The color Indigo, that is a personal favorite. A color that finds its way in our culture in countless ways. A color which is a commoner among many colours. A color that represents itself so differently in all my craft and work travels across India.
Last January, I visited Akola to experiment on color variations for our new Dabu Indigo print story. This is one color that you see in abundance in and around the villages where the craft is practiced. A mix of Indigo and white spurred across the village landscape. A soothing hue on walls, windows and main doors of pristine white houses. A calm and serene hue that combats harshness of summer heat and strong winter winds.
Earlier there were several small clusters across India who worked with Indigo and Dabu to create magic on fabric. Each of these clusters had developed their distinct style of print and indigenous techniques to produce the dye colors. But lately, very few remain to live the 200 year legacy. One such cluster is Akola - a small hamlet nestled between Chittorgarh and Udaipur, famous for its Dabu work with Phetiya prints.The/ this village is a self-sufficient system for Dabu printing. Block carvers sculpt the blocks, the dry arid desert region lends the mud for Dabu and the river bestows water for washing of the fabric. The fabrics are sourced from nearby Jaipur and natural dye / pigments come in from Udaipur.
The prints of Phetiya is very unique to this region in(Rajasthan). Since it is worn exclusively by women of the Jat and Chaudhury castes, especially during weddings, there is always a demand for such prints. Unlike traditional Akola prints, this craft is flourishing. The prints popularly adorned the flowing Ghagras with a Bandhej Lugda (a long fabric draped over the head) as traditional attire for the Jat women.
The Phetiya prints are traditional and been handed down intact, over generations. The motifs are picked from nature and surrounding elements, and then crafted onto wooden blocks. Popular ones are Kahma, Lal titri, Dholika, Kantedar.The craftsmen dip the blocks into a viscous paste of mud, gum and lime also known as Hada. The application of resist printing and dye are done several times, painstakingly with great precision, to get various shades of soil(brown) and neela(Indigo) with Phetiya motifs on the fabric. This method “Dabu” gets it’s name from the word ‘dabaana’ , meaning ‘to press to create the print on the fabric.
The craft speaks of skill and years of experience of the Akola Chippa community.Chippa is a family name or gharana given to every cluster of hand-block printers across various regions in India.This Dabu style of printing – Dabu, is one of the oldest style of printing, in existence right from the medieval times. A technique and skill so distinct to the region and is probably the only thing that unifies this 200 year old Chippa community of Akola. Like Akola , many traditional artforms still continued to be practiced by different clusters of artisans of Rajasthan, depicting unique cultural identities of various Rajasthani communities through their vivid printing style and techniques.
A handful of consciousbr ands are still working with amazing artisan clusters giving them a new direction to sustain this unique craft. We at Kaisori are also working with a family of artisans Akola to carry the craft traditions forward. But a lot needs to be done, to not lose the soul of the craft in this age of mechanization.To urge them to not give up this amazing craft and seek alternate livelihoods elsewhere.,is Kaisori's vision( you can try this).
To sustain the magic of these deft hands, we are attempting to create an ecosystem that supports and sustains handmade fashion.To build, grow and unify a larger community to support all things hanmade. .Like the uniform jewel blue tone that unifies the Chippa community.Then can we truly say that the stories of our heartland, rest safely in hands of the craftsmen.