Bandhani (Indian tie dye)

When I was in Colombo I came across a wonderful shop called Rithihi, at 19 Alfred House Gardens, Colombo 3. (Sadly, it doesn’t have a proper website.)

Rithihi stocks a fantastic range of Indian fabrics, including amazing wedding saris (I fell in love with a block-printed sari depicting ducks swimming in a lotus pond, but it was a little pricey). I know it’s rather ironic swooning over Indian textiles when Sri Lanka has such a great industry of its own, but my eye was caught by a pile of bandhani cotton.

Bandhani is tie dye, the Indian version of shibori, and uses mostly the binding technique, tying small circles in the cloth with thread so that the final pattern is a series of dots. I bought a couple of pieces, shown above and below.

For me, the interest lay not just in the combination of colour and pattern, but also in the technique used. I could see this because much of the binding was still in place when I bought it – you can see this in the bottom left of the photo above. So as I pulled it out, I could see how it was done.

1. The fabric (fine muslin) was folded in four, and all four layers were tied at the same time. This obviously saved time and effort.

2. The binding was continuous over large areas of the pattern. By this I mean that the maker didn’t cut the thread after binding each circle, but continued the next circle using the same thread. So it was very easy to remove the thread – simply by stretching the muslin out on each side, the tension caused the threads to pop off. It was a bit like watching lots of little white flowers suddenly opening!

This was much easier than laboriously tying each single circle individually, and then trying to remove the thread after dyeing! Below is a sample of my own attempt at this technique – nowhere near as delicate!

So I may see if I can adopt this technique to speed up the process. But I doubt whether I will ever be as fast or skilled as the ladies below!

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Flextiles uses shibori, ecoprinting and felting to create original, one-off upcycled pieces. Extending the life of a garment by an extra nine months reduces its environmental impact by 20-30%.

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