While I was in India recently (you can see my post here), I visited the small printing & dyeing village of Bagru, near Jaipur. I had signed up for a two-day block printing workshop and was super excited to see the place for myself, having snooped around online about it for quite a while.
We started with a pleasant and interesting wander through the town, where our guide showed us various stations for the different processes that are done there. There were the huge communal drying fields, with indigo-stained dust; the (thankfully lidded) deep indigo wells on various people's porches; the washing pools; and the printing rooms with their sagging shelves holding countless hand-carved wooden blocks for printing. Along the way excited kids shouted to us, and a few bovine friends stopped to say hello!
One of the highlights was leaning round the doorway to the block carver's workshop, watching these men do their thing. It's amazing the detail they can achieve, and the absolutely beautiful stamps they create are lovely items in and of themselves.
We watched a woman deftly printing with the rather sloppy local dabu mud mixture. It was impressive to see how well she matched the pattern up as she went! After printing an area of fabric she scattered it with sawdust to prevent it from smudging as she continued on down the length of fabric.
After the fabric is printed it goes through further processes, for example indigo dyeing. This man was sitting on his porch pushing fabric around in the indigo well with a long bamboo pole, and then pulling it out bright green in colour. After lying out in the sun the colour will change to the indigo blue we are familiar with.
At last it was our turn to get stuck in and create something ourselves! I find this is always a good thing to do when travelling, as it balances the huge amount of input you're getting every day. I tell you, choosing which blocks to use wasn't easy! And then having to envisage in my mind what the pattern would look like and how the whole thing could be built and layered was slightly intimidating at first. I decided to just keep it simple and get started...
Here I am half way through my scarf. Lining up that block was tricky, but it brought such a feeling of satisfaction – a real sense of participating in an authentic and ancient tradition.
Sadly the course was shortened to one day, so I wasn't able to explore the dyeing side of things first-hand, but that just means I shall have to return one day and take things further! For now I'm happy with my printed scarf, made from organic cotton and printed with 100% natural dye.