Tag Archives: Gujarat

India Journal: Ajrakh Block Prints and Indigo

On the second day after I landed in New Delhi, I went to visit the Sanskriti Museum of Textiles near the Qutub Minar 15th century historic site on the south side of town.

Block printed cotton I collected over weeks in India, mostly indigo

It’s a small, private collection hidden away behind gates on the expansive grounds of an estate that is now an educational center. I was able to combine this stop with one at nearby Nature Bazaar for textile shopping.  You could visit these three destinations in a day!

Assortment of wood blocks, all made by hand, another artisan craft

The Sanskriti Museum of Textiles is important because it explains the process to make ajrakh block printing that ultimately colors the cloth in layers of complexity and depth.  Usually, it is blue and red, combining indigo and madder root. 

Guide Kuldip Gadhvi, wears natural dyed indigo and madder turban cloth

It’s Muslim origins come from the Sindh (Pakistan) and Gujarat, Kutch, India. These areas, now politically distinct, share ancient common artistic, cultural, historical and religious roots.

Turmeric, madder, indigo dye cloth, Abduljabbar Mohammed Khatri studio, Dhamadka

Paste of red clay is first used to set the pattern on cotton

Peopled by nomadic herders who traveled on camels in search of grazing lands, the block printed cloth was traditionally used for men’s turbans and wrap-around pants. These block prints are among the most treasured in the world.

Indigo and madder botanical drawing, Sanskriti Museum

The Sanskriti Museum tells the block printing story by showing the stages on cloth panels. You first start by washing the cotton, then you use a mud past to apply the first pattern with a hand carved wood block. A few steps of the multi-step process are below.


After each step, the cloth is washed and then laid out on the ground to dry.

Mud paste for first printing

India is the world’s largest producer of cotton. Some of it, like the finest organic muslin, has the hand of silk, is diaphanous and soft, drapes beautifully.

Applying the first series of designs to cotton, Abduljabbar Mohammed Khatri workshop

Block printing, a close-up of the handwork. Each piece of cloth is imperfect, unique

In India, they use turmeric for yellow. In Mexico, it is wild marigold.

Here you can see the next layer of block print being applied.

A new town, Ajrakhpur, devoted only to block printing, was recently established by Abduljabbar Mohamed Khatri. The dominant figure living and working here is his son Sufiyan, who goes regularly to the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe. Of course, there are other unknown talents to discover here.

Sufiyan Ismail Khatri, son of the master, at his home workshop in Ajrakhpur

I became so overwhelmed by the choice of textiles that I couldn’t focus and only bought one small indigo block printed wool/silk scarf, that is now in the possession of my sister. Fortunately, I managed to concentrate enough to take a few photos!

Washing the cloth after each stage of printing — labor intensive process!

Master Abduljabbar Mohammed Khatri calling card and cloth example

Second step after washing the cotton, printing the design with red clay.

When I was in Ahmedabad, my first priority was to get to the famous block printing shop of the Gamthiwala family, just across the Nehru Bridge in the new city a short distance from House of MG.  They have a smaller shop in the old city, much more romantic, where the selection isn’t as extensive.

Several of these are from Gamthiwala Fab block print textiles, Ahmedabad

In the photo above, the block print on the left (red and blue) is from Khavda, Kutch and is an original Sindh design from Pakistan. From the top right, indigo print from Gamthiwala Fab; indigo and turmeric dyed block print from Rajisthan; next indigo block print, Gamthiwala Fab; next, block print indigo and madder scarf from Fab India made in Gujarat; next, indigo and madder block print from Rajasthan; next from Gamthiwala, an indigo, madder and iron (ferrous oxide) block print; block print dress bought at Fab India.

Having a smoke with friends at the Little Rann of Kutch

And, just so you know that I was having fun, this is a betel leaf cigarette. Do you believe I didn’t inhale? Caught in the act at the Little Rann of Kutch, Dasada, Gujarat. Thanks, Jumed.

Life size terracotta horses Tamil Nadu at Sanskriti Museum, New Delhi

Tamil Nadu is the India state source for indigo. It is in the south, tropical and perfect for production. It is also the place where terracotta figures were discovered. When I saw them, they reminded me of the soldiers unearthed in Xian, China, that I saw in the early 1990’s, though on a much smaller scale.

Tomorrow, I leave Southern California for Oaxaca, where life resumes not as usual either! I am almost recovered from jet lag. Stay tuned for the next installment.

Fascinating that garbanzo beans are used as dye for ajrakh, called gram

Stack of mud printed cloth waiting for next steps

Block printer, Gujarat, India

India Journal: Wazir Museum Quality Vintage Textiles

This is my last day in Bhuj, Gujarat, India. Tomorrow, Tuesday, December 13, I begin the journey back to America. It is morning here. I awake to the sound of Bollywood-style raucous music, loud, cymbals clanging, trumpets tooting, and look out the window.

A.A. Wazir, born in 1944, shows vintage Rabari embroidered bag

There is a parade with floats on the street beneath my hotel window and everyone is dressed in white: flowing gowns, turbans, tunics.  Today is Mohammed’s birthday, Eid, celebrated with a lavish feast that Muslims around the world observe. There are many Eid celebrations during the year, moving with the lunar calendar, the most auspicious being Ramadan.

Old embroidered Ahir textile with fine detail

Kutch, Gujarat, India is a mixed region that represents most faiths of Asia’s subcontinent: Hindu, Muslim, Parsi, Jains, Ismailis and more. There are centuries of acceptance and tolerance here. The Kutch is on an ancient trade route between Persia, Africa, China. It’s culture and peoples are rich and diverse.

Natural dyes of madder root, saffron and turmeric root color this 80 year old textile

Last evening I spent time again at the home and gallery of A.A. Wazir and his sons who operate Museum Quality Textiles. Youngest son Salim Wazir, who was our guide to the Great Rann of Kutch, is soft-spoken and filled with knowledge about Kutchi traditions and textiles. At the end of the evening, A.A. Wazir invited us to return today for the feast of Eid in their home. We are honored by the invitation and accept without hesitation.

Souf embroidery with their famous satin stitch, graphically powerful

Eid Mubarak. This is the greeting of the feast day, I learn from Wikipedia. The tradition is to serve sweets. Young girls paint their hands with henna. Blinking lights adorn the house in preparation.

Reserve side of embroidered textile, on old block print

We are treated to a show and tell of vintage textiles that are part of A.A. Wazir’s 45 year old collection. He tells us that he donated many pieces to the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico some years ago. His dream is to open a museum here in Bhuj, but there is no funding from federal or state government to do it properly, with good preservation techniques.

Finest embroidery on silk bandhani tie dye, a special occasion garment

A.A. Wazir began his education in Mumbai in the early 1960’s as a commerce student. He didn’t take to the subject, instead wanting to spend his time at the Prince of Wales Museum studying painting. He speaks Gujarati, Kutchi, Hindi, Arabic and English. He began visiting Kutch tribal areas as a young man when the border between Pakistan and India was open, when relatives could travel and visit back and forth without restrictions.

Mid-century commercial lace made in England for India market

His collection expanded to include pieces from the rich Sindh river valley. After several devastating earthquakes in the region, the course of the rivers changed and western India became more arid. People needed money and began to sell off more of their dowry textiles to buy food.

Rabari embroidered storage bag, 40 years old

For collectors, there are still many beautiful pieces available including gold-filled silver brocades on silk, machine-made lace made in England for the Indian market, stunning embroideries on natural, hand-woven cotton, fine silk bandhani saris and scarves.

Stunning silk brocade work with gold-filled silver threads.

We learned that people wore their wealth in textiles and jewelry. Many still do. The old textiles are embellished with precious metal threads, intricate bead work, coins, small, tight embroidery stitches, designs of flowers, birds, elephants, trees of life.

Salim’s cousin shows us the bodice of a child’s dress.

Being with the Wazir family for several hours is a treat for the visual senses. When you come to Bhuj, be certain to plan several visits so you don’t feel rushed.

Another incredible collector’s piece.


India Journal: Tribal Textiles in Bhuj, Gujarat

Finally, I have landed in Bhuj, Gujarat, after hectic days in Ahmedabad followed by three nights at a secluded safari camp, Rann Riders, in the wilds of the Little Rann. This borders the town of Dasada where marsh and salt desert are home to rare wild ass and migratory birds. Internet connection impossible.

Tribal Rabari Toran hangs over door, marks sacred space.

Tribal Rabari Toran hangs over door, marks sacred space.

I have a lot of catch up to do between then and now. For the moment, I’m highlighting some tribal textiles of western India in the state of Gujarat, where I’ve been for the last six days. It’s hot here, over 92 degrees Fahrenheit, with dust clouds everywhere.

Working the pit loom in Bhujodi, a seated flying shuttle version like Oaxaca.

Working the pit loom in Bhujodi, a seated flying shuttle version like Oaxaca.

This area is known as The Kutch (Kuh-ch) and borders Pakistan on the west. The area is populated by nomadic and semi-nomadic herding people who came from Saudi Arabia, the Sindh, and Mongolia. They came with camels, donkeys, sheep, goats and cattle. Some continue their nomadic lifestyle, moving camp each season in search of grazing lands.

Seated Muslim woman, tribal Wandh group

Seated Muslim woman, tribal Maldharis group, the Banni, Kutch

The ethnic mix includes Hindus, Parsi, Ismailis, Muslims and Jews. It is a region of rich religious, cultural and social diversity, and a long tradition of wool and cotton-weaving, fine embroidery, natural dye work and tie-dye. Most women, Muslim or Hindu, wear the bandhani tie-dye head scarf upon marriage, in the language of textiles.

Hand-painted dowry chests, Wandh village

Hand-painted dowry chests, Maldharis village

Many of the artisans and crafts people I’ve met this week have made their mark and participate at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. Several, like Jabbar Khatri, attended the 2016 International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca.

Women's ceremonial marriage mask, Wandh community, Bhuj

Women’s ceremonial marriage mask, Maldharis community, Bhuj

Most are friends of Australian Carole Douglas, who has brought small groups of travelers to the region for the last 17 years. Carole recommended that I connect with Kutch Expeditions guide and vintage textile dealer Salim Wazir, who took us to the White Salt Desert known as the Great Rann of Kutch.

A prized cow with Wandh herders, Bhuj, Gujarat

A prized cow with Maldhari herders, Bhuj, Gujarat

To get there, we passed tribal villages of Rabari, Ahir and Jat peoples, stopping along the way to visit a few of the more accomplished artisans. Their embroidery and weaving is distinctive and can be identified by group and sub-group.

Fine vintage textile embroidery example from Salim Wazir

Fine vintage textile embroidery example from Salim Wazir

In the small Maldhari settlement, a group of 43 Muslims live in mud huts with thatched roofs. The men tend cattle and sheep, and collect honey and gum arabic. The women cook, sew and embroider in the Mukko style using metallic threads.

Village elder tells us about her dreams for her family

Wandh village elder tells us about dreams for her grandchildren

Salim explains that the group has lived in this area for over 350 years, migrating from the Sindh, now Pakistan. They prefer mashru cloth, as do all tribal Muslims because the warp is cotton.

Man's beaded ceremonial marriage mask, in mock demonstration.

Man’s beaded ceremonial marriage mask, in mock demonstration.

According to Muslim tradition, they are not allowed to wear silk next to their bodies and mashru is a way to have the luxury without violating the law. (We met a mashru weaver in Buhjodi just a couple of days before, one of the remaining few who make cloth in this tradition.)

Bhujodi mashru weaver Babu Bhai, on flying shuttle pit loom

Bhujodi mashru weaver Babu Bhai, on flying shuttle pit loom

The raised platform floor of the village where the Bungha round houses are situated is hard packed mud, like adobe, soft to walk on barefoot and easy to clean with a broom. The area can flood during monsoon season, becoming a muddy mess, and the tribe then seeks higher ground.

Wandh village round huts. Each serves a family unit.

Maldhari village round huts. Each serves a family unit.

There is nothing for sale here except the exchange of a visit and hospitality. It is a refreshing stop along a tourist route to the Great Rann that is becoming commoditized with synthetics and crudely embroidered or beaded trinkets.

Door latch, secured by a keyed lock

Door latch, secured by a keyed lock

I asked the elders what they dreamed of for their children and grandchildren. A better education, they replied. I am as old as you are, another said to me, and I have not seen the world as you have. They want their children to know what goes on in the world.

Traffic jam on the way to the Great Rann of Kutch

Traffic jam on the way to the Great Rann of Kutch

There is no school here and opportunity is limited. They want the government to build them a school, but there are not enough children to populate it. If there is a health care emergency, they travel 45 minutes by bus or auto rickshaw to Bhuj for services. We have no future, they say, but we must be happy with what we have.

A visit to embroiderer Sofiya Mutwa, Dhordo, The Banni, Kutch

A visit to finest embroiderer Sofiya Mutwa, Dhordo, The Kutch, Gujarat

I ask what I can do to help. Salim and I discuss the downsides of giving money, which corrupts values. He suggests a length of hand-spun cotton that they can use for their embroidery work. They can only afford to buy synthetics and this would be a valued gift. It’s on my shopping list and I will give the fabric to him before I leave to present to the village women.

Sofiya Mutwa demonstrates tiny stitches to secure tiny mirrors to cloth.

Sofiya Mutwa demonstrates tiny stitches to secure tiny mirrors to cloth.

My experience in India is mixed. I have only met open, warm, helpful and friendly people of all faiths and backgrounds. The interaction with them has shaped my experience. Talented NGO representatives work here to support the weaving and needlework talents of many, to keep the traditions alive. I’m grateful for their dedication and energy.

Example of Wandh embroidery work

Example of Maldhari embroidery work, now embellished with commercial bric-a-brac

Yet, there is dust everywhere. Cattle roam the streets and graze on roadside garbage. Tent cities are filled with the impoverished. The crush of cars, auto-rickshaws and the sound of horns honking is a way of life. Intense. Loud. Persistent.

Henna painted hands will wash off. Tatoos on Rabari women are permanent.

Henna painted hands will wash off. Tatoos on Rabari women are permanent.

The food is wonderful and I’m going to bring Indian cooking into my repertoire. I’ve decided to end my visit early and return to the USA five days sooner than planned, to rest, reflect and write more about this experience.

My travel companion, Fay Sims, models heavily embroidered apron.

My travel companion, Fay Sims, models heavily embroidered apron.

I want to end this journey in Bhuj, and not in the big city of Mumbai, so that being in textile heaven will be the last of my India memories.

Typical village scene, India

Typical village scene, Gujarat, India

And, of course, I’m in search of a second piece of luggage to carry all these textiles home.

Sofiya Mutwa embroiders small sampler to become pillow cover

Sofiya Mutwa embroiders small sampler to become pillow cover

Where to Stay:  Bhuj House B&B or Hotel Prince, Bhuj, Gujarat, India

How to Get Here:  Fly from Mumbai to Bhuj on Air India or Jet Airways, less than $100 USD one-way. Travel from Ahmedabad overland by private car/driver on 8 hour journey at cost of 6,000 rupees or about $100 USD one-way.






































India Journal: Double Silk Ikat of Patan Patola, Gujarat

It’s two-and-a-half hours from Ahmedabad to the town of Patola in the Patan district of Gujarat. Only four ikat weavers continue to make the double it — both the warp and weft threads are knotted then dyed to form intricate patterns of birds, flowers, elephants, dancers, monkeys and trees on silk.

300 year old Salvi family silk Patola it, Gujarat, India

300 year old Salvi family silk Patola, Patan, Gujarat, India

The double it refers to the fact that both sides of the fabric are identical. There is no reverse or back side. How do they do it?

Ikat weaving in process, Salvi family workshop

Ikat weaving on the loom, Salvi family workshop

Our guide at the Calico Museum, where a dazzling collection of Patolas (as these ikats are called) is displayed, says these weavers are like gods. The masters come from the Salvi family.

Rohit Salvi, master Patola double ikat silk weaver, entrance to old village workshop

It was my mission on this trip to make a pilgrimage to their studio workshop. Australian friend and Gujarat expert, Carole Douglas, told me to be sure to ask to go their home.

7th generation weaver, Rahul Salvi

7th generation Patola weaver, Rahul Vinayak Salvi

Traditional Gujarati brides will wear a Patola for their wedding. A complete silk sari will take three years to make and cost about $20,000 USD, millions of rupees. These are by special order. A small handkerchief size is a mere $200 USD, suitable for framing! None available for purchase.

Salvi dye studio, where concrete tubs are used to wash silk

Salvi dye studio, where concrete tubs are used to wash silk

As I entered the new showroom and demonstration area in the center of Patola Patan Weavers, Rahul Vinayak Salvi and his uncle Bharat Kantilal Salvi greeted me. Rahul explained that he is the youngest of three brothers. His two elder brothers are doctors and he studied architecture. He decided the art would not survive unless he learned to weave, so he left the profession and is now becoming an accomplished weaver and dyer, working alongside his cousin.

Patola double ikat on the loom, with indigo and cochineal natural dyed silk

Patola double ikat on the loom, with indigo and cochineal natural dyed silk

The family works in natural dyes: indigo, cochineal (which they buy from the USA at a cost of $300 USD per kilogram), pomegranate and madder. The raw silk comes from China, which they buy wholesale in Bangalore.

Graph paper is used to plot out the design, just like Mexican weaving

Graph paper is used to plot out the design, just like Mexican weaving

First, each strand of silk is spun, then eight strands are spun together to make an 8-ply thread. It’s then washed then soaked in rice water. After drying the strands are stiff enough to tie for dyeing. Rice water is used in this part of the world for ikat making. In Mexico, we use atole or corn starch to stiffen the cotton threads.

Detail, tied silk threads, ready for next dye bath

Detail, tied silk threads, ready for next dye bath

As I understand it, the Salvi family came to Patan from Maharashtra.  In 1960, Gujarat split off from Maharashtra to become a separate state. This double ikat silk weaving technique is unique to Gujarat and is found no other place in the world.

Patola ikat in natural dyes of indigo and cochineal on the loom

Patola ikat in natural dyes of indigo and cochineal on the loom

At the Salvi showroom, there is a small museum that displays examples of ikat from around the world: Japan, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand and Africa.

Weft threads dyed with ikat (tie-dye) technique

Weft threads dyed with ikat (tie-dye) technique

Missing is an ikat example from Tenancingo de Degollado, State of Mexico. I promised to send them a Mexican ikat shawl to add to their collection, along with a Oaxaca contact where they can source cochineal to buy directly.

Can you see the bird and dancer in the warp threads?

Can you see the bird, elephant and dancer in the warp threads?

I am in awe of the skill and mathematical artistry required to create these masterpieces. The family creates about three or four sari’s per year, made on what looks like a back strap loom, though wider. Yet it is operated like a seated pedal loom, with the sheds opened by a traditional wood shaft.

Loom and warp threads, an abstraction.

Loom and warp threads, an abstraction.






Searching for Indigo in India: Countdown to Travel

It’s a 24-hour flight from California to New Delhi, not including the layover in Tokyo. I’m getting ready for a month of travel, focused mostly on the India State of Gujarat, with my Canadian friend Fay Sims, leaving San Jose on November 15.

Indigo dye pot, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Indigo dye pot, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

My motivation to go to India is multi-fold:

  • to experience first-hand indigo dye history, artisanry and textiles
  • to visit my first cousin, Odissi dancer Sharon Lowen, who has lived in New Delhi, India for 43-years after leaving the USA on a Fulbright

Sharon Lowen’s Odissi Dance in Swarnakamalam…by kasuvandi

  • to embrace my 99-1/2 year old aunt, my mother’s younger sister, who now lives with my cousin
  • to reconnect with friends, textile artist Nidhi Khurana and her painter-muralist husband Ruchin Soni
  • to compare and contrast the textiles of Oaxaca and Gujarat
Eric Chavez Santiago at the indigo dye pot

Eric Chavez Santiago at the indigo dye pot (happy birthday, Eric)

  • to write and photograph the processes and people
  • to get yards of hand-spun cotton Khadi cloth, Ghandi’s symbol of India’s independence from England
  • to discover who knows what else!
Variations of indigo blue, depending on wool color and number of dye dips

Variations of indigo blue, depending on wool color and number of dye dips

Natural Dye and Textile Study Tour, One-Day in Oaxaca

My friend, master weaver Federico Chavez Sosa, asked me to bring him back a chunk of native India indigo to experiment with. My friend, master weaver Alfredo Hernandez Orozco, asked me to bring him any type of native India fiber to experiment with on his flying shuttle loom. They are innovators.

Indigo blue shirts are first made with natural manta cotton, then get four dye dips.

Oaxaca: indigo blue shirts on natural manta cotton, with four dye dips

I am going with one empty suitcase, the second half-full.

What advice do you have for me on the quest for India textiles with natural dyes in New Delhi, Gujarat state and Mumbai?

Example of indigo block print from India, on cotton and silk cloth.

Indigo block print on cotton and silk, from India

Indigo block print on cotton and silk, from India