Bagru

village-street1_thumb.jpgRajasthan in western India is well known for many things, block printed fabrics being one of them. In my research for fair trade goods, I had found a small organisation in Bagru village outside Jaipur, where the artisans are paid very well, are shareholders and receive annual dividends.  I made contact with them before I left Australia and was very eager to meet the block carvers, dyers and printers at work. Bagru is known for natural dyes and hand block printing and the Chippa community there has been block printing for 350 years, developing a unique process of printing with natural vegetable dyes. Getting to Bagru village was a bit of a drama, but so worth it in the end. I had made enquiries about local buses that would take me there from Jaipur, but I had managed to get to the wrong bus stop and wasted some time for a bus that would never come. With the help of locals, I found the right stop, but every bus that came by was full to overflowing with passengers hanging out the doors. So it was in a rickety and uncomfortable autorick that I eventually arrived in the village.

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With a few local directions, we found the way to the  Chippa Mohalla (printer’s quarter) where suddenly, colourful lengths of fabric could be seen everywhere hanging out to dry on buildings,  spread on the ground, or being transported to the printers’ workshops. Walking through the streets of the village, I met the block carvers sitting in the winter sunshine carving chunks of wood into delicate printing blocks, saw the indigo dyers plunging cloth into deep dye pits, and women carrying great lengths of fabric to dry laid out on the ground.

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dye bath

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mud resist

I met printers in their home workshops creating beautiful textiles with a combination of block and discharge printing.

mitti mixdryingChandra Prakash is a 4th generation printer, who, with his wife, Reshma Devi, specializes in Bagru printing and work from their home in Bagru, where their have two printing tables. They have developed some intricate patterns using a series of woodblocks and colours. I was very happy that there was some of their lovely stock available for KASU EMPORIUM.

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Bagru prints are famous for their exceptional quality of being eco-friendly: artisans use traditional materials and vegetable dyes for printing the cloth.  The colour blue is made from indigo, greens from of indigo mixed with pomegranate, red from madder root and yellow from turmeric. Usually Bagru prints have ethnic floral patterns in natural colours. Bagru prints form the essential part of the block printing industry of Rajasthan. There are two main types of hand block printing in Bagru: Bagru printing and Dabu.

BAGRU PRINTING PROCESS:

  1. Printers receive cotton in large 500 or 1,000 meter bundles from exporters.  They first cut the fabric to size depending on what it is being made for, i.e. 7 meters for sarees, 2.5 meters for dupattas, 10 meters for running fabrics, etc.
  1. The fabric is pre-washed and soaked for 24 hours to remove all starch, oil, dust, or any other contaminants.
  2. The fabric is “yellow” dyed in a harda solution, which allows the natural dyes to adhere to the fabric and become colorfast.  Harda is extracted from fruits of the myrobalan plant (terminlia chebula).  The yellow dyed fabric is dried in open fields under the bright Indian sun. The fabric is now a yellowish cream color (unique to the Bagru printing process) and is ready for printing.
  3. The yellow dyed fabric is spread and smoothed on long padded printing tables.  The printing always moves from left to right.  The printer gently taps the wooden block in a tray of the proper colored dye.  He then applies the block to the fabric carefully lining up the corners correctly and gives one hard swift hit to the center of the block to ensure even distribution of the dye.  This is repeated over and over again, first with the gadh block (background), and again with the rehk (fine outlines) and daata (inside filling) blocks in different colors.
  4. After all the printing is complete, the fabric is left to dry for 2-3 days before it is washed.  Once the fabric is thoroughly dried, it is boiled in a large copper pot with a mixture of natural ingredients, including alum and various flowers.  The fabric is constantly stirred as it is boiled to keep the fabric from burning on the bottom of the pot.  After boiling the fabric is once again washed to remove any excess dyes or dirt, and again dried in the sun.  The block printed fabric is now ready to be packaged and sold.

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bagru cloth

DABU PRINTING PROCESS:

    1. The fabric is pre-washed and soaked for 24 hours to remove all starch, oil, dust, or any other contaminants.
    2. The fabric is block printed with dabu, which is a mud resist paste made from chhikni mitti (black earth) and gavar gum (guar gum), and sprinkled with sawdust so the fabric will not stick to inself, and laid to dry in the sun.  The dabu mud makes the printed area resistant to dyes, and therefore will remain unaffected when it is later dyed.
    3. printing3Once the mud is dry, the fabric is immersed in a dye, usually indigo, and again laid to dry in the sun.  The printers may repeat the dabu printing on top of the dyed fabric to create further layers of resist and again dye it in darker shades of the dye.
    4. Finally the fabric is washed to remove all traces of the dabu mud, and revealing the resist area to be the original white (or other colors depending on how many times the fabric was dabu printed).  The fabric is again dried in the sun and is ready to be packaged and sold.
      drying-shawls_thumb.jpgFind a small collection of Bagru textiles at KASU EMPORIUM >>>>

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