A year ago I traveled to the state of Gujarat in India as a designer and researcher, with a grant from the Portuguese Orient Foundation to learn and to document two of the most important and practiced textile techniques in this country: Ajrakh block printing and Bandhani tie-dye. My main area of study was Bhuj, a small town located in the arid Kutch district that is home to communities that practice these two traditional arts.
Artisans who migrated from Sindh, in Pakistan, to the Kutch district and Rajasthan brought with them the traditions of Ajrakh block printing and Bandhani tie-dye. Both of these techniques require a great knowledge of dyes and chemistry as well as high attention to detail. To achieve a good final product, several days are spent preparing the materials. Many conditions can influence all the process, including the water, the climate, the quality of the dyes and the fabrics.
Ajrakh block printing is a very complex printing process, involving around twelve stages done over the course of two weeks to
finish a piece of fabric. Traditionally, Ajrakh block print pieces were done by men, for men, who wear them as long dupatas or shoulder scarfs; as turbans and as lunghis (skirts). Today, Ajrakh fabric is popular as attire among women as well as men, and used as bed covers, table covers and clothing pieces.
Bandhani tie-dye requires a very good pair of experienced hands and fingers to make knots in the fabric and dye it afterwards. And it’s a joint-venture: the tying is usually done by women and the dyeing by men. The results are delicate and intricate patterns, transformed into beautiful dupatas, saris and other pieces used mainly by women.
These communities have to balance two competing realities. On the one hand, they have to preserve their cultural identity and tradition. But they also know they have to adjust their traditional practices to what their current clients need to have a competitive edge in the textile market.
With studying with these Indian masters, I learned how to privilege time and how to be more patient and focused on the details and on the creative process. Good things take time to achieve.