The history of Indian fabric prints and patterns is a captivating tale of artistic innovation, cultural exchange, and craftsmanship that spans several millennia. India's textile traditions have left an indelible mark on the global fashion landscape, with a rich history that can be divided into several key periods:
The roots of Indian fabric prints and patterns can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization and flourished during the Mauryan empire. During which the trade extended as far as the Roman Empire. During the Medieval period, the influence of Persian and Central Asia led to designs and motifs such as Paisley and Buta respectively. Later, during the colonial period, the British exported Indian textiles to Europe where the patterns and designs were replicated.
The Indian textile industry kept evolving with artisans carrying on the traditional techniques and creating fusion styles to suit the current preferences.
Indian fabrics and prints have played a major role in contributing to the rich cultural heritage of the nation. To say the least, Indian fabric prints and patterns have transcended time and borders, serving as a source of inspiration for designers worldwide.
Come let’s explore the most prominent traditional Indian textile and fabric prints!
1. Bandhani Print
Bandhani prints, also known as bandhej or tie-dye, are a vibrant and intricate form of textile artistry that originated in Gujarat and has been practised in India for centuries. The term "bandhani" is derived from the Sanskrit word "bandh," which means "to tie." This technique involves tying small portions of fabric with thread to create a resistance, which prevents certain areas from absorbing dye. When the fabric is dyed, the tied portions remain uncoloured, resulting in beautiful and distinct patterns.
Traditional Patterns: Bandhani patterns can vary widely, from simple dots and lines to more complex motifs like peacocks, flowers, and geometric shapes. Some common bandhani designs include Chandrakala (moon-shaped patterns), Bavan Baug (52 squares), and Shikari (hunter) patterns, among others.
Regional Variations: The Khatri community in Kutch, Gujarat, is famous for its intricate bandhani work. Rajasthan is another prominent hub for Bandhani, known for its bold colours and patterns. In Punjab, bandhani is often used in creating turbans, known as "pagri," which are an integral part of the region's culture.
Today, designers often incorporate Bandhani prints into Western-style clothing and accessories.
2. Ajrakh Print
Ajrak print is a traditional textile art form deeply rooted in the rich heritage of the Indian subcontinent, particularly in the regions of Gujarat and Rajasthan. The word ajrak comes from the Persian word “ajar’ which means “brick”. It is known for its distinctive geometric and floral patterns, as well as its vibrant colour palette.
Ajrak printing involves block printing, in which the prints are transferred from the woodblock to the fabric. Predominantly, colours like crimson red and indigo with some black and white were used in Ajrak printing. It is mainly done using natural dyes.
Ajrak holds immense cultural and symbolic importance in the Sindhi culture and is often worn during special occasions and ceremonies.
Traditional Patterns: Ajrakh prints often feature geometric shapes, including intricate squares, diamonds, and circles. Floral and nature-inspired motifs, such as leaves, vines, and flowers, are also common in Ajrak designs.
3. Ikat Print
Ikat prints, often referred to as "Ikat" or "Ikkat," are a distinctive and ancient textile dyeing technique that produces intricate and vibrant patterns. The word Ikat is derived from the Indonesian word "mengikat" which means "to bind".
This traditional art form is a dyeing technique from Indonesia that holds a significant place in the textile traditions of India, Central Asia, and parts of South America. Ikat textiles are celebrated for their unique blurred designs, achieved through a meticulous process of resist dyeing.
Traditional Patterns: Ikat designs can vary widely and may include geometric shapes, abstract motifs, or representations of nature, often inspired by cultural and regional influences. The blurred edges of Ikat patterns create a unique and visually striking effect, making each piece of fabric one-of-a-kind.
Regional Variations: Patola from Gujarat, India, is known for its double Ikat technique and intricate geometric patterns. Pochampally Ikat from Telangana, India, is famous for its vibrant colours and repetitive geometric designs.
They continue to captivate and inspire through their unique and timeless designs, creating a link between the past and the present in the world of textiles.
4. Bagh Print
Bagh prints, a traditional textile art form of India, originated from the remote village of Bagh in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. These prints are renowned for their intricate geometric and floral designs, created through a labour-intensive block printing technique.
The process of Bagh printing involves several stages.
- Preparing the fabric: The fabric is washed and soaked in a mixture of water, rock salt, goat dung and castor oil and washed three times.
- Pre-dying: The fabric is pre-dyed with Harara which gives a base colour and adds richness to the dyes.
- Block carving: Artisans carve intricate designs onto wooden blocks, with each block representing a specific element of the overall pattern.
- Printing: The carved blocks are dipped into natural dyes, such as indigo for blue and alizarin for red, and then stamped onto the fabric. The artisans meticulously align the blocks to create the desired pattern.
- Dyeing: The printed fabric is left to dry and then immersed in a fixing solution, allowing the colours to set.
- Washing: The fabric is washed to remove excess dye, resulting in the characteristic soft and muted colours of Bagh prints.
Regional Variations: While Bagh prints are primarily associated with the Bagh village in Madhya Pradesh, similar block printing techniques are practised in other parts of India, such as Rajasthan and Gujarat. Each region has its distinct style and patterns.
5. Dabu Print
Dabu printing, also known as "Dabu block printing," is a traditional hand block printing technique from Rajasthan, India that involves the use of mud resist to create intricate patterns on fabrics. This centuries-old technique is celebrated for its unique and rustic appearance, making each piece of fabric one-of-a-kind.
Dabu printing involves a multi-step process that requires meticulous skill and attention to detail:
- Mud Resist: Artisans mix clay, usually from a local riverbed, with natural ingredients such as wheat chaff or gum to create a thick mud paste. This paste is applied to the fabric using wooden blocks, stencils, or by hand in the desired pattern.
- Dyeing: After the mud resist has dried, the fabric is submerged in natural dyes, often extracted from plants and minerals. Common colours include indigo, red, and various earth tones.
- Sun Drying: The dyed fabric is left out in the sun to dry, allowing the colours to set and the mud resist to cracking.
- Washing: The fabric is washed to remove the dried mud resist, revealing the intricate patterns created by the cracks and fissures.
6. Block Prints
Block printing is a traditional and versatile textile printing technique that has been practised for centuries in various cultures around the world. It involves using carved wooden or linoleum blocks to transfer ink or dye onto fabric or paper, creating intricate and repeatable patterns. Block printing has a rich history and remains a popular form of textile decoration and artistry today.
In India, block printing has a particularly long and storied history, with regions like Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh being renowned centres for this craft.
Block printing involves several stages, including:
- Block Carving: Artisans carve intricate designs onto wooden blocks using sharp tools.
- Inking: The carved blocks are dipped into ink or dye, ensuring an even coating.
- Printing: The inked block is pressed onto the fabric or paper with gentle but firm pressure, transferring the design. This process can be repeated to create repeating patterns.
- Drying: The printed fabric is left to dry, allowing the ink or dye to set.
- Fixing: In some cases, a fixing agent is applied to the printed fabric to ensure durability.
7. Kalamkari Print
Kalamkari is a distinctive and ancient textile art form from India known for its intricate hand-painted or hand-blocked designs. Kalamkari has historical references dating back to ancient scriptures like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The name "Kalamkari" is derived from two Persian words: "kalam" meaning "pen" and "kari" meaning "work," reflecting the use of pens and brushes to create exquisite designs.
The art form flourished in various regions of India, including Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and parts of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
Techniques: There are two primary techniques used in Kalamkari printing:
- Srikalahasti Kalamkari: This style involves freehand drawing and painting with a pen-like instrument called a "kalam" or "quill." Natural dyes and pigments, often derived from plants and minerals, are used to colour the fabric.
- Machilipatnam Kalamkari: This technique utilises wooden blocks to create intricate designs. The blocks are carved with precision, and the fabric is printed with these blocks. Then, skilled artisans use brushes and pens to add fine details and colours to the printed design.
Today Kalamkari prints have found a global audience and are incorporated into contemporary fashion, home decor, and accessories. Modern designers use digital printing of Kalamkari designs which is easier than traditional Kalamkari art.
8. Batik Print
Batik is a traditional textile art form known for its intricate, wax-resist dyeing technique. This centuries-old craft has its origins in Indonesia, particularly in Java and Bali but has also been practiced in various forms in countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, India, and parts of Africa. Batik prints are celebrated for their vibrant colours, intricate patterns, and cultural significance.
Techniques: Batik is a wax-resist dyeing method, where hot wax is applied to specific areas of the fabric to create a resist. These waxed areas remain undyed when the fabric is submerged in dye. Multiple waxing and dyeing stages can create intricate multicoloured designs with complex patterns.
There are 3 types of Batiks, namely Written Batik (Batik Tulis), Stamped batik (batik cap) and Painted batil (batik lukis).
Regional Variations: Batik has variations across countries and regions. The Javanese Batik is known for its intricate designs and often features elaborate patterns that convey cultural and social meanings. Balinese batik is characterised by vibrant colours and intricate motifs, often inspired by Balinese Hindu mythology. Malaysian batik often features floral and nature-inspired designs, with each region having its unique motifs.
9. Saanganeri Print
Sanganeri print is a traditional textile printing technique hailing from the Sanganer region in the Indian state of Rajasthan. A type of block-printing technique, Sanganeri prints have a rich history that has made them highly sought-after in the world of textiles and fashion.
Sanganeri print involves several labour-intensive steps, making it a time-honoured craft. Initially, they were printed on white and off-white fabrics, however, they are being printed on various fabrics.
Traditional Patterns: Sanganeri prints are known for their intricate floral and nature-inspired motifs, featuring delicate blossoms, vines, and leaves. The designs often have a rhythmic and balanced arrangement, creating visually appealing compositions.
10. Shibori Print
Shibori is a traditional Japanese resist-dyeing technique known for its intricate and varied patterns. The term "shibori" is derived from the root word "shiboru," which means "to wring, squeeze, or press." Shibori prints are celebrated for their distinct and often unpredictable designs, making each piece of fabric unique.
Techniques: Shibori encompasses a range of resist-dyeing techniques, each producing a different pattern. Some common Shibori techniques include:
Itajime Shibori: Fabric is folded and sandwiched between two wooden or plastic boards, then tightly bound with string or clamps.
Kumo Shibori: The fabric is gathered into small, regular pleats and bound at intervals, creating a spiderweb-like pattern.
Arashi Shibori: The fabric is wrapped diagonally around a pole or pipe and then tightly bound with string. The resulting pattern resembles rain streaks.
Nui Shibori: The fabric is stitched before dyeing, creating intricate stitched patterns. After dyeing, the threads are removed, leaving a distinctive pattern.
Kanoko Shibori: The fabric is tied using a type of untwisted thread and the desired pattern is achieved by varying the tightness of tying the thread.
Miura Shibori: The fabric is plucked using a needle and the section is looped twice without knotting, which results in water-like designs.
Every print that we have mentioned in this blog hold centuries-old tradition and stories which speak of the rich culture and arts that has spanned time and countries. These are only a few of the traditional fabric prints that have a long history and rich cultural heritage since their origin. If we are to talk about the other traditional prints and textile patterns, we’d need a separate blog which we will surely cover.
As much as we get on the bandwagon of fads, it is important to know the history of textiles and prints as consumers, which is one way to respect the artisans behind the making of our textile garments. We believe that this blog has shed some light on the history of prints and patterns that you see, wear and buy every day. To know more about textiles and fashion read more of our blogs.