Natural dyeing & blockprinting workshop in Kutch, India

Posted on April 20, 2019 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

Somaiya Kala Vidya  india

 

After my 10-day textiles workshop in Japan last year, I wanted to learn more about natural and indigo dyeing, so I did the Natural dyeing course for two terms at Morley College in London. The more I learnt about the subject, the more I realised that India had to be my next textile desintation. Despite wanting to visit India for years, it was textiles that made me set foot on Indian soil for the first time.

 

kutch

 

Since I had never visited India before, I was quite anxious about travelling alone, hence I decided to look for a group tour and workshop that focused on textiles. The task turned out to be harder than I imagined... many textiles-themed tours are either extremely pricey (and outrageously so), or the dates didn't work for me, or they were already full. My original plan was to visit Rajasthan (like most first-timers), but somehow ended up spending more than three weeks in Kutch/Gujarat instead. Yet I had the most amazing time exploring this less-touristy region of India. I can also say that this region's textiles are diverse and rich, which was an eye-opening experience for me.

 

textiles  bandhani

textiles workshop

 

As I was searching for a practical textiles course in India, I came across Somaiya Kala Vidyaan educational institute/NGO that supports local traditioanl artisans in Kutch founded by an American lady, Judy Frater. There wasn't a great of info/review about the workshops for foreigners, but I contacted them anyway. Unlike other textiles workshops, the institute does not host regular workshops, so they would cater for each individual's requests and invite the specialised artisan to the school to teach the workshop. Strictly speaking, the campus is not catered for foreign students and it lacks the proper facilities, but I thoroughly enjoyed my 5-day textiles workshop and learned a lot from the two wonderful Kutch artisans.

Due to limited time, I decided to focus on natural dyeing and bandhani (Indian tie-dyeing technique), though I was hoping that I could try Ajrakh block printing as well. Luckily, a week before my arrival, I found out that I would be joined by an American author who had traveled to India to do research for her forthcoming book on the history of textiles. She had requested to learn block printing, hence it meant that we could learn both techniques during the workshop.

 

textiles workshop  myrobalan

img_7297  natural dyeing workshop

Top right: myrobalan: botton left: pomegranite skin

 

Over the five days, we prepared dye baths with the following: walnut, madder, rhubarb, eupatorium (flowers), lac (extract from the scale insect Laccifer lacca), annatto (seeds of the achiote tree), marigold flowers and indigo. In order to prepare the dye, we had to let it simmer with water for at least one hour. Usually a mordant (a substance used to set the dyes on fabrics) is needed for natural dyeing (except for indigo), and alum (Aluminium sulfate) is the most commonly used. In India, however, an extra mordant is used and it is called myrobalan (Terminalia chebula), which is fruit of a deciduous tree that is native to S.Asia. The fruit is rich in tannin, and produces butter yellow colour, which is often used as a primary component for cotton dyeing in India. I have never come across this dye before, so I was very intrigued by it.

One of the joys of natural dyeing is that you can play around with the tie-dye technique by first dyeing the fabric in one colour, and then overdyeing part of the fabric in another dye to create overlapping patterns and colours. The possibiilities are endless, and it can bring some pleasant surprises.

 

marigold flowers

annetto

natural dyeing

madder

Top: marigold flowers, 2nd row: annetto seeds

 

In Kutch, bandhani (meaning 'to tie') is a technique practiced by the Muslim and Hindu Khatri communities. It was brought to Kutch in the 16th century by craftsmen from Sindh (now Pakistan). Kutch is a well-known region for bandhani production, and you can often see women's outfits featuring the tiny dotted patterns. Traditionally, Khatri women would do the tie-dye, while men would dye the fabrics (cotton/wool/silk) in natural dyes. Unfortunately, due to mass production these days, the cheaper textiles are synthetically dyed, and are causing much environmental damage.

 

natural dyeing

natural dyeing

natural dyeing  natural dyeing

natural dyeing

natural dyeing  natural dyeing

natural dyeing

 

After experimenting on cotton and silk fabrics in different dye baths, I decided to dye my final long silk scarf in natural indigo. Since the bandhani technique was too difficult to master in a few days, I used other shibori techniques (there were still a lot of stitching and pulling) and the piece was dyed about 6/7 times. I would have preferred it to be darker, but due to time constraint, it was just not feasible.

 

shibori

indigo dyeing

bandhani  bandhani

indigo dyeing

indigo dyeing

Indigo on silk

 

Ajrakh is a form of block printing on natural-dyed textiles that is also originated from Sindh. Historians believe that Ajrakh block printing's orgins could be traced back to more than 4000 years ago. It is believed that the Khatri communities brought this skill/practice with them to Kutch around the 15th century. The cloth is usually dyed on both sides, and the complex and labour intensive process may involve up to 14 steps. It is traditionally dyed in indigo (blue) and madder or alizarin (red); while the patterns are often symmetrical with borders featuring five different patterns. As for the blocks, they are hand carved in teak wood by either the Khatri printers or sometimes block makers.

 

blockprinting

blockprinting  blockprinting

blockprinting

blockprinting  blockprinting

blockprinting

blockprinting

blockprinting

 

To be honest, I had underestimated the challenge of doing block printing before I tried it – it is much harder than it looks! Not only you have to line everything up precisely (especially it you are doing lines), it also hurts your hand whe you bang it onto the block over and over again. Full concentration is required during the process, and even though I am sure it would get easier with practice, it would still take a long time to master the skills (like most craft).

The whole pringing process is very complicated because of the application of resist paste (gum arabic and lime), alum and colours need to be in the right order. Thanks to the guidance and help from the blockprinting master (who also designed and carved the blocks), I managed to produce two long pieces, as well as a simple one with leaves that I found in the garden.

 

blockprinting

blockprinting

blockprinting

blockprinting

buckets

 

While we were busy working in the back courtyard, the two female cooks were also busy preparing daily breakfasts and lunches for us. It was really interesting to watch them cook and the homemade vegetarian meals were always delicious.

 

Indian cooking

Indian cooking

indian cooking

Indian meal

Indian cooking

cooking utencils

 

The 5-day workshop was quite intense, but I was satisfied with what I learned in such a short time and it gave me some basic understanding of Kutch's textiles. I am also grateful to Judy, who is passionate and knowledgable about Indian textiles, and has generously dedicated her time and effort to support the local artisans. I hope that the Kutch artisans would benefit from the courses at the institute and continue to pass on their heritage and practice.

 

indian garden

garden

flowers

flowers

indian garden  indian flowers

indian garden

An Indian garden

 


This post was posted in Travel, Design, Textiles, natural dyeing, shibori, indigo dyeing, India, Indian design, blockprinting, Kutch, Bandhani and was tagged with traditional crafts, textiles, natural dyeing, shibori, indigo dyeing, India, Indian design, bandhani, block printing, Kutch, Indian textiles, Kutch textiles

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