Saturday, 9 August 2008


The Coromandal coast of India was once a world renowned source of fine hand painted textiles, fortunately its textile tradition is survived in AP temple town of Kalahasti where the paintings of scenes from the Hindu Epics on cotton cloth was revived by the establishment of a training school by the All India Handicrafts Borad in 1958.

On Kalamkari cloth, printers and painters use both natural and chemical dyes. Though indigo is found in abundance in the area, but their red shades came from chemical alizarin.

Kalamkari is practiced in east of India at Masulipatnam in AP and Kalahasti in South. In Masulipatnam, the agents that control the patterning are traditionally applied with a kalam (pen). Machine loomed cloth known as Kora is bleached by repeated immersion in a solution of goat or buffalo dung and frequently rinsing in a river or a canal. The cloth is then mordanted in a myrobalan solution, to which is added fresh buffalo milk to prevent the spreading of the dye or application. Outline printing of the floral, bird and animal patterns is done with black (made of iron salts and gum) or with red ( alum with gum) or with both colours then follows the washing and the cloth is left to dry for two or three days. After washing, the cloth is scalded in a vat of alizarin and madder solution, enhancing and fixing the red patterning and removing the myrobalan and gum juice. Bleaching then takes place, leaving a white cloth patterned in red and black. Cleaning, bleaching and starching follows prior to the painting of the cloth in yellow and green colors. Yellow is achieved by boiling myrobalan flowers in water and by applying the solution with a simple Kalam made from a short pointed bamboo stick whose dye reservoir is a felt pad bound with string. Pressure on the myrobalan soaked pad allows the artist to control the release of the dyeing agent. the dyes are fixed permanently by dipping the cloth in an alum solution, after which it is part bleached in cow dung solution to give the yellow an attractive clarity and color. Finally the cloth is soaped and washed.

Unlike the Masultipatnam cloth the hangings from kalahasti are decorated entirely by free hand use of Kalam pen. Machine loomed cotton cloth is washed to remove starch and soaked in myrobalan solution ready to take the black dye. Once spread on the ground, or on a low wooden bench the cloth is ready to be sketched on by the artist. Oulines of figures and designs are first drawn freehand with charcoal sticks made of tamarind twigs. The kalam for fine linework is a pointed bamboo stick, six to eight inch long swaddled at the sharpened end with welt or wool that is tied to the cane by a net of strings. The felt pad holds the dyestuff, which may be released by slight varirations of finger pressure to run down to the point of kalam and on the cloth as the designs are drawn. Black outlines are painted with the kalam using a solution of salts of iron. An alum solution is painted as infill with a bamboo kalam. The cloth is then immersed into a solution of pobbaku leaf, surudu root bark and majistha root and the mordanted areas are coloured red. Double mordanting of figures and patterns with alum creates tones of red and the cloth is then bleached in a solution of cow's dung. The final colurs of yellow, blue and green are painted on the cloth as infill and detail with a kalam. Yellow is obtained by painting a myrobalan flower solution as areas pre-mordanted with alum, blue by applying indigo mixed with a little alum and green by coating yellow areas with indigo.

In Kalahasti, the subjects of illustration are either traditional takes from Hindu epics, or modern as scenes from company logos. Also there is a religious code for the decoration of Kalamkari fabrics. All gods are blue, female characteristics are golden yellow, bad characters and demons are red.


Helen said...

As a natural dyer I find what you have written very interesting, particularly about which plants are used.

madhavisb said...

Dear Priyank, loved reading through your blog, it has great insights. I love kalamkari and the old masulipatnam chintzes. My friends and I have started a series of websites on conscious living two of which are our local wisdom banks. and (audio based) both of which are collaborative platforms to share information, create awareness and offer choices for leading a balanced and sustainable life.

They focus on local practices, green and organic living, traditional knowledge, scientific research, and global issues at regional level. The idea is to familiarize individuals with the lifecycle of their actions, the cost and impact of each decision, and the choices available to them.

We'd all be really happy for you to add your wisdom to our bank in the form of articles or podcasts, whichever you feel comfortable with. There is no audio available at the moment on any textile subject on traydio , so we are all eagerly looking forward to hearing you talk about the subject. You can even record on your phone and upload as an mp3.

In the references it would be nice if you added your blog as a link.
If you need any help at all navigating through the platforms give me a buzz or email me. There are whole lot of rather interesting articles and pods we'd be glad you could add to, comment on, edit or just start some others.

Looking forward to your help in forming a larger conscious city.
warm regards

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