Bandhani in Gujarat

I was really looking forward to seeing a lot of Indian bandhani, or tie-dye, while I was in Gujarat. And I wasn’t disappointed!

bandhani samples4 bandhani samples1 bandhani samples2 bandhani samples3

Bandhani is so popular in this area that a lot of it is now printed rather than tied and dyed by hand. It’s usually quite easy to tell whether a fabric has been printed rather than tied, as the dots are too regular – they lack the organic irregularities of something produced by hand. Also, the printed fabrics are usually synthetics, whereas the hand-tied pieces are cotton or silk.

However, just to reassure customers that fabrics are tied by hand, many shops leave the binding on, and just untie one or two sections to show the pattern. I love this, because for me the most exciting part of shibori is undoing the resist to see the final result for the first time.

So by buying a piece of bandhani that is still bound, I get the vicarious thrill of seeing the result without having to do all the work! 😉

bandhani unbound

The shots of different bandhani saris below were all taken at a market in Chhota Udepur, eastern Gujarat. It’s a big tribal area, and it was fascinating to see bows and arrows for sale alongside more conventional fruit and veg!
bandhani sari2 bandhani sari1bandhani sari14 bandhani sari3 bandhani sari4 bandhani sari5 bandhani sari6 bandhani sari7 bandhani sari8 bandhani sari9 bandhani sari10 bandhani sari11 bandhani sari12 bandhani sari13

From the pictures you can see that most of the bandhani is of the tied variety, but I did spot one sari that used a stitch resist. Given the area’s reputation for stitching, I wonder why stitch isn’t used as a resist more often.

bandhani sari stitch
One of the very few bandhani saris I saw that used a stitch resist

The skill needed to bind the dot patterns ratchets up to a whole new level for silk wedding saris.

At Kachchhi Print, in Dhamadka, it was incredible to watch the wife of the proprietor demonstrate her tying skills on a silk jacket she was making. In the photo below, the marks on the fabric are where the dots are to be tied, and you can see the density of the knots that she has already tied.

bandhani tying2

Tying at this level is usually restricted to wedding saris, which take around a month to make and start from around £100. Even though this was a relative bargain I couldn’t really justify buying 6.5 metres of such fine work, but at Kala Raksha later in the trip I found some very fine bandhani scarves that were more manageable in terms of size and weight!

bandhani scarf 001

bandhani scarf 002

Unsuccessful Spitalfields stall

Sadly, our first stall at Spitalfields was not a success – neither Tess nor I sold a single item!

You can’t say we didn’t try. Tess painted a beautiful banner backdrop and provided some lovely purple velvet covering for the table. The colours and textures of her hats and bags and my scarves and eyeglass cases made an eye-catching display, I thought.  Sadly, the buying public just didn’t seem interested.

My fellow stallholder, Tess, in front of our first stall at Spitalfields market

Of course, maybe our products weren’t good enough, or maybe they were overpriced. However, we concluded that there were probably two main reasons:

1. The type of market – Friday at Spitalfields is advertised as a fashion market, with stallholders varying “from designers and artists to resellers with an eye for the undiscovered and new”. There were a few other stalls besides us selling hand-made items like jewellery, hair ornaments, and brooches. But most of the other stalls were selling cheap fashion – the one next to us was hawking dresses for £10 (and attracted more interest from shoppers). We met and talked to an artist from Norfolk, Annette Rolston, who was offering beautiful linoprint silk scarves and prints – she didn’t sell anything either. She was firmly of the view that this was not a fashion and crafts market, but a general market that attracted people looking for cheap deals.

Too expensive for bargain hunters?

2. Not many visitors – We weren’t expecting Friday to be as busy as Sunday – after all, one of the reasons we decided to try out Friday was because the stall cost £30 rather than the £95 it costs on Sundays! But the number of visitors was extremely low. The lady who was running the stall behind us, selling sunglasses, said that footfall has really dropped off over the past couple of months, and that more people are just messing around, trying stuff on but then not buying. Another stallholder who was selling appliquéd brooches, which cost only £3, also said that people were picking up each one, examining them carefully, and then walking off, only to come back a while later to buy. Obviously the decision to spend £3 needs careful thought! Annette had also signed up for the Sunday market, so it will be interesting to hear whether business was any brisker today than on Friday.

But we’re not giving up just yet. For our next retail appearances we’re splitting up: I’m going to try the Tip Top Table Sale at the White Lion in Streatham on Sunday 1 May. And Tess will be at the Sheep and Wool Fair at Spitalfields City Farm on 15 May.

Tess also has her own Flat Sheep blog.