Handlooms Fashion

Gaurang’s mammoth experiment with natural dyes

It’s tough to explain the allure of indigo. Those who nurture a never-waning romance with the deep-hued pigment, over time, begin to learn about its significance in textile history. A few seasons ago, the retail sector witnessed a deluge of collections in indigo. Some used synthetic indigos and a few others used the natural dye.

Looking at both online and offline players exploit the indigo wave to the hilt, one wondered if there was room for any further experimentation. Hyderabad-based textile designer Gaurang Shah is ready to showcase newer possibilities with indigo at Lakme Fashion Week Spring/Summer on February 2.

Unveiling ‘Neel’

Giving us a sneak preview of his line that’s aptly titled ‘Neel’, he displays a range of weaves and techniques that use indigo. Ajrakh block prints, chikankari embroidered kurtas and saris, kalamkari, jamdhani on fine count khadi from Bengal, Benaras saris using organzas, Maheshwari silks with bandhani, kota cottons, double ikat from Koyyalagudem in Andhra Pradesh, patola from Patan, Parsi-embroidered ensembles, Dhakai jamdani saris... the entire range uses indigo. Threads dyed in indigo are used for chikankari embroidery, ajrakh block prints carry an indigo hue, kalamkari patterns have lighter and darker tones of the pigment, smaller patterns dyed in indigo are visible from within a red canvas of double ikat Patola, and bird motifs or delicate embroidery on the border of a creamy-white sari add a touch of indigo elsewhere.

Gaurang’s mammoth experiment with natural dyes

Neel isn’t about applying indigo to any yarn or textile at random. Gaurang’s team prepared a shade card — light, medium and dark tones — and tapped artisans who specialised in creating specific hues. The indigo from Andhra is different from Gujarat, which again differs from that of Bengal. The season and quality of water result in different shades. “The indigo we usually see in kalamkari from Tirupati is derived from indigo cake and is inky blue. But we wanted tonal variations and asked them to use natural pigments,” explains Gaurang.

Gaurang’s mammoth experiment with natural dyes

The collection is summery and uses kota cottons, light Maheshwari silks and fine count khadi (300 to 500 thread count) from Bengal. Certain pieces involved time and persistence. Double ikat patolas from Patan involved resist dyeing for indigo at the final stage, after other colours were applied. An off-white Lucknow ‘hath-katti’ embroidery tunic is paired with indigo-dyed bandhani dhoti pants; men’s kurtas are teamed with ijar pants with Dhakai technique, threads dyed in different shades of indigo have gone into fine aari embroidery for a blouse... “a lot of people have been doing bagru and shibori in indigo, we wanted to show newer dimensions,” says Gaurang.

“Each garment or sari has gone through various stages — craftsmen from different regions were involved from the yarn to weaving and dyeing process,” says Gaurang.

Dream project

This experiment with dyes has resulted in a lot of learning, which Gaurang and his team are putting to good use for a pet project — they are working on recreating 54 paintings of Raja Ravi Varma on saris. They aren’t looking at the easy method of screen-printing the paintings on textiles. The idea is to recreate the paintings on sari pallus through weaving, with all the light and shade from the painting translated on cloth!

Nearly 800 shades of yarn are necessary and the team is tapping natural dye specialists across India. The samples of yarn that have been already developed range from fluorescent greens to lilacs, peachy pinks to sea blues — hues that one normally doesn’t come across in natural dyes. Showing us a luminescent yellow, Gaurang’s team member Aarushi explains, “Each colour goes through stages — applying a dye, then dipping the yarn in alum and drying, then applying another colour that neutralises the tone and again alum... The intensity of the final colour depends on whether the yarn is dried indoors or outdoors, direct or indirect sunlight and in which season.”

This project is in collaboration with Raja Ravi Varma Foundation from which Gaurang proccurred 54 lithographs. The team intends to complete the project by October 2, 2019, to coincide with Raja Ravi Varma’s death anniversary and Gandhi Jayanti, as all the weaving of the paintings will be done on khadi saris, which will be showcased in 16 museums worldwide.

The paintings chosen are in three categories — women in Raja Ravi Varma paintings, gods and goddesses, and stories. God figures will be recreated in kalamkari, paintings of women will be done in jamdani, and the stories through aari embroidery.

This is Gaurang’s most challenging project to date and he says, “Raja Ravi Varma used only natural colours for his paintings, in combinations of four primary colours. So we opted to do it with natural dyes.”

Webs of woven wind: The book ‘A Frayed History: The Journey of Cotton in India’ by Meena Menon and Uzramma quotes historical accounts of the legendary Dacca muslin, woven on river banks of Dhaka using yarns of 1000 to1800 counts in a warp to result in sheer, cloud-like fabric.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 8:39:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fashion/gaurang-shah-on-his-indigo-collection-neel-and-his-dream-project-of-recreating-raja-ravi-varma-paintings-through-weaves/article22550948.ece

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