Mud resist printing in Jaipur

[Warning – this is a long post with lots of images!]

Brrr! I’m still adjusting to the drop in temperature since returning to the UK after four weeks in India. 🙂

mud ingredients

The last week was spent in Jaipur, on a mud resist block printing and indigo dyeing workshop organised by the Jaipur Virasat Foundation. Along with mud resist, there were also workshops on stitching, miniature painting, mirror mosaics, photography and Indian cookery, so it was an interesting mix.

The tutors for the mud resist workshop were Natalie Gibson, Head of the Fashion Print Course at Central St Martin’s College of Art & Design, and Di Livey, former Senior Lecturer in Textiles & Applied Print at Middlesex University, and visiting lecturer at other institutions. Both were wonderfully colourful characters, both figuratively and literally, with endless supplies of patience and guidance.

Natalie and Di
Natalie and Di

The workshop was held about 30km outside Jaipur, near the village of Bagru, at Ojjas, a company that specialises in hand block printed textiles. Company owner Raj Kanwar has 40 years’ experience as a textile designer and was instrumental in the revival of hand block and mud resist printing techniques.

The premises are in a specialist light industrial park, designed to minimise the environmental damage that dyeing can cause. So there’s an effluent treatment plant to recycle water and minimise discharges, and the emphasis is on natural and formaldehyde-free dyes.

Most of the other workers were block printing with pigments on huge long tables – one person would print one colour with one block, then others would fill in the colour with other blocks and colours.

block printing

But we were there to print using mud as a resist.

Mud, mud, glorious mud

We started by seeing how the mud (known locally as dabu) was mixed up. Potters’ clay (which they get from dried up lake beds in summer), wheat powder, gum and lime are added to water in a shallow stone bowl, and then the mud mixer mixes it with his feet. It’s quite mesmerising to watch as he swivels and scrapes – like some kind of ritual dance! Once it’s thoroughly mixed, the mud gets sieved through fine muslin – he again uses his feet to push it through.

mixing mud sieving mud

Then it’s on to the printing. The blocks used for mud printing are different from those used for pigment printing – the carving is deeper and not as fine, as otherwise it would clog up with mud. There was a block printer at Ojjas, carving every block by hand.

block carver

After printing, the mud is covered with sawdust to prevent smudging and absorb the moisture. Then the fabric is laid out to dry in the sun (on the roof or on the pavement), weighted down with stones.

printingadding sawdust demo piece

Indigo and other dyes

After printing a few samples on the first day, we did our first indigo dips the next day. Ojjas uses synthetic indigo in a fermented vat, sunk into the ground. The vat is 10 feet deep, and had a very impressive “flower” (foam) on the top each morning – a good sign of a healthy vat.

indigo flower

To prevent too much of the mud coming off, the printed fabric was not wetted out before dipping. Instead, it was gently submerged, flat, and moved gently from side to side for about a minute. Then it was removed and held over the vat to allow excess liquid to drip off, and laid on earth for a couple of minutes to soak up the rest. After that it was laid to dry on the roof or pavement as before, until it was dry.

first dip2first dip

After the first dip we could print again on the fabric before another dip to get two shades of blue. We also had the opportunity to use kassis, a dye made from rusty iron, and pomegranate. Kassis requires a mordant, harda (myrobalan), which is made from a small yellow plum (also used in ayurvedic medicine).

kassis

Removing the mud and finishing

Once all the printing and dyeing was finished, the fabric was soaked in warm water for a few hours to soften the mud. Then came the hard work (and fun part), rubbing it and slapping it against a stone slab to remove the mud, before rinsing and drying.

washing

We could also overprint the finished pieces with red, blue, gold or silver pigment, creating highlights and more layers.

The results

After all this work, it was fascinating to see the final results. Most people experimented with clothing, dyeing T-shirts, tunics and trousers, but I stuck to lengths of fabric, including silk, linen and cotton. I also added a bit of stitching to some pieces for extra texture. Here are some of my pieces at various stages.

piece1 piece2 piece3 piece4 piece5 piece6 piece7 piece8 piece9 piece10 piece11
We had an exhibition on the final day along with all the other workshops, where we certainly exceeded them in terms of quantity of work. 😉 And we even made some bunting!

bunting exhibition1 exhibition2 exhibition3 exhibition4 exhibition5

Bagru

We also visited nearby Bagru, a block printing village where every surface seems to be covered by drying fabric – that is, unless it’s occupied by cows or pigs. 🙂

bagru1 bagru2 bagru4 bagru5 bagru6

What I learned

  • I’ve never used a fermented indigo vat before, so this was very interesting for me. A single dip resulted in a mid-range blue, but I don’t know how dark the colour would go with successive dips, as we only dipped each piece twice (the mud starts to come off if you dip it more than this).
  • Is mud resist a practical method to use at home? You don’t have to use blocks – I used the rim of a terracotta cup, an old piece of circular rubber, and a stone, as well as blocks, to apply the mud to fabrics. A large space helps, but we also saw villagers in Bagru printing on small padded boards while sitting on the floor. Something for the “possibles” list I think!
  • I am slightly concerned about the fastness of the indigo with only two dips. The fabric was left for 24 hours between dips and before washing, so it will have oxidised well. But I generally dip a minimum of four times to build up colour and fastness, rinse till the water is nearly clear, wash with a gentle detergent, and rinse again. In Jaipur we soaked to soften the mud and then rinsed – no detergent was used. Given the quantity of fabric we were washing, it would have been a lot of work! But I wonder whether this is the normal practice anyway. I bought some natural-dyed garments from Anokhi, and the information on the label recommended washing before wearing to remove excess dye.

Shop till you drop

One of the advantages of having Di and Natalie to hand was their knowledge of the local shops in Jaipur. Here’s a selection of my favourites.

  • New Madho Store, Shop no 138, Bapu Bazaar
    Fantastic haberdashery shop spread over three cramped floors – start at the top and work down. A real treasure trove of buttons, beads, trims, and thread.
  • Khadi Ghar, 320 MI Road
    Government-run shop selling hand-spun, hand-woven cotton, silk and other fabrics at fixed prices, providing the weavers with a guaranteed sale of their work.
  • Saurashtra, 7-9 Inside Jorawar Singh Gate, Amber Road
    There’s a whole row of shops next to Jorawar Singh Gate that belongs to the same family. Kishor Kumar Maheshwari and his brothers sell everything from bags and scarves to pashminas and blankets, as well as some antique textiles.
  • Ojjas, 663 Hanuman Nagar Ext, Viswamitra Marg, Sirsi Rd, Khatipura
    This is Raj’s retail outlet, with a great selection of contemporary block-printed clothes, cushions and curtains.
Ojjas
Ojjas
  • Nayika, Tholia Building, Opposite Niro’s Restaurant, MI Road
    Tucked away in a small courtyard off MI Road, near Khadi Ghar, this boutique sells an exquisite selection of printed and embroidered clothing and homeware.
  • Anokhi, 2nd Floor KK Square, C-11 Prithviraj Road, C-Scheme
    Traditional block printed clothing and popular café serving safe tasty salads and cakes.
  • Jaipur Modern, 51 Sardar Patel Marg, C Scheme
    Sleek Italian-owned boutique selling stylish contemporary clothes and home accessories at Western prices. Also has excellent restaurant.
jaipur modern
Jaipur Modern

Finally, here’s a selection of images from other parts of my trip.

 

Pattern to Print

I had a splendid outing yesterday with my sister Women of the Cloth to Hall Place in Bexley, a Tudor house and gardens just off the A2. There’s a splendid great hall and decorative plasterwork, but the main purpose of our visit was to see Pattern to Print, an exhibition about silk-printing company David Evans.

evans wotc

It’s a small exhibition but definitely worth the trip. David Evans was a silk merchant who set up a silk printing factory in Crayford in 1843, in a former printworks. The factory specialised in block printing at first; this was replaced by screen printing in the 1970s.

The exhibition begins with s 55-minute film, dating from the 1980s if the hairstyles are anything to go by! Fascinating viewing, it covers all the stages of silk production, including growing mulberry plants and spinning the yarn at a silk farm at Lullingstone Castle in Kent (which produced the silk for the Queen’s coronation robes and Princess Diana’s wedding dress, but closed down in 2011).

But what really comes across is the labour-intensiveness of producing the blocks for printing. Every stage done was done by hand, from burning and carving the wooden moulds to cast the pewter blocks, to inking and printing the fabric itself. To carve the blocks, the block makers had to produce their own chisels and files to match the requirements of the design: as the commentary notes, the actual carving of the block was of secondary importance!

Wood marked out for carving the mould to cast the block
Wood marked out for carving the mould to cast the block

From the master block, other blocks were produced for different colours – all had to line up exactly. By the time David Evans closed down in 2001, it had a library of around 70,000 blocks and 11,000 designs. The blocks were sold at Christies, and many of them went to the Cantrol Collection of Textile Printing Blocks, about which I can find very little information.

Blocks used to produce two-colour fabric
Blocks used to produce two-colour fabric

The blocks on show are items of beauty, amazing for their intricacy and precision. Some have been used by designers for Top Shop as inspiration for modern garments – I particularly loved a tortoise design (sorry about the funny reflections on some of the photos, but most exhibits were under glass).

evans block tortoise

There are also covetous pattern and swatch books.

evans swatch book

After block printing, some of the silk was overdyed with madder, a natural red dye, to make the colours more subtle. A rail of Liberty prints shows samples of silk before and after overdyeing.

The three samples on the left show the block-printed silk before dyeing with madder. The fourth, fifth and sixth samples show the same fabric after overdyeing with madder. The unprinted silk on the right has been dyed with madder.
The three samples on the left show the block-printed silk before dyeing with madder. The fourth, fifth and sixth samples show the same fabric after overdyeing with madder. The unprinted silk on the right has been dyed with madder.

The madder was mixed with lime and cow dung to a secret recipe that only David Evans himself knew. The factory even had its own herd of cows to produce the dung!

Fittingly, all the information “panels” are printed on silk.

evans banner

Movingly, the final piece of printed silk is also on display, dated 4 July 2001 at 10.47am.

evans final

Pattern to Print runs until 26 March.

Indian craft films

Every so often I get requests from people telling me about their work and/or asking if I can feature their work on my blog. Last week I had two such emails, but I reacted very differently to them both. I will discuss one here, and the other in another post.

The first email was from Nidhi Kamath, a graduate from the Indian Institute of Crafts and Design in Jaipur. She, along with her friend Keya Vaswani, had studied craft product design but for their final graduation project had made a film on craft called Threads of Banaras, about silk weaving in Banaras.

 

Nidhi says: “This inspired us to make more films on crafts, as films as a medium for crafts was not explored much. Films are a strong and quick audio visual medium to connect with people. Also we feel that if we lose a craft, we lose a culture, so we try to capture the story of craft, its people and the culture.”

She sent me a link to Threads of Banaras and to two other films they have made since – one on block printing and one on thathera (metal sheet beating) – and asked me what I thought of them.

 

Well, I was charmed, especially by the one on block printing (of course!). Nidhi explained that the film is part of a project to make 10 films on craft for a design studio called Anantaya in Jaipur: “This would promote craft and bring its people and process forward so that people can know more about it and also contribute towards its preservation in their own way.”

 

Anantaya is run by designer Ayush Kasliwal and his wife Geetanjali, and their aim is to sustainably create “an interesting mix of luxury objects by engaging artisanal skills rooted in age old crafts culture and tradition”.

India certainly has no shortage of crafts culture and tradition, and I think it’s an admirable project to show the work of the artisans who produce such “luxury objects”.

And good luck to Nidhi and Keya – your films are lovely, and I look forward to seeing the rest of the series!

nidhi