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Nature on cloth Craft

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Steady hands Kanchana (left) and Hema use bamboo sticks as paint brushes
Steady hands Kanchana (left) and Hema use bamboo sticks as paint brushes

A demonstration on the art of Kalamkari highlighted the time and skill that go into each Kalamkari piece

Kanchana and Hema, two artisans from Srikalahasti, recreated Nature on cloth with deft strokes at a demonstration on the art of Kalamkari at Fabindia.

Using a burnt tamarind twig, Kanchana, an award-winning artisan, sketched the outline framed in her mind. “The twig serves the purpose of a pencil or kalam. A pencil may leave an outline even after the cloth is washed. This doesn’t,” explains Ramana Prasad, administrative officer for Dwaraka, (Development of Weavers and Rural artisans in Kalamkari art) to curious visitors.

Then, with point-tipped bamboo sticks as paint brushes and steady hands, Kanchana and Hema sketch the outline in black paint made from a blend of fermented jaggery, palm jaggery and rusted iron files. “Black is a must in all our works, be it to draw the outline or as a colour-filling exercise.” Soon, peacocks play peak-a-boo amidst lush greenery.

“We will not be demonstrating how the colours are filled, as the making of the various dyes takes days.” He then narrates the whole process of creating a Kalamkari masterpiece. “It’s an arduous process. People fail to realise the time and skill that go into a Kalamkari piece. It takes 15 to 20 days for one artisan to complete a sari. Also, no two Kalamkari pieces are the same as each piece is a product of the artisan’s mind - be it the framing of design or the use of colours.”

The process

According to Ramana Prasad, the fabric is first washed in a flowing river. Then it is left to dry in the sun. Once dry, it is dipped in a mixture of cow’s milk and myrobalan powder (extracts from a flower found in the forest). “This is to ensure that the colours used later do not run.” The end result is a golden-cream coloured cloth, the base colour for each fabric. The artistes then sketch the outlines of the images. Vegetable and fruit dyes are used as colours. The fabric is then boiled and hung to dry.

“So you see, Kalamkari is in tune with nature, it uses the help of Nature in each process. The motifs too are mostly Nature inspired. It is eco-friendly.”

A fading textile industry, Kalamkari is being revived by Dwaraka. “We train young girls and women from marginalised Kalamkari and weaver families in this craft. Kanchana and Hema are two such people we have trained. They earn their livelihood through this. ”

To make the Kalamkari art contemporary, Dwaraka has used this craft form in innovative ways: mirrors, picture frames and folders are framed by Kalamkari panels, silk evening bags have patch-worked Kalamkari prints and Kalamkari shades for lamps. “We also have saris and apparels.”

Dwaraka also exports some of its products. “Foreigners seem to appreciate this rural art. They, however, prefer motifs from Hindu mythology.”

The demonstration of Kalamkari is organised by Fabindia in association with Dwaraka.

LIZA GEORGE

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