While the tanchoi is closely connected to Banaras and its ancient tradition of silk weaving, its roots can be traced back to China. The most commonly-held belief is that this mesmerising weaving technique made its way to India through Parsi traders travelling the renowned silk route.
The overwhelming view is that Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, a Parsi trader, sponsored three weavers from a traditional weaving family (Joshis) in Surat to travel to China in the during the 19th century. The Chinese appeared to have mastered the skill of silk weaving, therefore their goal was to learn it as well. The brothers took the Chinese teacher's name, Chhoi, who had taught them the fundamentals of the trade, when they returned to India. The three brothers are referred to as "Tan," which is similar to the Gujarati word "tran" for "three." And thus is how "Tanchoi" came to be the name of the silk they learned to weave.
The base colour of the oldest tanchois was seen to be the warp colour, while the design on the right side of the cloth was created by the weft colour. The colour of the weft was observed as the ground on the fabric's reverse, while the patterns were seen in the colour of the warp. A remarkable saree's finished design was created only by the warp and weft.
Tanchois from the 19th century featured a big pallus with bootis or diamond patterns on the body and little and large paisley motifs at both ends. Zari was often designed to characterize attention to a particular aspect of the themes.
For various uses, the tanchoi was also used as fabric sold by the yard. The silky Tanchoi textiles were highly preferred by Parsi ladies for their blouses. Tanchoi sarees also became popular among these women and were soon regarded as an important element of the Parsi bride's trousseau. Wealthy Parsi women often bought tanchoi fabric to manufacture shoes in addition to clothing. This sense of fashion was a gift from China.
At the start of the 20th century, the art of tanchoi weaving had begun to decline. European fashion became more popular, replacing traditional Chinese styles, and power looms were introduced. The decline of tanchoi was also due to changes in the lifestyle of the Parsis, who were the main supporters of this weaving technique. They started to prefer lighter fabrics such as georgettes and lacy textiles over heavy silk fabrics. As a result, production of tanchoi fabrics in Surat came to a halt. However, the craft was eventually revived by weavers from Banaras (Varanasi).
Tanchoi is a complex and technical weaving method that uses either a single or double warp and two to five colors on the weft, often in the same shade. The resulting fabric has a Satin finish and is lightweight and soft to the touch.
- Satin Tanchoi – As the name suggests, it is based on a Satin fabric base of a single color and the weft threads of one or more colors. The additional weft colors can also be used as a body weft.
- Satin Jari Tanchoi – This is an extension of Satin Tanchoi wherein the weft is a combination of either one Silk and one Gold thread or two Silk threads and one Gold thread.
- Atlas or Gilt – The fabric surface is pure satin. In comparison to other fabrics, Atlas or Gilt is heavier and has more shine because of the extra use of zari.
- Mushabbar – This version stands out with its net woven design to appear as bushes or branches of a tree. The Mushabbar design is often associated with a jungle or nature’s greenery