Quick editor's note: many of the pictures from this post were taken by Hallie, and she also helped with editing the photos so they look nicer.
We spent Tuesday and Wednesday taking a block-printing workshop at a factory located in the village of Bagru, which is about 30km east of Jaipur. Bagru was known historically in the region for its block-printing techniques and use of natural dyes. It is my understanding that the crafts of both block-printing and natural dyes became somewhat lost in recent years, given the rise of machines and chemicals. However, these techniques have had a resurgence as of late, at least among sectors of society interested in tradition and eco-friendly methods.
The business, called Jai Texarts, hand dyes the fabric in Bagru, cleans and presses them at another unit in Sanganer (another village on the outskirts of Bagru famous for its prints), and then sells the final product through their office in Jaipur. Hallie had discovered the place through her research and arranged the workshop for us. When we arrived, we learned that summertime is quite slow for the factory because the humidity causes the dyes to run, making it difficult to maintain sharp lines. Thus to our surprise, there were only one or two men working on prints when we arrived, and it almost felt as if we had the place to ourselves. I’d say there weren’t more than 7 people there altogether, including the "security guard" and his wife, an somewhat elderly couple that live on the premises. We later learned that in the winter months the floor is filled with up to 35 workers, but our time there was tranquil and relaxed.
To begin the workshop, one of the owners, a man named Hemant Sethia (who spoke the best English of anyone there by a long shot) gave us a tour of the grounds, explained the processes, and showed us samples of the raw plants used to make the necessary concoctions, which included dyes, mordant, color fixers, and gum.
After this brief introductory tour, we got to work. On the first day, we each created a block-print scarf made only with two colors, red and black (three if you count the white cloth itself). Our instructor for the day was a man named Lalchand, who is the factory's master printer and also bore an uncanny resemblance to Jonah Hill. After soaking the fabric in a mordant made from harda trees, which helps the cotton absorb the dye more thoroughly, the next step was to select our blocks from the factory’s vast collection. We each chose one for the border and one for the interior.
Next, we pinned our fabric down to a huge work table as Lalchand prepared the dyes. Then, we started printing! Each application of the dye requires nothing less than a karate chop squarely upon the top of the block, and by the time we had completed the design, the bone running from my pinky to my wrist was tender and sore. After we finished printing, we set the fabric out in the sun to dry, and went to lunch. Our driver took us to a strange restaurant in a hotel that sat alongside the highway called Hotel Highway King Restaurant. The food was cheap and spicy, but perhaps slightly more intense than one might hope for during a quick lunch. After we returned from lunch, we watched Lalchand wash out the mordant and I helped dry the scarves by churning a hand-crank spinner that sucked all the water out. Here are some pictures that show the works in progress, as well as the finished product.
|Hallie at work, with the assist from Lalchand|
|Hallie's work in progress|
|Michael at work.|
|Michael's work in progress|
|Our finished scarves, drying in the summer heat.|
We returned to the factory the following morning. On the second day, we used a technique called daboo. Instead of using the hand blocks to apply dye, we applied mud, which functions as a resist. Once the mud dries, the entire fabric is dipped in an indigo bath, but the portions of the fabric underneath the mud will never come in contact with the dye. Once the mud is applied, a layer of sawdust is added to prevent any dripping and to lock the mud in place. After being set out to dry once more, the mud is then washed out, leaving behind a white pattern where the mud once was. Pretty nifty. It was also cool because we got to see them make the mud mixture, which also contains a natural gum. The process was pretty similar to the day before, but we had to select from different blocks, and the application technique was much trickier to pick up. Instead of Lalchand, a woman named Sawatri helped us. Like Lalchand, she spoke no English. She was quite friendly though and guided us through the process. I think Hallie and I both preferred Lalchand's no-nonsense approach. In the afternoon, while we waited for the fabric to dry, Hemant the owner took us to their organic farm, which was out on a very bumpy dirt road on the other side of the village. As it turns out, they don't actually grow very much at the farm that ends up being used in the factory. As far as I could tell, it was actually just a lemon farm! Still, it was exceedingly peaceful there, and the farmers whipped us up an unbelievable sweet pitcher of mint infused lemonade. Here are some pictures illustrating the process on day two, as well as a few pics from the farm.
|Lalchand chilling while his assistant toils in the mud.|
|Mud block selection.|
|Michael at work, with the assist from Sawatri|
|Hallie dropping mud stamps with precision.|
|Lemon farmers sorting out the pick.|
The following day, Thursday, was our final day in Jaipur. We spent the day doing some more traditional sightseeing, which included a trip out to Jaipur's famous Amber Fort, a quick visit to the Anohki Textile Museum (Hallie's pic, naturally), as well as a trip to a lesser known temple that has a huge monkey population. At the Amber Fort, many tourists elect to ride an elephant from the base of the fort up to its entrance. Watching the elephants trudge up the mountainside was depressing, and I can't imagine it would be very fun to sit on top of an elephant. Shouldn't they be running free in a field somewhere? Some of the elephants had their faces painted, which I suppose was a nice touch. Another highlight was watching a man at the Anohki Museum create wood blocks before our very eyes. The speed at which he could chisel away at the wood and create intricate patterns such as flowers and various geometric shapes astounded me.
I also spent a portion of the afternoon trying to hunt down an affordable marble sculpture of Sai Baba (for my home alter, naturally), but was unable to find anything of quality at an affordable price, and the prospect of lugging around a 20 pound marble sculpture increasingly seemed like a stupid idea. I settled for a tiny little metal trinket of Sai Baba, which set me back about $3. There is probably more I could say about our last day, but I'm not sure how interesting any of it would actually would be. Instead, I offer a few pictures, which are posted below. After a very long day of travel yesterday, we are now in Mysore, which is in India's deep south, and quite different from the north. Hope to make another post soon!
|Courtyard at Hotel Diggi Palace.|
|Amber Fort, Jaipur.|