Tag Archives: indigo

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: 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: Top Artisans at Nature Bazaar

Nature Bazaar is an effort by the Delhi Department of Tourism to bring the best artisans from throughout India to the city for permanent exhibition. Or, let me say, the space is permanent and the artisans rotate. So, it’s more of a pop-up and the artisans change about every six weeks. This group goes until November 30, 2016.

Indigo-dyed organic cotton block print from Rajasthan

Indigo-dyed organic cotton block print from Rajasthan

I returned on my own so I could leisurely browse the textile collection, speak with the makers, and go through the stacks of cloth in search of indigo blue, red madder, turmeric root dyed yellow cloth. I didn’t want to miss anything. This extended to a three-hour meander to uncover as much as possible.

Left, block print of turmeric with indigo over-dye. Right, madder "chicken tracks" with indigo over-dye. Yardage.

Block print yardage, turmeric w/ indigo over-dye (L). Madder w/indigo over-dye (R).

My textile artists friends tell me that the Nature Bazaar cooperative is the best source for India arts in Delhi. Funds from the purchases go directly to the artisans who participate.

Waiting patiently for customers, Nature Bazaar

Waiting patiently for customers, Nature Bazaar

My friend Lee Schwartz, who just returned from a 10-day tour of Rajasthan, claims she saw nothing of the quality on the tour that she encountered at the National Crafts Museum in Delhi. After a visit there, today, I still rank Nature Bazaar as the top shopping spot in Delhi, with second place going to FabIndia.

Artisan from Ahmedabad folds shawls inset with mirrors embroidered to silk.

Ahmedabad artisan folds shawls inset with mirrors embroidered to silk/wool blend.

As with Oaxaca, it’s important to know where to source. I’ve decided to focus  this India visit on textiles and not on typical sightseeing and monuments (though tomorrow we leave for Agra and the Taj Mahal).

Fine miniature paintings with gold leaf, an art form

Fine miniature paintings with gold leaf, an art form

There is so much here that zeroing in on what is important to me helps conserve energy.  It’s impossible to get to more than two or three places in a day because of the intense traffic, horn-honking and dust. It just wears you out!

Indigo dyed patchwork quilt, with dresses, blouses on table.

Indigo dyed patchwork quilt, with dresses, blouses on table.

At Nature Bazaar, I met Margaret Zinyu, who has a degree from the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. She planned to go into fashion design but decided to return to her native Nagaland, in northeast India on the Myanmar border, to work with local weavers using cotton dyed with indigo. She is just starting her company Woven Threads and this bazaar was the premiere of her products.

Margaret Zinyu of Woven Threads

Margaret Zinyu of Woven Threads, Nagaland, India

India is at the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road. The people here are a multicultural blend of Asians and Europeans, Hindus and Muslims. There is as much diversity here as I see in Mexico. The people from the Himalaya foothills, part of India, bring their kite flying traditions to the crafts of the country, for example. These are for sale at the Nature Bazaar, too.

Most of India's indigo is cultivated in Tamil Nadu, in the south

Most of India’s indigo is cultivated in Tamil Nadu, in the south

Wood carved stamps used for block printing at Nature Bazaar

Wood carved stamps used for block printing at Nature Bazaar

There are also several stalls with hand-wrought silver jewelry from the Himalayas and Afghanistan. Many of the designs looked North African, like those I had seen in Morocco and southern Spain.

Tribal jewelry maker from Himachal Pradesh.

Tribal jewelry maker from Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayan foothills of India.

Example of ornate silver earrings inlaid with garnets and embellished with pearls.

Example of ornate silver earrings inlaid with garnets and embellished with pearls.

There is no cochineal here, of course. This is a humid country and the insect is only  found in hot, dry climates like Mexico where the nopal cactus thrives. So madder, the red dye that is more the color of red earth than intense carminic red, is what is found here. However, indigo is king in India and the British capitalized on its export starting in the early 17th century. Today, it is only cultivated in Tamil Nadu in the south of the country.

India's indigo from Tamil Nadu, in the south

India’s indigo from Tamil Nadu, in the south

Walking the streets and riding the Metro, I see women of all ages wearing saris and the shalwar kameez pantsuit with tunic top and harem-style pants dyed with indigo blue. Women’s clothing of India is beautiful, lightweight and easy to wear.

India's sari, block print with gold and indigo

India’s sari, block print with gold and indigo

Mexican indigo is extracted from the native plant Indigofera suffruticosa, known as añil, found in the tropics of the Americas.  Native indigo from India is Indigofera tinctoria, known as true indigo, and is found in Asia and Africa.  The plant and leaf structures are different, but the process to produce the color is the same.

Handmade palm brooms

Handmade palm brooms

The most intense blue comes by dipping the cloth at least several times in the indigo dye bath.

Papier mache toys and mobiles

Papier mache toys and mobiles at Nature Bazaar

My goal on this trip is to bring back examples of  of cloth dyed with indigo, using a variety of weaving, tie-dye and printing techniques.

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

 

 

Textile Fiestas of Mexico guide book by Sheri Brautigam, with a little help from Norma Schafer

It was early 2016 and I’d just returned from taking a group of textile travelers to Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico, to study the ikat rebozos of the region.  Textile maven and friend Sheri Brautigam was in Oaxaca putting the final content and photos together for her upcoming book, Textile Fiestas of Mexico.

With A Little Help from My Friends in Mexico

When Sheri is in Oaxaca (her home is Santa Fe, NM), we like to hang out together.

ONE Space Open: Ikat Textile Study Tour to Tenancingo, Feb. 2-10, 2017

I took her with me and introduced her to the Feria del Carrizo (river reed basket fair) in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca, just across the road from where I live in Teotitlan del Valle. She loved it so much, she decided to include it in her book! At the end of January each year, it’s a special event that includes hand-woven river reed baskets, lampshades, fish traps, music and amazing food. 

Tenancingo weaver Jesus Zarate with his amazing ikat butterfly rebozo

Tenancingo weaver Jesus Zarate with his amazing ikat butterfly rebozo

Sheri’s deadline was fast approaching. She wasn’t sure she could get back to Tenancingo to interview and photograph people, something I had well-documented. I suggested that perhaps I could produce that chapter for her.

Smokey and steamy dye pot, the alchemy of natural dyes

Smokey and steamy dye pot, the alchemy of natural dyes

I also suggested that she include a chapter on the natural dye wool textiles of Teotitlan del Valle, focusing on the process of using indigo, cochineal and other plants and minerals.

Hands in the cochineal dye bath

Hands in the cochineal dye bath

Sheri sent the suggestion to Karen Brock at Thrums Books, the co-publisher, and she agreed.

If you are traveling to Mexico for any reason, this is the book you want in hand to explore the rich textile culture. It includes how to get to the textile regions, what to look for, where to shop for the best, where to stay and eat.

Of course, if you want a personal, immediate experience, come with me!

Cochineal from acid (lime juice) dye bath -- brilliant color

Cochineal from acid (lime juice) dye bath — brilliant color. All natural!

Let me know how you like it if you do get a copy. We are interested in your feedback for the next edition!