Thursday, March 17, 2011

Beauty of local textile traditions

Bridal costume of Kumaun region
This image was taken during my trip to Pithoragarh district of Uttaranchal
Pride mother of the bride in traditional costume of Rajasthan in Jaipur

Friday, March 11, 2011

Indian Textile History

India has a diverse and rich textile tradition. The origin of Indian textiles can be traced to the Indus valley civilization. The people of this civilization used homespun cotton for weaving their garments. Excavations at Harappa and Mohen-jo-Daro, have unearthed household items like needles made of bone and spindles made of wood, amply suggesting that homespun cotton was used to make garments. Fragments of woven cotton have also been found from these sites.

The first literary information about textiles in India can be found in the Rigveda, which refers to weaving. The ancient Indian epics-Ramayana and Mahabharat also speak of a variety of fabrics of those times. The Ramayana refers to the rich styles worn by the aristocracy on one hand and the simple clothes worn by the commoners and ascetics. Ample evidence on the ancient textiles of India can also be obtained from the various sculptures belonging to Mauryan and Gupta age as well as from ancient Buddhist scripts and murals (Ajanta caves). Legend has it that when Amrapali, a courtesan from the kingdom of Vaishali met Gautam Buddha, she wore a richly woven semi transparent sari, which speaks volumes of the technical achievement of the ancient Indian weaver.

India had numerous trade links with the outside world and Indian textiles were popular in the ancient world. Indian silk was popular in Rome in the early centuries of the Christian era. Hoards of fragments of cotton material originating from Gujarat have been found in the Egyptian tombs at Fostat, belonging to 5th century A.D. Cotton textiles were also exported to China during the heydays of the silk route.

Silk fabrics from south India were exported to Indonesia during the 13th century. India also exported printed cotton fabrics or chintz, to European countries and the Far East
before the coming of the Europeans to India. The British East India Company also traded in Indian cotton and silk fabrics, which included the famous Dacca muslins. Muslins from Bengal, Bihar and Orissa were also popular abroad.(Muslin-a very thin cotton material) (Chintz-cotton cloth, usually printed with flowery patterns, that has a slightly shiny appearance)

The past traditions of the textile and handlooms can still be seen amongst the motifs, patterns, designs, and the old techniques of weaving, still employed by the weavers.


Brocade weaving, especially with gold and silver, has been an age-old tradition in India. There are two broad classes of brocades. Brocades of pure silk or silk and cotton blends and zari brocades with gold and silver threads. The most important material in brocade weaving is silk. It facilitates lovely weaves, is durable, strong, fine and smooth. There are several varieties of raw silk of which the chief ones used for brocades are Tanduri, Banaka and Mukta. Tanduri is imported from Malda and other places in Bengal. Banaka is thinner and finer variety and is mostly used to weave soft fabrics such as turbans and handkerchiefs. Mukta is a coarse and durable silk used for kimkhabs, as fine silk would not withstand heavy gold patterns.


Raw silk is specially treated for brocades. It is first twisted (called 'silk throwing') after which the threads undergo reeling and checking for uniformity and roundness. When the yarn has been processed, it is bleached and "degummed", as raw silk has a gum-like substance (sericin) in its composition. This has to be removed in order to bring out the sheen and softness and to enable penetration of the dye. The task has to be done with great care as the fibers can weaken or get damaged. The silk is boiled in soap water for a certain duration and then sent for dying.


Color plays a vital part in weaving a brocade. The charm and subtle beauty of the brocade depends upon color synchronization. Colors are surcharged with nuances of mood and poetic association in fabrics and weaving as much as in painting.

Red - the color of love. The three tones of red evoke the three states of love.
Yellow - is the color of vasant (spring), of young blossoms, southern winds and swarms of bees.
Nila (indigo) - the color of Lord Krishna who is likened to a rain-filled cloud.
Hari nila - the color of water in which the sky is reflected.
Gerwa (saffron) - the color of the earth and of the yogi the wandering minstrel, the seer, the poet who renounces the world.

Earlier, vegetable dyes were used during weaving. These produced fast colors, lasted for almost a generation, and remained as beautiful and vivid as ever. Nowadays aniline dyes have gained popularity as they are cheaper, less time-consuming and produce a larger variety of colors.


Making of nakshas (designs) forms an important part of brocade weaving. Banaras is the main center where the nakshabandha (designer) tradition prevails. The skill and imagination of nakshabandha plays a prominent part in making of designs. Designs are associated with legends and symbolism. The most popular motifs are drawn from nature. In Banaras, it is said that nakshabandha families were brought to this country during the reign of Muhammed Tughlak (1325-1350 A.D.). They were supreme masters of the art of tying designs into the loom. Local artisans and weavers learned this art from these great craftsmen. Some of these craftsmen were also great poets-perhaps they wove their poetry into their designs. One such renowned poet was Ghias-I-Naqsband, mentioned in Abul Fazl's 'Ain-I-Akbari'. The nakshas are first worked on paper. This part of the work is called likhai (writing). The nakshabandha then makes a little pattern of it in a framework of cotton threads like a graph. This pattern gives guidance to the working of that design into weaving.


Designs and motifs have undergone changes gradually and imperceptibly. These changes can be traced through paintings made during different periods. Ajanta and Bagh murals show the existence of different techniques of designs and textiles. During the Gupta period (14th century A.D.). popular designs were formal floral motifs or scrolls entwined with hansas or sinhas -bird and animal depictions. In the 16th century, the old designs were replaced by Persian floral motifs. Akbari paintings show half-blooming flowers, the Jehangir period, full-blown blossom and the Shahjehan period, tiny blossoms with emphasis on the leaves. In the 19th century, with the advent of British rule, there was a drastic change in designs. Some brocades started depicting English wallpaper designs to suit the tastes of the British rule.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Traditional dyeing and printing of rajasthan

This is a document I got while searching for traditional rajasthani costumes…….looks beautiful.Have a look…….

                                       Group of Mārwāri Bania women.

Hindu garb of a long white coat and a loin-cloth. He has not yet adopted the cotton trousers copied from the English fashion. Some Banias in their shops wear only a cloth over their shoulders and another round their waist. The kardora or silver waist-belt is a favourite Bania ornament, and though plainly dressed in ordinary life, rich Mārwaāris will on special festival occasions wear costly jewels. On his head the Mārwāri wears a small tightly folded turban, often coloured crimson, pink or yellow; a green turban is a sign of mourning and also black, though the latter is seldom seen.
Chipa family who are traditional dyers and printers,Look the blocks and the dyeing equipments they are having.............

2. Its origin and position.
The Rangāris say that when Parasurāma, the Brāhman, was slaying the Kshatriyas, two brothers of the warrior caste took refuge in a temple of Devi. One of them, called Bhaosar, threw himself upon the image, while the other hid behind it. The goddess saved them both and told them to adopt the vocation of dyers. The Rangāris are descended [430]from the brother who was called Bhaosar and the Chhīpas from the other brother, because he hid behind the image (chhipna, to hide). The word is really derived from chhāpna, to print, because the Chhīpas print coloured patterns on cotton cloths with wooden stamps. Rangāri comes from the common word rang or colour. The Chhīpas have a slightly different version of the same story, according to which the goddess gave one brother a needle and a piece of thread, and the other some red betel-leaf which she spat at him out of her mouth; and told one to follow the vocation of a tailor, and the other that of a dyer. Hence the first was called Chhīpi or Shimpi and the second Chhīpa. This story indicates a connection between the dyeing and tailoring castes in the Marātha Districts, which no doubt exists, as one subcaste of the Rangāris is named after Nāmdeo, the patron saint of the Shimpis or tailors. Both the dyeing and tailoring industries are probably of considerably later origin than that of cotton-weaving, and both are urban rather than village industries. And this consideration perhaps accounts for the fact that the Chhīpas and Rangāris rank higher than most of the weaving castes, and no stigma or impurity attaches to them.
5. Occupation.
The bulk of the Chhīpas dye cloths in red, blue or black, with ornamental patterns picked out on them in black and white. Formerly their principal agent was the al or Indian mulberry (Morinda citrifolia), from which a rich red dye is obtained. But this indigenous product has been ousted by alizarin, a colouring agent made from coal-tar, which is imported from Germany, and is about thirty per cent cheaper than the native dye. Chhīpas prepare sarīs or women’s wearing-cloths, and floor and bed cloths. The dye stamps are made of teakwood by an ordinary carpenter, the flat surface of the wood being hollowed out so as to leave ridges which form either a design in curved lines or the outlines of the figures of men, elephants and tigers. There is a great variety of patterns, as many as three hundred stamps having been found in one Chhīpa’s shop. The stamps are usually covered with a black ink made of sulphate of iron, and this is fixed by myrobalans; the Nīlgars usually dye a plain blue with indigotin. No great variety or brilliancy of colours is obtained by the Hindu dyers, who are much excelled in this branch of the art by the Muhammadan Rangrez. In Gujarāt dyeing is strictly forbidden by the caste rules of the Chhīpas or Bhaosars during the four rainy months, because the slaughter of insects in the dyeing vat adds to the evil and ill-luck of that sunless time.1[432]

1Bombay Gazetteer, Hindus of Gujarāt, p. 178.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Kalamkari (Telugu: 
కలంకారి) or Qalamkari is a type of hand-painted or block-printed cotton textile, produced in parts of India. The word is derived from the Persian words kalam (pen) andkari (craftmanship), meaning drawing with a pen.
a.     The craft made at Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh, evolved with patronage of the Mughals and the Golconda sultanate.
b.     There are two distinctive styles of kalamkari art in India - one, the Srikalahasti style and the other, the Machalipatnam style of art. The Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari, wherein the "kalam" or pen is used for free hand drawing of the subject and filling in the colours, is entirely hand worked. This style flowered around temples and their patronage and so had an almost religious identity - scrolls, temple hangings, chariot banners and the like, depicted deities and scenes taken from the great hindu epics - Ramayana. Mahabharata, Puranas and the mythological classics. This style owes its present status to Smt. Kamaladevi Chattopadhayay who popularised the art as the first Chairperson of the All India Handicrafts Board. Only natural dyes are used in Kalamkari and it involves seventeen painstaking step
Kalamkari craft is very old. This art knew its apogee in the wealthy Golconda sultanate, Hyderabad, in the middle ages.
Kalamkari art has been practised by many families in Andhra Pradesh and has constituted their livelihood.
In ancient times, groups of singers, musicians and painters, called chitrakattis, moved village to village to tell the village dwellers, the great stories of Hindu mythology. Progressively, during the course of history, they illustrated their accounts using large bolts of canvas painted on the spot with rudimentary means and dyes extracted from plants. The first Kalamkari had been born. In the same way, one found in the Hindu temples large panels of Kalamkari depicting the episodes of Indian mythology, akin to the stained glasses of the Christian cathedrals.
Kalamkari had a certain decline, then it was revived in India and abroad for its craftsmanship. Since the 18th century the British liked the decorative element for clothing
The cotton fabric gets its glossiness by immersing it for an hour in a mixture of myrabalam (resin) and cow milk. Contours and reasons are then drawn with a point in bamboo soaked in a mixture of jagri fermented and water; one by one these are applied, then the vegetable dyes. After applying each color, the Kalamkari is washed. Thus, each fabric can undergo up to 20 washings. Various effects are obtained by using cow dung, seeds, plants and crushed flowers.


Methods for scouring and bleaching of gada cloth vary. Some artists simply immerse gada cloth in cool water over night then beat the wet cloth to remove further impurities.
-Gada cotton fabric is scoured by immersing it overnight in a sheep dung/water solution (1 lump of dung for 10 liters of water).
-The cloth is exposed to the sun for a day by spreading it on the banks of the river.
-Water is continually sprinkled on the cloth to prevent it from drying.
-In the evening the cloth is washed by folding it and slapping it against a washing stone, followed by rinsing in the flowing river.
-The cloth is then re-immersed in a freshly prepared sheep dung solution and the process is repeated.
-On the second day the sprinkling is stopped in the late evening to allow the cloth to dry.


The first step in making a kalamkari painting is the treatment of gada, or unbleached cotton cloth in kaccha or myrobalam and buffalo milk solution. A desired size of gada cloth is scoured and bleached before it is treated with the myrobalam/ milk solution. A paste of powdered myrobalam fruit (karakkai, T. chebula) is mixed in fresh, unheated buffalo milk. For about 6 meters of cloth, 200 grams of myrobalam powder and about 2 liters of milk is needed. This solution is kept for 1 hour to extract tannic acid from the seeds. The cloth is then soaked in the myrobalam solution for 15 minutes, taking care to see that the entire length of cloth is sufficiently saturated. The cloth takes on a light yellow color. It is then squeezed/twisted to remove excess solution, and dried in the sun on a sandy riverbank for approximately 1 hour. The cloth is folded and can be stored in a cool dry place for up to 3 months. The high fat content of the milk prevents dye from spreading beyond the point of application. The immature myrobalam contains tannic acid that acts as the mordant component for the black dye (kasimi).
The kalam, or bamboo pen, is the most important tool in painting kalamkari and gives the artform its name: kalam (pen)kari (work/action/agent). A kalam is made from bamboo splinters measuring about 4-6 inches in length, sharpened to a tip of desired thickness. A thicker point is preferred for filling in background color, while a finer point is used for outlines. About 1 to 1 ½ inches from the tip of the kalam, is a dye reservoir made from small rags of coarse wool that are wound around the bamboo and tied in place by cotton thread. This reservoir absorbs and retains the dye solution. 
According to many artists, cotton cloth cannot be used for the reservoir as it has higher absorptive capacity, no resilience, and would release larger amounts of dye when squeezed. Artists regulate the flow of dye down the bamboo kalam to the point through deliberate and controlled squeezing of the reservoir.
In this manner an artist can vary the thickness of the lines s/he draws by skilfully moving the tip of the kalam over the cloth. Kalams with thinner points are sometimes slit from the tip to the dye reservoir, and filled with a few strands of hair or thread to facilitate the flow of black dye. The reservoir of thekalam is never allowed to dry. It is washed and dried thoroughly before storage.

Most artists will sketch a charcoal outline on the prepared cloth before application of black dye (kasimi). Some artists use charred tamarind twigs to draw, while others use commercially manufactured charcoal or lead pencils.

The following steps are taken to prepare tamarind twigs (chinta boggo) for sketching:
·         Dried twigs that have fallen around the tree are gathered and broken to a length of 3-7 inches.
·         To char the twigs, a shallow circular pit is scooped out in dry soil and a heap of sand is kept besides the pit.
·         The dry twigs are piled up to a height of 2-3 inches above the ground level. Some newspaper is also placed among the twigs to facilitate burning. The twigs and paper is set on fire.
·         When the flame dies down, sand is thrown over the twigs, and they are set to cool in the pit for 3-4 hours.
·         This slow cooling makes the pencils tough. The ash coloured twigs are then unearthed, rolled between one?s fingers to remove greyish bark until black color is revealed.The pencils so prepared can be stored until further use (do not remove bark before charring; else the twigs will turn to ash).
KASIMI (Black)

Black ink/dye or kasimi is at the basis of all traditional kalamkari paintings; it is used to outline all figures, write texts and narrative descriptions, and is the first ink to be applied to myrobalam-treated cloth. Kasimi is made from a fermented solution of rusted iron pieces and sugarcane jaggery. Scrap bits of iron are mixed with about 10 liters of water and  jaggery until it is thin to the touch and sweet to the taste.? Keep the kasimi solution in an earthen pot, cover and let ferment for 12-15 days (longer if in a cooler climate). A brown/grey/blackish froth forms at the surface, indicating that the solution is ready. The iron acetate is strained through cotton cloth into another container (earthenware, plastic, stainless steel, glass). If stored in a cool place, the solution can be kept up to one year. Iron bits can be reused in later preparations of the solution. Kasmi solution is used for outlining of figures/motifs and for filling in larger areas in black color. When the iron acetate is applied to treated cloth, a chemical reaction takes place between the iron acetate and the myrobalam solution, causing the kasimi to first appear as a dull, brownish gray, and after a few seconds reach a deep black color. Artists use a cotton rag (or the reservoir ball on the side of the kalam) to dab/clean up any excess or unwanted ink that falls on the cloth. It takes about 5 minutes for the kasimi to fully dry on the cloth.
·        When first applying kasimi to the cloth, the color appears dull, brown, gray and takes a few moments to turn a deep black-


Red shades are acquired through a lengthy alum mordant painting/dyeing process. Alum powder (50 grams) is dissolved in warm water (1 liter) until a thin and watery consistency is achieved. Artists paint alum solution on all portions of the cloth that should appear red. The cloth is allowed to dry for two days. It is then rinsed in flowing river water to remove excess alum, squeezed and dried in the sunlight. The alum solution can be stored in glass or plastic containers for several months. Once the alum solution is dried, water is brought to a boil in a large copper vessel. Chavalikodi root and Surulipatta bark is added to the boiling water. After about 20 minutes, artists submerge the alum-painted cloth and boil for about 40 minutes. The cloth is then removed, rinsed with cold water, and let dry. For a darker shade of red/multiple shades of red in a single piece, the entire process (treatment in myrobalam solution, alum painting and Chavalikodi root and Surulipatta bark dye vat boil) is repeated until desired color(s) is achieved. Some artists are also applying lime juice onto portions cloth that have already been dyed red, in order to obtain a light pink color. Typically lime juice is used to create pink line details on red figures or on floral motifs. At present it is important to note that most artists are using a synthetic form of alizerine for obtaining red colors on cloth. Typically the alizerine is mixed with alum and painted directly onto the cloth, however some artists maintain the two-step process of painting alum first then dyeing the cloth in a red dye bath (in this case alizerine).


Preparation for lighter colors After the Chavalikodi root and Surulipatta bark dye bath, the cloth has a slight red tint. If the artist wishes to remove this red tint, the cloth needs to be bleached in a sheep dung and water solution and set overnight. The next day, the cloth is removed from the sheep dung solution, rinsed in flowing water, set on the banks of a sandy river bed, and sprinkled with water (until saturated) every hour for the entire day. In the evening the cloth is returned to the sheep dung solution and the process is repeated for 2-4 days, depending on the whiteness desired. Before yellow or additional colors are added, the cloth is again treated in the myrobalam-milk solution.
MYROBALAM FLOWERS (Yellow, Green, Brown)

A yellowish colored dye is obtained by mixing 150 grams of powdered myrobalam flowers and 4 liters of boiling water in an earthen or metal pot. The solution is stirred for some time and then set to cool for about 2-3 hours. Some artists have indicated that a better, darker shade of yellow is obtained if the solution is left to mature for a week in a glass (or non-absorbent) vessel. Before painting the yellow dye solution onto cloth, 10 grams of alum is added. All portions of a cloth that should appear yellow and green are painted with this dye solution. The dye can be stored up to 6 months in a cool place. Occasionally artists add a solution of aged mango bark and boiling water over the myrobalam yellow dye solution to obtain superior color fastness, or to create a slightly brownish color. The yellow solution, if set for several days, can turn a slight greenish tint. Otherwise, green can be obtain by painting portions with the myrobalam yellow solution, then treating the same portion of cloth with indigo dye. Once myrobalam yellow painting is completed, the cloth is dried in the shade. The next day, the cloth is washed well in flowing river water and dried in the sunlight. Sometimes pomegranate rinds are used to obtain a yellow color dye. About 200 grams of rinds are powdered and boiled in 3 liters of water. Once cooled, about 8-10 grams of alum is added to the solution. The pomegranate rind solution can then be painted directly onto cloth, creating a dullish yellow color.


For the most part, the blue dye currently being used in Sri Kalahasti is a synthetic ultramarine blue. The solution, called neeli mandu, is made from about 10 grams of commercially produced ultramarine blue dye lumps dissolved in water. It is applied to the cloth on unpainted portions where a blue color is desired, or it is painted over existing yellow portions that should be green. Once dried, the cloth is then washed lightly in water and dried. Based on the existing method of using ultramarine blue, the color is not very fast, therefore the cloth is washed carefully. 
INDIGO (Neel) 
When indigo is applied by kalam / painting directly to the cloth, the dye is not fast. To insure fastness and stability of indigo, it is  necessary to sumberge the cloth in an indigo vat, using a resist (like wax) to protect portions of the cloth that should not be blue. While indigo is used in limited situations by kalamkari artists in Sri Kalahasti, the following method has been cited for indigo painting onto cloth. If this technique for indigo application was used, it would likely fade easily and disappear if washed.

1) An earthen pot is buried in the earth, filled with powdered indigo cakes or nil (1/2 kg) and water (15 liters). 

2) Another earthen pot is half-buried in the ground. The half that is left exposed outside is coated with lime. On top of this pot another earthen pot is placed, with a hole at the bottom. The upper pot is filled with paddy husk. Two solutions are then created, one a mixture of alkaline dirt (8 kg) and water (5 liters), the other a mixture of shell-lime (5kg) and water (5 liters). These solutions are poured over the upper pot, filtered through the husks, and drained into the lower pot. A lid is placed over the upper pot. The filtered alkaline-lime solution, collected in the lower pot, is called appala karam. 
3) In a small pot, 2 kg thagarsa (cassia tora or tandipa ginjalu) seeds are boiled an aluminium pot with 3-4 liters of water for about 30-45 minutes until the seeds soften to a paste. The paste is cooled, and then mixed with the appala karam until a solution is obtained with the same consistency as that of the nil solution (step one). The two solutions (nil and thagarsa-alkaline-lime) are mixed together and left for 10-15 days (7-10 days in the summer, 15 days in the winter), stirring twice a day until a yellow-greenish color is obtained and the solution smells like mud. The indigo solution is then ready for painting, turning blue when exposed to air (through painting).