On our first full day in Jaipur, we visited a block printing factory where we were very privileged to be the first group ever to partake in a workshop using working blocks and inks with tuition from the printers. We then went on to visit people in their homes, each dedicated to a very specific aspect of textile production.
Cotton was the main fabric being printed in varius weights, and all the dyes were vegetable based. The palatte was (approximately) indigo blue, red, ochre, burnt sienna, black and violet. The consisency of the printing ink was quite runny and similar to single cream. The blocks were heavily inked from a wooden inking tray. The tray had a frame inside it, strung with string like a tennis racket, and heavy fabric layered on top. A small credit card type tool was used to flatten out the pad and rid it of any impression from the block to ensure even inking.
In this factory the fabric appeared not to be prepared with any guidelines, and the hardest thing I found when I had a go was keeping the rows of prints in line. The fabric was pinned onto long tables covered with heavy cotton known as serendipity cloth. We bought some samples of serendipity cloth later in the holiday, rich with ghost prints of many hundreds of print runs. The printers works with precision at a great speed, lining up two corners, tipping the block onto the fabric, firmly tapping the handle three times and lifting the block straight up in a single swift motion. In multiple block designs, the key block was printed first, with colour fills being added on top. The fabrics were laid out on the ground in the sun to dry, and were touch dry in only a few minutes.
From here we visited a series of houses. In the first, we saw large dye vats and washers, with fabric being rolled from one spool to another several times through the bath which was heated underneath by a furnace. The furnace was attended by a woman with mechanical bellows, a hot job in sometimes very warm weather. The fabric was then hung out to dry on huge frames. We also had a demonstration of a form of tie dye similar to some of the samples I produced when researching shibori. This technique was called Bandhani, and a single piece of fabric would take a whole day to prepare for the dye bath. She used a finger to measure out the pattern as she worked.
We also visited a home where mattress frames and toppers were being produced. The topppers were simple quilts (not patchwork), filled with cotton fibrefill and sewn with securing buttons, similar to our mattresses at home. One thing that struck me on these visits, was the extent to which the home was given over to the industry, with several rooms and all of their land occupied by storage and production.
We saw two methods of mud resist, locally known as Dabu. In the first, a mud slurry was used to print fabric with wooden block in exactly the same way as in the ink printing factory. The work was then covered with a fine layer of sifted wheatchaff and dried grass. The fabric was then dried in the sun before being dyed in indigo vats. If areas of deeper and lighter tone were required, more mud was printed on top and prepared in the same way before a second dip in the dye bath. The sample was then washed out to remove mud and excess indigo.
More affluent families were able to use a method of Dabu used to create the crackled resist pattern often seen in the centre of bedspreads. This method requires the use of wheat chaff milled to a very fine powder. This was mixed with mud, chalk and glue before being spread on the centre of the fabric with a large brush. The process requires a large area of land for laying out the fabric for painting and drying. The mud is then cracked into a fine pattern before the fabric is dyed. The family we visited had an indigo vat in the porch of their home.