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Bagru printing: stamping it right!

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India is rich in natural resources. Artisans derive a lot of inspiration from nature. The materials they use are also eco-friendly and celebrate nature at its best. Fashion houses and dress designers are scouting for traditional material, prints, and art today, more than ever. Handmade art and motifs are the norm of the fashion industry. One such place where prints are sourced from is the sleepy and desolate village of Bagru. The hand-block printing practices of this village are the cynosure of all eyes and the designs are a must-have in everyone's wardrobe. Not only are the designs eye-catching but eco-friendly too!

History of this beautiful art form

The Chhipa community has been known to introduce this art form. Chippas (meaning people who stamp or print) arrived in Sawai Madhopur from Bagru and then there was no looking back. Today, the Chippa Mohalla by the Sanjaria riverside houses this community. The Sanganeri printing art form is thought to have got its name from the river. In those days, this community got its clay from the banks of the river.

The craftsmen of Bagru use traditional vegetable dyes to make hand block prints. The base cloth is treated with Fuller??s earth (multani mitti), soaked in turmeric, and then the fabric is stamped with unique designs using patterned blocks of wood. What makes Bagru printing stand apart is the natural dyes and earthy hues. The colors are derived from alum, turmeric, pomegranate, dried flowers, indigo, etc. What can be more bewitching to look at than the colors of nature? Though the living conditions are not very good, this centuries-old tradition of block printing has been alive thanks to them.

The process

Bagru printers use colors such as black, red, and maroon on off-white, ivory white, or beige backgrounds. It is amusing and interesting to know about how they source these colors. While worn-out iron horse or camel shoes soaked in water provide black, red comes from gum paste and phitkari. Mixing these two gives maroon. They also make use of natural vegetable dyes. At times, they also use specific colors such as blue to signify Krishna. Printing however requires a lot of time and effort. Teakwood or light-weight wood called Rorda is used to make the wooden blocks and the designs are engraved on them using fine carpentry tools. The blocks are used only after they are soaked in oils overnight and washed. These blocks are one thing that the Chippas treasure.

The art of making vegetable dyes has been passed down through generations. The block is dabbed in the dye first. The design outline is then stamped on the fabric according to the pattern needed. The amount of color required is decided by the craftsmen. The measurement requires years of practice and is not done using any tools.

The cloth is dried in the sun after printing and readied for dyeing. The hollow spaces left are then filled with colors. This is done with the help of complimentary hand blocks carved accordingly. The cloth is then washed once more finally and dried in the sun.

The future of this art form

Handmade work is largely a thankless job. Although the products are sold at a premium price, the workers do not get much of this share. Modern-day printers look for cheaper and faster ways to create more products and sell them for profit. There are not many authentic craftsmen families left in Bagru. The demands of market, financial instability, and other conditions have forced them to make use of technology and synthetic dyes.

With so much buzz on preserving India's cultural heritage, many people are working towards reclaiming this traditional art form. There is renewed interest in Bagru printing and fashion houses are also increasingly demanding authentic products, thereby attracting a lot of interest in these art forms. Though originally used in clothes and turbans, there is now a demand for these motifs on home décor too. From bed sheets to table linen, designers are using this art form in everything. It is imperative that we encourage these local craftsmen, be it through promoting the art form or buying them for our own use!

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