Monthly Archives: January 2016

Inside the world of the Anoki Block Printing Museum

India is a heaven for fabric lovers, not just today, but for the last 500 years. India’s fabric production has always been stellar, and the abundance of materials and labor here have created a long history of spectacular cloth. There have been mentions in sources dating back to the 12th Century discussing printed cloth from India, and textile trade went first east, to Malaysia and China,and then, with the growth of European overseas trade, west, to France, England, Holland and Portugal. The magnificent printing and dyeing techniques, Indian innovations, made the cloth from India endlessly valuable and exploded into the European mentality, exciting tailors and customers alike. Textile trade changed the world, and that’s not an overstatement. Interwoven Globe was a fantastic show at the Met about it two years ago, if anyone got a chance to check it out, and it described these global trade networks and their significant beautifully.

The more time I spend in India, the more amazing fabrics I see and learn about. There are so many varieties, methods of creation, techniques and options that it’s wildly overwhelming sometimes, int he best possible way. But I would say that one fabric which most people think of when they think about Indian fabric is block printed cloth, and with good reason. It’s beautiful, it’s interesting, and it screams “Indian fabric”, especially if they’ve put an elephant on it.

Block printing emerged as a popular method in Northern India, specifically Rajasthan, in Medieval India. Soon Surat in Gujarat became the center of fabric trade in India, with painted and printed fabric prized for its colors and complicated dying techniques.

I recently had an opportunity to visit the Anoki Museum of Hand Printing in Jaipur, and I have to say it was a fantastic experience. I would recommend it for all fabric lovers who visit India. So I’m sharing some of my photos with you to entice you into visiting! It’s really an awesome place in a restored Haveli filled with so much wonderful information and fabric and you can buy locally printed stuff in the shop and the cafe is excellent. Seriously, it’s fantastic! I learned so much about block printing, and I’m so happy to know more about this fascinating process which has so many iterations and significance.

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This is quite a complicated method which is now cheaper imitated, but the real thing was prized by emperors and kings.

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The black on white is a very traditional motif.

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Men in Rajasthan are big on turbans, with different styles for different communities and even for different jobs.

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Textile is so important in this area, and there was a whole codification of fabric, who could wear which cloth, etc. There were fabrics for widows, unmarried women, married women, craftsmen of different kinds, nobility, royalty, etc.

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See? It’s crazy! Beautiful and uncomfortably restrictive. That’s India for you in a nutshell.

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Traditional outfits.

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Not so traditional outfits made by modern designers using block prints.

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There are demonstrations of the craft, which is amazing. Four blocks make up one small design and this man moves SO fast. He asked me if I wanted to try, but I just wanted to watch him work.

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This amazing man is a block maker. Too. Cool.

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Blocks are made from wood and metal

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Here are a few of the MANY tools that go into make a block

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Here are the blocks for the tie-dye method.

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This shows the stages of the dying process. That’s 15 stages for one design!

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Kind of amazing, right, what block printing can do? It’s not just elephants on flowy pants for tourists…

India. It’s a fabric education every day.

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The Worth The Wait Dress

This is the first thing I ever made when I came to India, and it is sort of strange and wonderful and awful that I haven’t blogged it before now. But the thing about this dress is, it is probably also my favorite thing that I’ve made here to date, and I’ve worn it so many times and thought about photographing it So. Many. Times. that it in some strange way makes sense that I never took a moment to photograph it before because I was too busy loving it to get a moment to document it. I have seriously worn this dress in all kinds of circumstances, in several Indian cities, all over Mumbai, and now, finally, in Udaipur, the most romantic of Indian cities, which I recently visited (i.e. returned from today) with my friend, Emily. We had a very romantic time in Udaipur, although people did ask me where my husband was, but I mentioned that such a thing would be wasted on him….

Isn’t is amazing how the garments that are most useful to you end up being the very last that you document and share with the world? I have put this dress on so many times and told myself I was going to get photos of it and every time that has been a huge fail. The very evening I finished it I was all set to go out in it, and then our plans got cancelled, we ended up in with wine and netflix, and that was the first time of many that the documentation of this dress was a dream deferred. I wore this to work, to be the hospitality official for a Bollywood celebration event (don’t ask, I can’t even deal with my life here sometimes), out to a birthday party in Kolkata, to my friend’s literary panel in Bangalore, and now, strolling the streets of Udaipur. This dress gets around.

Maxi-dresses were never really my thing, but I have to say, it’s a really useful thing to have here in India. If you are planning a trip to India, let me recommend the maxi-dress. Maxi-dresses are extremely useful here, they keep you cool and comfortable and you still subscribe to Indian modesty standards, limiting and arbitrary as they are. I personally am not a huge fan of the way that some clothing traditions restrict women and not men, especially when they have no cultural or religious injunction and are a modern invention that has had an imagined social history established as part of a national myth, but you should check out my other blog for my more articulate feelings on THAT subject. Nevertheless, I live in India, and however else I feel, I still want to adapt. Maxi-dresses are a helpful way to do that. They work really well in a rickshaw, which is good, because the open-air of the experience along with the bumps in the road make you happy you have covered your lower body and don’t have to think about anything. Except how awesome this looks! Check it out:

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As maxi-dresses go, I happen to think this one is aces. And I finally got a chance to take photos of it, courtesy of Emily! Thanks, Emily! And the setting couldn’t be more perfect. Thanks, Udaipur!

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As I said, this was the first thing I made when I got here. I found the fabric quite near to my apartment between Santacruz West, where we live, and Bandra, a super hip neighborhood. I was going to meet my friend Natasha, hi, Natasha! for lunch, when she texted that she would be late, a common ailment in Mumbai because of the traffic. I took a moment to explore the neighborhood around the place we were to meet, and found Sew In Style, a fabric store along the way.

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I picked up this Ikat fabric, and cut out a maxi dress from it, employing a little strategy mixing directions along with my bodice block for the bodice. I wanted a slightly looser style, so I added a larger seam allowance than usual, and I finished everything with bias tape instead of lining it. Very Mumbai weather friendly…

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I drafted the skirt, whose large box pleats do not seem that evident in these photos, and it’s turned out quite well. The hem is a little narrow for the strenuous activity I have performed in this dress, but what can you do? Sometimes you buy fabric first, realize what you need later, it is what it is. And I sort of like lifting up the skirts of this dress as I climb up large temple stairs and pitch myself over obstacles. I feel downright historical.

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A little back view for you, with the skirt in a very bell-like situation.

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A little close up of the bodice, slightly obstructed by my hair, for which I will blame Udaipur. Udaipur, which is a small city in Rajasthan, is simply gorgeous, and on a small lake.

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Everything in this town is about the lake, the views, the sunset over it, the palace near it, etc. It’s great.

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But the wind is also…a thing .

Also, we realized I had been standing in front of an amazing royal marble bench that whole time and not even used it! A fatal crime, am I right? I had to deal with that.

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My best possible Maharani pose. I think I do the Mewar dynasty fairly proud, don’t I?

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Okay, I couldn’t keep it up for long. But what can I say, I’m just a girl in a maxi-dress, making life work for me as best as possible. I am so glad I finally blogged about this dress, though. Of all the places I wore it, this was the best, view-wise. Well worth the wait, I say. For the first dress I made in my new home, I knew something special was in order. Thanks, Udaipur. You, like this dress, were worth the wait.

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The Market to Market Dress

I’ve made a lot of things so far here, and then the old problem of documenting them begins again.  But my New Year’s resolution is to post at least once a week, so let’s see if I can keep that, shall we?

I almost named this dress the Mangladas Market dress, but I didn’t, for reasons which will soon become abundantly clear.

Guys, you’ve probably never hear this before but India is an amazing place for fabric. I KNOW. I KNOW. It’s madness. I’m blowing your mind here. The thing is, before I moved here I had a very limited idea of what Indian fabric really looked like. We get a certain idea of a certain kind of fabric in the States, but that’s actually just a small fraction of the options. My Indian fabric education has only just begun.

Before I moved to India, I had a very specific idea of what fabric from India looked like. Once I moved here, I realized that I wasn’t wrong, per se, but I was limited. India is a land of major fabric production, and there is no one way to make fabric here, there are a thousand, and that’s just in one city. From North to South, East to West, the range of how fabric looks is wildly divergent. There are, of course, similarities, the material base is limited, mostly cottons and silks with wools in the far North, but the history of weaving in India dates back thousands of years, older than most other world civilizations. The Indus River Valley excavations show evidence of woven cloth and even some proof there was trade between China, India and the Middle East over 5000 years ago, which is fairly nuts, if you think about the fact that even today, Indian cotton production creates the most sought after products in the world.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve had a chance to visit the block printing museum in Amber (post to follow) and learned more about the printing techniques of the Northwest, which make up a lot of what I once thought Indian fabric looked like. The prints from Rajasthan come in many colors and shapes, but they are what I once believed the majority of Indian fabrics were, and I still have a huge adoration for them, despite all the others I’ve discovered. Recently, on a trip to Kolkata, I visited Dakshinapan Market, which I would recommend for any visitors to the city. It’s a huge government emporium, which means the prices are subsidized, and you can see goods and fabrics from all over the country. It was in Dakshinapan where I realized what came from where, what fabrics came from which part of the country. Although I gloried over the Bengali muslins, their high (and well deserved) price points made me sorrowfully put them aside in favor of other, cheaper, cloth. And luckily for me, I found some gems.

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I wore this dress for the first time fabric shopping with my friend Natasha (hi, Natasha!) In Mangaldas Market, which is where I would recommend anyone go fabric shopping if the come to Mumbai. Hence the name. From one market to another, the fabric works.

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Mangaldas is a little bonkers, but it’s fun, and filled with magnificent finds and amazing prices.

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My favorite fabric store is Rinkoo Fabrics.

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They are the damn best, with amazing options and tons of cool Japanese prints, which I can’t find otherwise.MTM8

Stores are divided between mens shirtings and suitings and womens stuff, but you can find amazing things at both.

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I felt super cool wearing the fabric from one market at another. I made this out of my bodice block, with a gathered skirt and pockets. I cut the border off the side and added it to the bottom (side note, I do not understand the border printing on a lot of Rajasthani fabrics.)

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A little back view for you.

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I may fall in love with a lot of Indian fabrics. I sort of already have. But I don’t think I will ever stop loving these Rajasthani prints. How could I? How could anyone?

Happy New Year, everyone! All my best for the year ahead!

Thanks for the photos, Natasha!

 

 

 

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