The process is what is called resist dyeing, the design is in the negative. Many times there is are several dyeing cycles. The first, a lighter shade, would be the what the artisan wants the design to be in. After that dye cycle a design is blocked or drawn on to the fabric in wax. The beauty of using wax is that it cracks as it drys, and you get these thin veins of color. Once the wax is dry the cloth is then dyed again, in the darker color. The color that the artisan wants to be the negative space.
This cloth has many uses, from home furnishing to clothing. Its the perfect splash of design to accent any style. Check out our full Batik Collection, with batik printing from Ghana to Western India
The beauty of the negative printing
Rainbow Textiles is run by Shakeel Ahmed and his family. They live out in the port town of Mundra in Kutch, Gujarat. To get out there I sat on the back of a bike for about an hour and a half. Being a bit out of practice of sitting on a bike for so long, definitely needed to stop and get feeling back in my legs. a couple times :-). Once we got out there, his whole family invited me into their home to first eat some lunch. The love and connection fostered by the art of feeding your guests is one of the things I love about traveling.
After a super filling lunch, we walked over to his workshop. Upon entering you walk almost right into some of the Crafters shaking out the drying fabric, pulling it fast and taught. You can hear the thwack of them pulling it fast, that helps shake off any of the lingering wax on the fabric.
In the first room to the side there are people blocking fabric for dyeing. Tapping the design blocks coated in wax for the first round of dyeing. The next room is Shakeel’s office. Like so many textile crafters and artisans at least one wall is a floor to ceiling shelving filled with product ready to sell, export and distribute.
His cloth is beautiful, covering the whole spectrum of color. They are vibrant and bright, earthy and muted. Some with fun imagery like lions and birds, some with more traditional abstract designs.
He talks about how he learned at KALA RAKSHA the importance of changing with his market, but at the same time not losing his heritage and traditions in the art. One way his art has had to change is in their dyeing methods. Originally batik printers in India used beeswax, which you can imagine has a lot of issues with it now. One beeswax is getting harder to come by and because of that more expensive; two it can not be reused, once washed from the cloth that’s it it can not be collected and used again. And so they’ve had to move to using paraffin wax. But paraffin also has its drawbacks, mainly it can not be used in vegetable dyes as it’s melting point is much lower. Vegetable dyes or natural dyes are highly in demand in today market, with a lot of people looking for less chemicals in their lives.Shakil does definitely feel a drop in his sales. He’s still doing the natural dye process, though in smaller quantities and to limited markets. I got a few stoles that are perfect for your summer and spring wardrobes! Keep an eye out for them. Also check out Shakil’s IG where he documents different textures, one of his passions.
Reviving an Heirloom Cotton
Kala cotton in an organic heirloom cotton from Kutch, Gujarat; a western state of India. The region is very arid, almost desert like for most of the year. Because of that many of the agricultural resources there are drought resistant, from the world renowned water buffalo to the Kala Cotton.
Kala cotton is also known as old world cotton, with strains of the fiber found in Mohenjodaro, the ancient civilization from the Indus Valley.
It’s a pretty sturdy and durable fiber that softens the more you use it.
A pivotal organization from Kutch, Khamir, are the modern day proponents of the textile. Helping farmers to begin growing the cotton, and building a market with local weavers to ensure stability. This is a cloth that is wholly produced in the region, from the growing of the fibers, to the spinning of the thread, to the dying, and looming of the fabric. Almost always dyed in vegetable dyes, and built to last it is the perfect addition to any style and wardrobe. Check out our Kala Cotton Collection.
Old World Looming
Traveling thru Kutch you run in to Camels, specifically Kharai Camels.
Some of the community that lives in this arid climate are nomadic, these camels are connected to so many parts of their lives. These communities herd these camels through the mangroves and the desert, and live with them year round. They use the camel’s milk for nourishment, the camel’s wool for warmth and textiles around their house, and the camels are used as “work horses” to help move people and goods across the arid region.
The art of looming the camel’s wool was once a pretty “common” trade. Many families in the region worked with the wool that the herders would collect. The wool is shorn only once a year, by scissors, and collected to make everyday items for the herders. The blanket that drapes under the camel’s saddle, the belt that cinches around the camel, the herders’ bags, the rugs that cover the mud floors of their homes, and more would all be made by the herd’s wool. All that wool is spun and loomed by hand as camel hair is a shorter length of wool.
In Kutch there are only a few families left that work with camel wool. Like many old world systems, the chain has been broken by new age “technology”. Camels aren’t needed to traverse the desert region as much as before, so there are less herders. The herders no longer use so much of the camel wool fabric as they now use newer fabrics, such as polyester, since they are cheaper and not so labor intensive to maintain. As the demand lessens, the families that produced the fabric go into other lines of work, and the skills to create the fabric is no longer passed down from generation to generation.
In this part of Kutch there is one family that has stayed with the art, repurposing the craft to more modern uses. The belts that used to cinch saddles on to the camels now are used as decorative wall hangings.
The patriarch of this family is Tejsibhai Harijan, an older gentleman with the old world mustache and calm demeanor. He has not only passed down the skill of weaving the camel wool into beautiful durable cloth to his sons, he himself has won a national award for one of his weavings.
His award winning weaving, hanging behind him on the wall, tells the story of his community. Showing the camels that are tied to their everyday lives, their homes, farming, a wedding, a celebration, and a pilgrimage. He shows people in everyday events, and special moments of the year. All the scenes are woven in as he looms giving the piece a flat two dimensional painting sort of feel.
The looms themselves are simplistic in design, which makes the fact that such beautiful, lasting pieces are made from them. An arc of two logs braces the weave slightly above the ground, as the weft is thrown back in forth in a wooden toggle.
Tension is brought on by tethering to anchors on the ground. The whole process has not changed much over the centuries, which truly amazes me.
I hope these rugs can bring warmth and beauty to your home for generations!