The life of fabric is an interesting and sometimes lengthy journey. Before a garment of clothing arrives in your closet it can have lived a very long life through several countries and even continents passing through hundreds of hands. While traveling through Rajasthan India searching for Indian fabric, I was able to see first hand just how enchanting its journey can be.
On the rattling bus to Pushkar from Jaipur I gazed out the window at the woman walking past dressed in rainbow pop-colored saris and pondered the life of fabric. Having just spent a week in Jaipur sourcing textiles from bazaars and dealers I had seen so many exquisite pieces of Indian fabric both old and new, some as old as 150 years. I had also spent a few days in Saganeer and Bagru where the traditional age-old block printing technique originates. In the villages there, literally in every back garden or out in the countryside on sugar cane farms, you’ll find the artisans, creating prints from small wooden blocks or large metal screens onto meters upon meters of mostly cottons and silks.
My travel companion, South African artist, Lyndi Sales, decided to do a 3 day course in Indian block printing and natural dying at the Block Print House in Bagru to learn the ancient technique herself. She explained later that she wished she had more time. 3 days just wasn’t enough to transform a piece of cotton into a work of art. Deepak, in his early thirties, who runs the family business – Block Print House, explained to us that the craft had been in his family for over 100 years with the technique passed down from generation to generation. Over a boiling vat of mango leaves coloring its water a deep green, we met Deepak’s father, a happy and hard-working man. In the distance bold yellow pieces of cloth fluttered in the heated breeze strewn across a rope tied from tree to tree. On another stretch of land laid dozens of long pieces of cotton dyed indigo drying on the grass in the sun awaiting their next phase. The indigo pieces once dried, would soon be moved inside onto the long wooden tables where a group of young men were working. There, they would be stretched across the canvas-covered tables and printed by hand with wooden blocks. The wooden blocks are chiseled into flower, shell or geometric designs used to stamp the fabric in an alternative dye color. Sometimes the designs are multi-faceted with a block print within a block print. The possibilities are literally endless.
And then there were the pieces of cloth that we came upon in bazaars after talking with knowledgable Indian fabric merchants who collect vintage fabrics throughout India. It is not unusual for a piece of cloth to act as an heirloom within a family. A cross stitch door hanging for instance can be symbolic of their Hindu religion incorporating various gods and animals onto the cloth and hung in sacred spaces for protection. Some of the most beautiful pieces of Indian fabric I came upon in Jaipur were 150 year old off cuts from dresses that had been hand-picked and collected by fabric merchants. Some of the villages were so remote that the merchants did not trade in money, but rather in spices, appliances or other necessities. I decided to buy a dozen of the off cuts and use some of the block printed silks and cottons I had bought to re-design new dresses incorporating the heritage fabrics into contemporary designs. My intention was to not let this fabric’s journey end.
As the bus pulled into Pushkar an ancient Hindu city surrounded a holy lake, I thought about the story behind the sacred city. According to Hindu theology, the lake at Pushkar was created by Lord Shiva’s tears, which he is believed to have shed after the death of his wife, Sati. The story goes that when Sati died, Shiva cried so much and for so long, that his tears created two holy ponds, one at Pushkar in Ajmer and the other at Ketaksha, which literally means raining eyes in Sanskrit. Seldomly in India, is there a city or place that does not have an intricate story attached giving it sacred status and a deeper meaning. So too could be said for the fabric of this region where a piece of Indian fabric is not just a piece of cloth but has its own story, creative origin and ongoing journey.
To view AMY ON A JOURNEY’s, INDIA -Life of Fabric collection, stay tuned on Instagram (amyjourney) for the next pop up exhibition!
If you miss the pop-ups, don’t worry! Amy on a JOURNEY will be trading at SPIRITFEST in March 2018. Hope to see you all there!
Sat nam x