Introduction


Bagru, a rural Indian village in Rajasthan is situated around thirty kilometers east of Jaipur city. Its traditional process of hand block printing on textiles, with rich natural colors has been known for many centuries. The elaborate and rich colored floral prints of Bagru are very distinctive, so much so, that the renowned Calico Museum of Textile in Ahmedabad, India, commissioned a three years study in 1970s of the villages printing and dyeing transition. The village hums with much activity today, supplying the exquisite printed material for export trade. Buses and Jeeps are the main source of transportation available between Jaipur and Bagru.



History of Bagru


No authentic literature is available to indicate the beginning of this kind of printing, but this art is said to have started around 450 years back. The village had a community of CHHIPAS, or traditional crafts people who printed fabrics by hand. Bagru chhipas came from Sawai Madhopur, Alwar, Jhunjhuna, and Sikkar districts of Rajasthan to settle in Bagru and make it their home outset around 450 years ago. They are known for their unique designs of luxuriant trellises in sophisticated natural colors.


Until about fifty years ago, Bagru prints were still used mostly for ghagras (skirts) and odhnis (scarves) for women in surrounding communities, and the chhipas relied solely on this local market. Printed lengths of rough cotton about 50 cms wide were typically sewn color, different prints served as identifying emblems for various Hindu castes. In this highly stratified culture, leather workers, for example could wear the same floral prints as blacksmiths, but the base color of dark green or red distinguished the two groups. These lengths of uncut material were made only by the Chhipas and were worn only by Hindus.


Transition of the Craft


Today, however, trends in Indian fashion promote synthetic clothes and western designs. This has made chhipas give up their labour intensive process of printing with intricately carved wooden blocks.


In the early years, printers sat on the floor and worked on low tables; now they often stand while working at six meters long tables. Earlier chhipas used to do only running lengths- strips of a single pattern or of fabric with a single, repetitive motif. Now they are compatible in doing layouts, using different textured fabrics to print on, while playing with new colors and designs. The printing techniques themselves have changed a little as now they often incorporate spirals, circles diagonals in various patterns laid out on larger wider pieces of finer cotton. These aesthetic changes have occurred because the export market demands novelty in a way that the traditional market did not.


Uses


Bagru prints are immensely used in contemporary as well as conventional garments.


Conventionally, Bagru prints were used mostly for ghagras (skirts), odhnis (scarves) and pagris (turbans). The printed lengths of rough cotton about 50 cms wide were typically sewn together for long skirts.


Today, the products made with Bagru block prints have entered into Home Furnishings, apparel and accessories.


Colors


The colors for the Bagru prints are prepared from natural dyes. The prints are essentially in two colors - Red and Black


 

The base color of Bagru prints is off- white. Initially, natural dyes like madder, indigo, pomegranate rind, turmeric etc. were being used as coloring agents. For the past seventy years Alizarine has been introduced in place of madder (manzeet).Natural indigo has been replaced by Synthetic indigo. The main natural colors are prepared in the following ways by the printers themselves:


1. BLACK (Natural)


Worn-out iron horse-shoes or camel-shoes are soaked in water (fermented) (example 10 litres of water for 10 kg of horseshoe) to which molasses (gud) is added [1kg for 10 litres of water]. This mixture is kept aside for 15days. The process is carried on in a matka or a separate cement tank specially made for this purpose. After fifteen days the water is decanted and is used as the black pigment.


2. RED (Natural)


First, a gum paste solution in water is kept overnight and then sieved through a cotton cloth. Hundred grams of phitakari (boiled in water) is then mixed in the gum solution. When this color is applied on the fabric with the help of blocks it appears brown in color, but after it is put in the (bhatti) furnace the color changes to red.


3. MAROON (Natural)


In order to get this color, red and black colors are mixed in the ratio of 3:1 respectively i.e. 75% red and 25% black.


The source materials for natural dyes are not only plentiful but also harmless and non-pollutant. The water from these dye baths is usually recycled to irrigate vegetable garden of peas, wheat, and other green vegetables and grains.


Pigment Colors


Other than natural colors, pigment colors are also used for printing. Some of the pigment colors are:

1)       Green

2)       Pink

3)       Brown

4)       Violet

5)       Blue

6)       Rust


The basic color combinations used for Bagru printing are:

1)       Cream , Maroon and Black

2)       Black and white

3)       Blue (indigo) and white


Motifs


All the motifs are first carved on wooden blocks which are made by craftsmen called KHARAUDI. They specialize exclusively in the skill of hand-carving the designs on the blocks and do not use the electric machinery. They work with their traditional tools which include a ruler, compass, saw and wooden maller. A single colored block measuring 5.5 cms by 9cms, can cost between Rs. 350 and 800, depending upon the intricacy of the design. One block lasts for a maximum of 800- 1000mts. of fabric. Each design usually requires a set of several different blocks, including an outline (rekh), a background (gad), and filler (datta).


Main patterns carved on the blocks are:

1)       PATASHI with its tiny floral designs of buds, leaves and stems.

2)       JHAD with its interviewing trendrils and distinctive border lines.

3)       HATHI- the elephant


Besides these the other motif used are floral, spiral, geometrical and figures like fishes etc.


Process of Printing


Hand block printing is a complex and labor- intensive craft that involves a variety of skills at different stages: Carving the block (usually done by craftsmen) preparing the cloth, mixing the dyestuffs, and finally the printing, dyeing, and washing steps, which may be repeated several times to obtain a final color and design.

 

1. Carving the Block


The wooden blocks made by craftspeople called blocks. They are not using any electrical machinery, but relying on their traditional tools; compass, saw, routers, rulers, chisels, and wooden mallet. Each design usually requires a set of several different blocks, including an outline (rekh), a background (gad), and a filler (datta).


2. Preparing the cloth


The printing process begins with raw, grey cotton cloth which is either hand-woven or mill-made. The cloth is treated with several different auxiliaries (for example: bleaching) to make it softer and more absorbent. The swelling of fibers and opening the pores in order to absorb the printing paste uniformly, ensures that the dyes will be colorfast and bright. After this, the fabric is given a primary creamish- yellow color (pila karma) by applying HARDA SOLUTION. This solution is invariably a solution of harda power in water without any addition of oil. The cloth is then dried in the sun and is ready to start printing.


3. Mixing the dyestuffs


The dyestuffs are mixed in a printing tray which has fixed size 25cms/35cms. First a bamboo frame known as TATI is put inside the tray. On top of that we place a layer of KAMALI, which is a woolen cloth. The dye solution, is prepared by mixing the color into the Binder, and is then poured into the tray, where in gets soaked by the woolen cloth. After these preparations, printing of the fabric starts.


4. Printing the Fabric


There are two main types of printing used commonly in Bagru: direct dye printing and resisting printing. In both procedures, first the blocks are soaked overnight in mustard oil or refined oil and then washed. Printing is done on wooden table, the size of which depends on the length of to be printed (18 foot approx.). These tables have a layer of ply on which there are 20 layers of tart and a sheet of cloth on which comes the final fabric.


a. Direct Dye Printing


In the first process, the dye solutions are poured in the tray. The printer presses the block into the dye tray and then onto the cloth until the pattern is complete. For every imprint the block is pressed into the tray to get a fresh smear of paste. The outline pattern is done in blocks for the background and highlights in different colors. Once each pattern is complete, the cloth is ready for the dye vat. This printing is primarily done by male printers.


b. Resist Printing


The second technique, known locally as DABU printing, involves the applying thick black mud paste onto the fabric with the wood blocks. This dabu paste when printed on the cloth, often given a light dusting of a material resembling fine wood dust. To speed the drying process and add strength to the resist paste, the dabu method is generally used to fill in smaller, highlighted spots of the pattern. Although, women have traditionally done the dabu printing, men are also involving themselves in it.


5. Dyeing


a. Direct Dyeing


Once the cloth has been printed, it is dried in the sun and finally ready for dyeing. The cloth is dyed either in a hot dye bath in a copper vessel or a cool dye vat dug in the ground. For the hot dye, the copper vessel or TAMDA, is filled with various combinations of Alizarin (a red dye traditionally made from madder root) mixed with Dabudiya flowers, and other vegetable and mineral dyestuffs and fixations.


b. Indigo Dyeing


The cool sunken vat, called MATH, is reserved for Indigo Dyeing which imparts shades of blue. The vat is dug about 2 meters deep into the ground and is filled with indigo, lime, molasses and water. The dyer may dip the cloth several times for a deeper shade of blue or dry it for further Dabu printing to retain light blue and then later re dye it.

 

6. Washing


Once the printing and dyeing are complete, the cloth is again hand washed and sun-dried. This completes the whole process of block printing.


At this point, the finished material is folded, packed in burlap and twine, and trucked off to far- off places.


Process Chart


Ingredients

Process

1. Raw Fabric


2. Cow dung, Soda Ash, Sesame Oil

Prepared solution of given moderants in water and kept the raw cloth for 2 days in the solution. After washing in sufficient floating water and constant sun bleach in open sunlight, the shape of cloth is attained. This process is called Sun Bleach-cum Scavering process.

3. Myrobalan

Scavered cloth dyed is in myrobalan solution and dried in open sun by spreading over sandy grounds.

4. Alum, Red Soil (Geru), Natural Gum

Concentrated thick paste of these moderants is prepared in water and printed with traditional wooden block Singh Badh.

5.

Printed cloth has been beaten on stone by dipping in water twice or thrice to ensure that there is no gum in the printed portion of the cloth. This process is called Degumming Process.

6. Manzeet (madder), Ali Ki Lakdi,
Debudiya Flowers,Shakoor

De-gummed cloth is dyed in the hot solution of these moderants till the required red shade comes.

7. Alum

Red dyed cloth is dipped in Alum solution. Alum has changed the pinkish group shade of the cloth in yellowish.

8. Manzeet (madder), Debudiya Flowers

Alum dipped cloth is re-dyed in the hot solution of these moderants till the ground shade of the cloth turns to dark pink.

9. Beedhan (sour flour of wheet eaten by creatures) Natural Gum, Lime, sand Black Soil

Pink dyed cloth is printed with Dabu (thick paste prepared with these moderants is called Dabu), with the wooden block all over the red printed butty. Another name of Dabu is Mud Paste.

10. Pomegranate

Dabu printed (mud resist) cloth is dyed in pomegranate extract. The ground shade of the cloth changes from pink to pinkish yellow.

11. Natural Indigo

Pomegranate dyed cloth is now dyed in natural indigo in indigo vat. Now the ground dye of the cloth has changed to dark blue.

12. Pomegranate

Indigo dyed cloth is now re-dyed in pomegranate extract. Thus, the color of the cloth changes from blue to olive green.

 

13. Alum

Pomegranate and indigo dyed cloth is dipped in alum solution and dyed in open sun and kept under shade for 24 fours to have the greenish change shade..

14.

Wash the mud printed, pomegranate, indigo dyed cloth to remove the mud and to have the requisite shinning.

15. Beedhan, Natural Gum, Lime, Black Soil

Mud washed fabric is re-mud printed on the lower portion of the block.

16.Turmeric Powder, Pomegranate Sesame Oil

Re-Dabu the printed fabric and re-dye in the thick solution of turmeric and pomegranate with the woolen rug to have yellow color in the leaves of the block.

17. Alum

Dyed and mud printed cloth is dipped in Alum solution. Alum acts as a fixing agent in the vegetable dyes. It gives various shades by processing with different vegetable moderants.

18.

On removing the mud, the finished cloth is ready for use. This type of traditional fabric were used by Pathans and Afghans before partition.


About the Author:


The author is the Head of the Department Textile & Communication Design, Pearl Academy of Fashion.


Source: Pearl Academy of Fashion


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