The small village of Bagru, about an hours drive from Jaipur, is almost entirely made up of craftsmen and women specialising in block printing and Indigo dye.
Traditionally indigo came from the leaves of the plant, "indigo fera tintoria" which was cultivated throughout the tropics. The increase in demand during the end of the 19th Century changed the production process and a synthetic version was invented, free from impurities found in the original plant-based dye.
Much like a sour-dough starter, the contents of a typical indigo vat is like a living organism and must be continuously nurtured. The pots are commonly between 10-15 feet deep and are sunk into the floor of a covered area. The culture needs daily attention with fresh ingredients added until the dye is just right. About 20 days after starting the process, the dyeing can begin.
To create a pattern, skilled crafts people will use either a block printing or tie-dye technique to create a resist to the indigo dye. A paste is made using earth, slaked lime, gum, a fine wheat powder and water, mixed to a smooth adhesive paste then applied rhythmically using hand carved wooden-blocks. A layer of sawdust is sprinkled on top of the design to stop the paste from smudging before it is totally dry. The cloth is then laid out to bake in the sun before being dipped in a vat.
Each time the fabric is dipped the areas with no resist on will turn a deeper shade of blue. Therefore more pattern may be applied by printing with the paste again after the first dip to achieve multiple tones of blue. Once the desired shade of indigo is created, the fabric is washed to remove the resist paste and any excess dye that hasn't adhered to the cloth.
This lengthy and skilful process is an art and a labour of love!
Later, we visited the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing, located in a beautifully restored haveli, or mansion. The museum displays a varied selection of block printed textiles alongside images, tools and related objects, providing an in-depth look into the complexity of this ancient tradition.
'Like crafts worldwide, the block printing industry faces serious challenges trying to keep pace with modern manufacturing."
Through education and the sale of it's beautiful, block printed textiles and clothing in the brands stores, Anokhi hopes to address this fragile situation and protect the heritage of this craft for future generations.