Meet a man and his family who are keeping alive the intricate block printing process of Kalamkari printing: Pitchuka Srinivas and his son Varun are carrying on the tradition in the town of Pedana, Andra Pradesh, India, begun by Pitchuka senior in the 1970s.
In recent times, Kalamkari printing has been imitated with cheaper screen printing, but this family adheres to the complicated traditional method of block printing the fabric with intricately carved wood blocks: many blocks are used for each design.
The hand made process of Kalamkari printing is tedious and demands a lot of close attention to detail.
First the white cotton cloth is soaked in water mixed with cow dung. The cloth is wrung out & laid out on the floor to dry overnight, and then washed with a stone in a pond the next day and spread on the grass to dry in the sun.
Next, the cloth is treated with powered Myrobalan seeds mixed with buffalo milk which ensures that the dyes are steady and will not run. The cloth is then printed with the first colour using the hand carved blocks and natural dyes, and then washed in flowing fresh water - usually in the canals of Pedana,
The process is not yet done: the cloth is next boiled in copper vessels using flowers and roots to add to the colours.
The cloth needs to be washed again and printed with the secondary colours which are all organic and are obtained from natural raw materials like flowers and foodstuffs.
Finally, the cloth is treated with alum so that the colours are fast, and then the fabric is washed again with soap.
The whole process takes a minimum of fifteen days, depending on the weather.
Srinivas is one of the only artisans in the country who still follows the original technique of hand-block printed Kalamkari and since Srinivas took over the workshop from his father Pitchuka Veera Subbaiah, he has been struggling to keep the original art form, which dates back to the 11th and 12th century, alive and intact.
If you would like to own a piece of this historic fabric and to help keep the art form alive, have a look at my selection of table napkins, runners and place-mats in gorgeous traditional botanical prints.
Photo credits: textielfactorij