Thirumalayampalayam department of costume design and fashion study material

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Kalamkari refers to a method of painting natural dyes onto cotton or silk fabric with a bamboo pen or kalam. The name kalamkari translates as pen (kalam) work (kari) in Hindi/Urdu, and was most likely derived from trade relationships between Persian and Indian merchants as early as the 10th century CE. European merchants also had names for this type of fabric decoration: the Portugese called it pintado, the Dutch used the name sitz, and the British preferred chintz. The name kalamkari is used prominently today, and is synonymous with both painted and hand blockprinted textiles that incorporate natural vegetable/organically-derived dye stuffs. While there are many forms of kalamkari throughout India and the world, the focus of this site is on extant kalamkari practice in Sri Kalahasti, Andhra Pradesh, in South India.
The graceful Kalamkari designs are symbols of skillful, talented craftsmen, who design them. Block making plays a crucial role, in printing a Kalamkari fabric, as it needs to be sharp this is the name given to the hand printed cotton fabrics. They are so called because the artist workout the designs on the material with a fine steel brush not unlike a pen (kalam). A metal instrument, shaped like a pencil the sharp pointed edge, is lightly hammered along the lines of the pattern.
The process is very much the same as used for batik work. The basic principle namely resist – dyeing, being common to both. The material is first dyed in pale pink and the stretch out tight. The artist then traces the outline of the design with his kalam or fine brush dipped in melted wax. The fabric is then dyed deep red and finally washed in hot water to melt away the wax. This produces the design in pink on the back ground of deep red. Kalamdhar fabrics are also called, palampores in the textile trade. They are available in rectangular pieces and are popular with Hindus and Muslims alike. The kalamkari block printing produces a variety of designs on bed sheets, wall hangings, sarees, lungis, napkins etc.

Dacca (now the capital of Eastern Pakistan) was, for centuries, synonymous with the finest muslins the world has ever produced by hand or machine. Dacca weavers’ magic hands produced such exquisitely fine and delicate fabrics that the poetic name “Ab-i-rawan” (Flowing water), “Baft-Hawa” (Woven air), and “Shabnam” (Evening dew) were justifiably given to them. Exhibits in some of our museums prove even today that a yard’s width of the muslin could easily pass through a lady’s ring. One of them relates that a five yard piece of muslin could be packed in match box. Weaving of these fabrics could only be done during the rainy seasons, because for the weaving of such an extremely fine fabrics, a humid atmosphere was essential.
The value of Dacca muslins is estimated by the number of warp threads in a given length of the material as compared with its weight. The greater the length and the number of the threads, with comparatively less weight, the higher would be the price. Up to the beginning of the 19th century, the Dacca muslin saris, one of the most artistic and beautiful specimens of hand-loom textiles, were counted amongst their valuable and cherished possessions by the women of Bengal.
The saris are generally grey, white or black with blue or black designs. Occasionally, the patterns are woven in with bright coloured cotton, or silver or gold threads. The Dacca muslins with the woven-in pattern are known as “Jamdani” patterns. “Anchal” or“pallos” (end portions) and the borders are richly decorated. The rest of the sari is generally covered with numerous small bootties. The common motif is the round design bootties, which suggest chameli (Jasmine) flowers and around these are woven the leaves that recall those of the sweet smelling champak. When the sprays of flowers are spread all over the sari, it is called a “Boottedar” sari, and when the sprays are grouped in diagonal lines, the sari is known as “Terchha”. But when the floral design forms a net-work which covers the entire field, then the pattern is known as “Jatar”.
Sometimes in Jamdani designs, the flowers are clustered together. The borders and Palloo or Anchal (end portions) of saris are generally decorated with distinctive figure designs. The figures chosen represent birds, animals, and human beings. Peacocks or “mayura” and herons or “hansa” seem to be popular as bird-figures in the designs of Dacca saris. Also some of the motifs indicate the influence of mythological legends, as well as of the local traditions. The designs are commonly accepted as of Persian origin but many of the designs depict incidents from the Hindu mythology.

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