After a hurried fortnight of preparing storyboards and briefing the film crew, they have now been packed onto their flights and are off to India to capture some of the remarkable textile processes that I saw on my reccie trip in January. I visited Kaladera in Rajasthan, looking particularly for Indigo dyeing workshops. There I was introduced to three brothers each involved in producing different types of indigo-dyed fabrics. Our film crew will be recording the process of dyeing plain cloth with Indigo, but I also had the chance to visit the workshop which deals with resist block printed indigo textiles.
Rajasthan is famous for its block printed textiles. They are created using carved wooden printing blocks that are inked and pressed by hand directly onto the fabric. For more complex, multi-coloured designs, multiple rounds of printing are required using sets of blocks. Each block in the set carries a different part of the design, and colour, and is carved to align exactly with the previous. This process is most suitable for creating designs with a pale ground, such as this example from the V&A collections:
The workshops I visited however specialise in layering up block printing, resist block printing and indigo dyeing processes to create designs that have a generally darker, indigo ground, with lighter and even white areas. They showed me how they make fabrics like the one pictured below.
The first stage is to block-print the outline of flowers using ink:
A resist paste is then mixed from lime, gum and a type of sticky clay naturally occurring in the bottom of ponds and river beds. This mix is then printed onto top of the design using a separate block which applies the resist mix only to the areas that are to remain white.
The fabric is then dusted with the chaff from wheat to prevent the areas with resist mix sticking to one another if the fabric is crumpled or folded. The resist is stretched out in the courtyard to dry. Then the fabric is dyed with indigo so it turns blue blue except where the resist mix has been applied to the fabric. It will be dyed again to intensify the blue. However before that happens, another layer of resist is applied to areas where the existing shade of blue is desired.
Below you can see the fabric after after both layers of resist have been applied but before the final dye dip is complete:
Finally the fabric is washed clean of excess dye and the resist and wheat chaff, folded and baled up for collection.
There are many other processes that reply on protecting the fabric from dye used in Indian textile making and we will be featuring a number in the exhibition. You can learn more about them here.
Block printing workshops like this work to designs requested by garment manufacturers and textile merchants. These are most often traditional designs, but I was also delighted to find some very cute contemporary designs in evidence.