Wear it naturally

Crafty Story -II (A series on Indian Crafts)

Have you ever noticed what are the colors used for your favorite blue shirt? Are they natural or synthetic and artifically made? How much are they harmful to the enviroment or our body? Yes, I am talking about the colors and its impact on health and environment.
Dry colors, vegetable colors or natural dye colors are more skin friendly, and good. Its more like a family, region based business for making colors and implementing the same on products like-carpet, toys and printing etc.
The color that you are wearing, using will not only have colors to soothe your eyes but fragnance of the ingredients will also smells nicely. Colors derived from nature have some depth which chemical dyes lack.

China, Rome, Brazil, East Indies, France and many more countries are coloring the world in natural way. In history, India is painting naturally approximately since 327BC and has been a metaphor of excellance.

Natural colored dyed and handspun Carpet.
Natural colored dyed and handspun Carpet from nomadrugs.com

These natural, hand made, eco-friendly dyes are biodegradable and non-carcinogenic. They are obtained from dried flowers, leaves, seeds & barks and from stones at times from insects also! These are soft and low toxic colors generally non-allergic.
And use for dyeing of Textile like fibre, wool, yarns or garments etc. Paper coloring, on Toys and other Wooden products, making handmade Soaps, Candles; possible areas are unlimited.
From Indigo dye used in ‘Ikat’ (textile from Orissa, India) and food colors added in the form of Indian spices like Turmeric.
Nature colors.
Natural colors and dyes are extracted by the process of fermentation, boiling, and treatment with chemicals. Colors can be obtained from a single dye by the use of different mordents with which the fabrics to be dyed are treated.

 Indigo Dye and wool dyed
Indigo Dye and wool dyed in same. Pictures taken from http://www.aurorasilk.com/

Naturally Printed.
Fiber has cellulose and it will easily absorb natural dyes. Indian textiles are famous for naturally dyed cotton cloths. Gujarat, one of the major center for dyed and block printed textile. Rajasthan tie & dye (Bandhini) is worldwide famous so are Kasmir carpets that have interesting patterns by using vegetable dyes colors and Bihar Madhubani paintings painted delicately in natural colors.
Both western & eastern coast of India have beautifully printed cotton but technique is bit different. If south indian artists uses brush to paint then Gujarat uses wooden blocks for printing nice patterns.

Techniques
Printing blocks are made of teak wood, on one side design is etched. Other side has a wooden handle for holding and drilled cylindrical holes to pass the air and allowing the release of excess colors. New blocks are soaked in oil for 2 weeks or so to soften the wood grains.
In south a bamboo pen is used. That’s how Kalamkari- kalam (pen) and kari (means Work) method of painting on cotton or silk happen. Andhra Pradesh in India is famous for Kalamkari work.
Natural Dyes are supposed to use but gradually artificial and chemical colors are replacing the Indigo blue and Turmeric yellows.

Fabrics
Images courtesy- http://www.fabindia.com/craftsProfile.asp

Dyes making
Most of natural dyes are produced in situ means the coloring substance is extracted form the raw material and used. Which has disadvantage of non-reproduction, mass production, storing is also limited and it’s not standardized.
If techniques are used to produce in powder form than these drawbacks can be remove. Power would be available for long period of time, easy to carry & use and can be standardized by following the guidelines. Color variations in different lot can be also minimized.

Chemical Connection.
One side Natural dyes are organic, eco friendly, bio degradable and much more alive other side synthetics or chemically composed colors are inorganic, flat, and dead. A quick difference can be seen by checking the tonality, depth of naturally dye fabric to flat and unchanged artificial colors used textile.

But natural colors are now fading towards artificially made commercialized colors as it’s easy to get, ready to use. It is impractical to restore all our age-old practices with the versatility of man-made products still it s more about making a right choice and going nature way. To create a good and healthy and more alive work, natural dyes made work is better any day. It is not about saving time and producing quantity its more about retaining the craftsmen identities and making a greener and eco friendly choice.

Tags: Natural dyes, Vegetable colors, Indigo, Indian natural dyes, eco-friendly colors, handicraft, craft, Textile

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Crafty Story – 1

Craft is such subject that how much you explore will make you more inquisitive. It opens the vision to look beyond the current lifestyles and takes you to the tradition where it evolved to how it reaches to other cultured areas. India is full of crafts. Just like there are endless traditions to follow, there are lots of crafts to do. That gives customer a wide variety to choose from. And if taking about Indian craft the best place to buy at one place; none other than India’s very own Dilli Haat.

There is a fair ongoing – Savan saras, 2006 with crafts from all states of India. There were awesome toys collection made of wood, paper, coconut & jute etc. But today I am just fascinated with paper.

papier mache pots.

Paper is such a versatile material that how much you appreciate it is less. The history of paper is very old; originated from papyrus and in between somewhere comes the papier-mâché. It’s a french word means chewed paper. Through at times textiles, wood grains or all-purpose floor etc can be use too. This art originated in China, no exact years are defined but patented by Henry Clay of Birmingham, U.K. It was one of the common techniques to make puppets, dolls in 19th century. And till date it is an appealing craft to entertain children.

After all paper is one of first composite material that’s used to make strong structure. I was surprised to know there were paper boats that really floated in river. (Not our childhood days paper boats)Yes, Paper canoe that was hit in 1800 in America. Paper strips are added by using glue or other way is making a papier-mâché paste by using one part water in one part flour. Or at times by adding diluted glue and using different moulds to get a shape. Paint, decorations or varnishing happens when it get dried.

Lamp shades A mask -papier mache.

This way the creation of a papier-mâché object can be divided into two distinct categories 1.Sakhtsazi (making the object) and 2. Naqashi (painting the surface).

So how did this amazing craft reach to India, that too paradise of earth (Kashmir). Sultan Zain-ul-Adidin was the person behind bringing it to the valley in 15th century. Kashmir is famous for papier-mâché intricate painted tiny boxes and huge vases.

The colors used for it are obtained by grinding and soaking various vegetable mineral dyes in pigment or stone form. Evergreen patterns in papier-mâché are sparkling running streams, lotuses blooming in Dal Lake, green fields contrasting with white snow capped mountains, tiny songbirds perch & nest and other colorful floral designs. Gold, silver are also used to make big articles.

Dolls and much more.

This craft is also practice in other part of India, like in Kerala for making huge Kathkali masks, in Odisha to depict the deities so in Gwalior (Mandhya Pradesh) for largely making the toys. A differentiating difference can be seen in products made in tribal parts and the people who use wooden mould to do papier-mâché. It gives fine finishing as compare to products made by giving shape through hands.

Palki- traditional mode (a ritual) for carrying indian bridal after marriage.

And what papier-mâché do offer, a range of souvenir to gift on Christmas, and on other occasion from light weight toys to bright and appealing boxes & vases. And painting style on each object will tell the story from where it is coming. There is so much to cherish with this brilliant craft which has no definitive way to do still anyone can make awesome articles with little bit understanding and unlimited imagination.

Papier mache animals!

* This is series of post on Indian crafts & toys made by using paper, wood, cloths etc.
** All Photos taken by me are from Dili haat’s different stalls.

Crafting craftsmanship.

Craft is the one such subject that is always known to everyone from the very young age. Its such a distinctive thing that could be seen everywhere you go because every place have own specialty- craft of that city which have own art & grandeur. There is a legacy in making of it, there is story, a reason behind that’s why it is practicing from years. It’s just not a contemporary piece of furniture that is made by a creative person.

Elephants in stone

Today while browsing one of my favorite blog I came across ‘Crafting all the way to bank’ on Design Observer. And it made me to think about craftsmen. Once I pointed out about ‘Indian & African crafts’.

I come to know about the first references to Indian handicrafts was found from the Indus Valley Civilization. This civilization is well versed in the craft of bead making, ceramics, shell etc. Other golden periods were Mughal era and the Gupta period. As the India is diverse country so there is huge diversity in Indian crafts too. Colors of Gujarat to Rajasthani puppets to Agra’s stone work and Kashmiri shawls and South Indian sarees so much with own specialty that you will fall for everything and would like to take home.

Taking about craft is not so easy as now craft is merging more into design and trends. Products that were earlier known for traditional value and have a particular pattern or color scheme, today’s have more of selling power because of abstract form or use of colors in demands. It is all about customer taste, what he will like, he would like to spend money on. And what about the creator? Who are following the trade of patola silk sari (Patan, Gujarat) from years by using the same colors & pattern. How Chinese market is grasping the years old Banarasi silk sarees market by offering the same stuff at cheaper rate. Technology overruling intricate handwork.

Spending few hours with craftsmen and understanding their problem is one issue. But how exactly you can help, your role as designer. What is Design intervention, so many things that will come to your mind. How to prevent years practiced craft, And why craftsmen would like to pursue their grandfather skills.

Some continuos effort are made like opening of International Centre for Indian Crafts (ICIC). That will conduct number of need based knowledge and skill dissemination workshops and training programmes, and also work towards developing international collaborative network of experts in various areas of crafts and provide the exchange and knowledge transfer opportunities for the craftsperson. Which is very important. Like when I was documenting Wooden lacquerware toys of Varanasi, UP, India, craftsmen told me- ‘Now noone comes here for buying wooden Kitchen set so we are more interested in export, through our knowledge about how to do is almost nil. We have to be dependent on someone & that might take the advantage of our unawareness.’

So here comes the Awareness, the solution. This is what we need to do- establishing channels, mediums and frameworks that could help them to survive in changed scenarios. As with the emergence of market it is important that there should be qualitative market intelligence flow between market- place and the Crafts person.

With the understanding on production’s quality, crafts promotion and sustainability by keeping in mind market development, IPR issues and traditions.

Well managed and formed communities and centre for crafts, conducting skill enhancement workshops for craftsmen, giving training to the new or interested craftsmen. Conducting design research, exposuring the craftsmen to different cultures and doing design interventions for the upliftment of the crafts communities and improving the networking by approaching government, other countries for the mutual social-economic growth are some of the approaches.

Such makers have a unique & genuine connection with the natural world and it manifests itself in a creative excellence to world that take the wondrous elements of this earth coming up to exceptional terms which only he can make and we can only learn and ‘redesign’.

Creativity meets crafts

Crafts word reminds me of my art class and the look in my mother’s eyes when she used to show the items to others by saying – “this is handcrafted, my elder daughter did it.”

Simply defining, crafts comprises of all those activities and hobbies that are related to making things with one’s own hands and skill. This can, then, be further divided into handicrafts or traditional crafts. Some crafts have been practiced for centuries, while others are modern inventions, or popularization of work that was originally practiced in a very small geographic area. And the sincerity of those craftsmen is evident when they want to pursue this job for the love of it even its not giving them enough to eat & live. They lived with their crafts, teaching the same to their children – who became the future master of the skill.

Indian craft sector is very vivid – you start from the one corner & by the time you reach the other corner, you will have seen tremendous range of products, made using different local material & authentic techniques.

Recently I got a chance to attend a workshop on Indian and South African crafts. It was a wonderful experience to sit & work with those people – especially when you have to talk in sign language or finding another ways to communicate. Gujarati people were ok with Hindi & South African well versed with English. But craftsmen were from Orissa and it was interesting to see the ways in whch those guys talked with each other. I think it’s the enthusiasm to learn new things that made them to work together.

I loved it when Zulu guys dressed up in their style – with lots of beadwork and their unique way of wearing the hat and beaded hairs. Zulus are people who reside in the province of Kwazulu/natal. Their beadwork is very special in its own might because of the color, patterns and the sizes of beads. On the other hand, Gujrat’s artisian beadwork has different color palette & design pattern though technique of doing it is almost same. Historically, this technique and skill came from East Africa and then was first adopted by mochi tribe (people who do leather work). With time, people started using other beads also but glass beads still have its own charm.

Talking about appliqué work, Africans stress on story while Indian comes up with own pictures. African artists use cotton and other thick clothes with beads and colorful threads while Gujrati craftswomen stitch organdy, cotton and other fabric with beads and embroidery that happens on leather too. The fact that Gujarat is best known for Textiles & handicrafts clearly indicates its uniqueness.

Pat-chitra katha, which is an unique kind of painting on palm leaf with story narration on it and Dogra craft – belongs to Orissa state. Doing dogra work is awesome in its own. Fine wax threads are used to do intricate work and then casting. With metals taking place of wax, it’s quite a revelation to know that the fragile melting wax thread was responsible for such fine work.

More interesting and refreshing stuff comes up when the existing and awesome crafting skills meets with innovative minds. That’s is called design intervention. This is where craft and design goes to market to match the criteria of trends & buyers, and comes up with awesome results.