
“Shopkeepers in this bazaar used to have two to three trips to Chitral to purchase the Patti but now they go there only once a year due to its scarcity. They have turned to the power loomed product,” he says. The cloth fabricated by the power loom loses its vitality and shine when it is washed once but the hand loomed cloth retains even after being washed for five to six times, he says.
Mohammad Yousuf Shahzad, a retired government officer from Laspur valley of upper Chitral, says that the valleys of Yarkhun, Laspur, Mulkhow and Torkhow were known for the product of local Patti. He says that in the ancient times, the local cloth was the only source of costume and it was used even in beddings. The cloth gives recognition to this remote part (Chitral) of the country, he says, adding that it is an important gift which a local can give to his non-local guests.
Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) has launched a number of projects to promote the industry of local Patti on scientific lines. It has imparted trainings to the farmers and weavers to augment their products and linked them with the national market, ending the role of middle man.
Shubinak, is the organ of AKRSP, which deals with different products of Chtirali Patti but it too has failed to withstand the test of time as it too uses power loomed cloth for its products.
Published in Dawn February 15th , 2015