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.
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: New Delhi Textile Shopping Guide
New Delhi is a whirlwind city filled with honking cars, traffic congestion, auto rickshaws that zoom in and out inches from the next vehicle and an efficient, safe metro system. I never saw an accident but thought we would surely collide on multiple occasions. Traffic lanes do not exist although the roads are marked.
Curated textile choices at Kamayani, New Delhi
On a good day the air pollution is passable. On a good day, I could muster the stamina to visit two or three places — a museum or two, a textile boutique or emporium or folk art exposition.
Where To Shop for Textiles in New Delhi
Based on recommendations from my textile expert friends, Nidhi Khurana and Aditi Prakash and what I discovered on my journey, here is my list of where to shop for great cloth in New Delhi, India.
*Takes international credit cards.
Embroidery on pashmina (cashmere) shawl, Craft Museum, Delhi
Bhuj bandhani and mirror work embroidery at Kamayani, Delhi
How To Get Around
The best way to get around is to hire a car and driver for the entire day at around 1200-1800 rupees (about $17-25 USD). The downside is you can sit in traffic for an hour (or more) to go a few miles. But the driver takes you door-to-door and waits for you. For intrepid travelers who like an independent approach, I say, try to adapt.
If you use the Metro, you still need to get from the Metro stop to your destination, a challenge in and of itself. Sure, you can save a few dollars but you’ve spent time trying to find a vehicle and then communicating where you want to go. It’s always a choice about how to spend your time.
Walking is impossible.
Indigo block print and shibori fashion, Nature Bazaar, New Delhi
Where To Stay
Saket Bed and Breakfast, extraordinary hospitality and accommodations, walkable to Saket metro stop. French press coffee. Great food. Dinner available. Accepts credit cards. Easy to arrange car/driver services. Clean and comfy. Currency exchange services available. Close to Nature Bazaar, Sanskriti Museum and Hauz Khas Village.
If you have any other recommendations, please add them in the COMMENTS section!
hand-woven, embroidered mirror shawl from Bhuj at Craft Museum, Delhi
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Travel & Tourism
Tagged car hire, clothing, credit cards, demonitization, folk art, guide, how to get around, India, metro, money exchange, New Delhi, shopping, taxi, textiles, tips, where to stay