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. WASHING/SCOURING CLOTH
Methods for scouring and bleaching of gada cloth vary. Some artists simply immerse gada cloth in cool water over night then beat the wet cloth to remove further impurities. The following sheep dung treatment for bleaching has been described by some artists, -Gada cotton fabric is scoured by immersing it overnight in a sheep dung/water solution (1 lump of dung for 10 liters of water). * The cloth is exposed to the sun for a day by spreading it on the banks of the river. * Water is continually sprinkled on the cloth to prevent it from drying. * In the evening the cloth is washed by folding it and slapping it against a washing stone, followed by rinsing in the flowing river.
* The cloth is then re-immersed in a freshly prepared sheep dung solution and the process is repeated. * On the second day the sprinkling is stopped in the late evening to allow the cloth to dry.
The first step in making a kalamkari painting is the treatment of gada, or unbleached cotton cloth in kaccha or myrobalam and buffalo milk solution. A desired size of gada cloth is scoured and bleached before it is treated with the myrobalam/ milk solution. A paste of powdered myrobalam fruit (karakkai, T. chebula) is mixed in fresh, unheated buffalo milk. For about 6 meters of cloth, 200 grams of myrobalam powder and about 2 liters of milk is needed. This solution is kept for 1 hour to extract tannic acid from the seeds. The cloth is then soaked in the myrobalam solution for 15 minutes, taking care to see that the entire length of cloth is sufficiently saturated. The cloth takes on a light yellow color. It is then squeezed/twisted to remove excess solution, and dried in the sun on a sandy riverbank for approximately 1 hour. The cloth is folded and can be stored in a cool dry place for up to 3 months. The high fat content of the milk prevents dye from spreading beyond the point of application. The immature myrobalam contains tannic acid that acts as the mordant component for the black dye (kasimi).
The kalam, or bamboo pen, is the most important tool in painting kalamkari and gives the artform its name: kalam (pen) kari (work/action/agent). A kalam is made from bamboo splinters measuring about 4-6 inches in length, sharpened to a tip of desired thickness. A thicker point is preferred for filling in background color, while a finer point is used for outlines. About 1 to 1 ½ inches from the tip of the kalam, is a dye reservoir made from small rags of coarse wool that are wound around the bamboo and tied in place by cotton thread. This reservoir absorbs and retains the dye solution.
According to many artists, cotton cloth cannot be used for the reservoir as it has higher absorptive capacity, no resilience, and would release larger amounts of dye when squeezed. Artists regulate the flow of dye down the bamboo kalam to the point through deliberate and controlled squeezing of the reservoir. In this manner an artist can vary the thickness of the lines s/he draws by skilfully moving the tip of the kalam over the cloth. Kalams with...