The Story of Indian Kalamkari
Lavanya Mani kalamkari Art

The Story of Indian Kalamkari : Imagine a textile that is traditionally hand-painted with a bamboo pen, has a history which goes back 3000 years, and was partly instrumental in India losing her independence. That is Kalamkari, with its Persian root ‘Ghalam’ or pen, and ‘Kari’ or craftsmanship.

Kalamkari in its current form, where resist dyed fabrics are hand painted, is believed to have originated in the 8th century AD, though painted fabrics have been discovered in the Indus Valley Civilisation. This was a time when religious traditions and tales from Hindu mythology were handed down orally by itinerant minstrels, similar to traditions in Europe. Kalamkaris with depictions of tales from Hindu mythology, were a visual aid to these minstrels. In a sense, their purpose was similar to the stained glass of churches in Europe.

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Kalamkari: The ancient art of Hand Painting the Fabric with Thilak Reddy.

Thilak Reddy was introduced to us for the first time at the Santa Fe Folk Art Market, In spite of all of his talent and achievements, he is one of the most humble and hardworking people we have ever met. 

Thilak, 32, practices the art of hand printing the fabrics using a bamboo pen and natural dyes to achieve intricate designs. He lives with his sister and mother in Srikalahasti, that has an indelible history of India’s painted and printed cotton trade with the world. Read here.

He is a second generation Kalamkari artist after his father. Thilak started practicing this craft at a very young age and has now been working for over 20 years. After graduation, he lost his father. He had no option but to take over all his father’s projects to help put food on the table. (more…)

Printed and Painted Cottons

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Image Source:  Indian Textiles for the West by Rosemary Crill
Printed and Painted Cottons. “The world would be a drab place without India. Our blue jeans and printed T-shirts trace much of their lineage back to the ingenuity of India’s cotton printers and dyers,” says Sarah Fee, Royal Ontario Museum Senior Curator of Eastern Hemisphere Fashion and Textiles.  

Until 520 years ago, the  Europeans had known only linen and silk as compared to at least 5,000 years ago when Indian farmers had already started domesticating a species of tall tree cotton. And Indian weavers had already started weaving soft, washable, lightweight cotton that held colors well.

The start of Painted and Printed Cotton trade with Europe

By the time, the first European ships arrived in India in the 1500s. The Indian artisans’ had already for thousands of  years combined skills in weaving, painting, printing, dyeing, bleaching, and glazing cotton to embellish their superior fabrics for thousands of  years. Nonetheless, after the European ships returned from India with the first few samples of the lightweight, washable, gaily colored and patterned cottons, they became a fashion sensation! These cottons were a starting point for the start of the textile trade between India and West.

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It is a point of wonder that ancient Indian artisans came to master and dominate the art of making colors and mordants with the use of humble natural ingredients like rusty nails, and plant parts—such as roots, seeds, and powdered leaves. The durability and vibrancy of which can be justified by looking at the thousands of years old specimens of larger than life hand painted or printed Indian cottons displayed at the best museums around the world. 

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