The trip to Jaipur in 2011 was quite an eye opener. The purpose of taking the tour was mainly to explore the craft of natural dyeing the Pink City is known for - something my ongoing graduation project would benefit from. And to my surprise, I ended up meeting an award-winning dyeing expert named Badshah Mian, and visiting the dyeing museum of ‘Anokhi’ (the brand).
The meeting with Badshah Mian was enlightening to say the least. I was educated about the different local natural sources of different colours used in dyeing, the variations in the methodology of dyeing them, and the fact that Indigo is the toughest to get right, especially when dyeing thicker fabrics. Mian suggested I take a workshop with him over the weekend but the Rs 5000 fee was a little steep for the design student I was back then. Hence I politely declined the offer.
However, meeting him and a few other natural dyers (not really natural, though) around the city, helped me get an insight into the marketing value of this industry, and what actually goes on behind the scenes. Some of the contradictory observations I made were:
a) The self-proclaimed natural dyers buy these Mumbai/Pune-made dyes in small transparent plastic pouches that come with no guarantee regarding the nature of the dyes. They procure them in the name of natural dyes from local vendors.
b) There was no mordanting of the fabric in the entire process.
c) Alum or any other natural material wasn’t used as a fixer. One particular dyer claimed that the dye just boils in hot water and gets fixed on the surface when the fabric is submerged in the dye pot. This raised my suspicion that the dyes (being used in the name of natural dyes) might just be azo-free or even azo dyes (nobody can tell for sure without lab tests).
Later upon touching base with a GOTS certified dye manufacturer for proper knowledge on this matter, I learned that even their industrial-friendly natural dyes need pre and post-processing of the fabric to make it stay on the fabric/yarn. They were then kind enough to guide me through a process of ‘Indigo dyeing DIY’ which I did at home, and successfully dyed 10 meters of thick organic cotton fabric after 5-6 attempts on a smaller batch. I also dyed silk floss yarn for embroidery in the same batch of Indigo dye. (I’ll elaborate on these attempts in a story another day.) Since my faculty, Maya, asked me to contact Ganesh ji, a BnB owner in the suburbs of the city, I was fortunate to meet a few exchange students from Germany, who were traveling on the same dates. Maya had also hooked them up with the stay there, and the trip became even more eventful with Ganesh ji taking us all to see the different craft units in the city. We visited units making cotton and jute recycled paper products, doing block printing, and making blue pottery items.