The art of dyeing is one of the most ancient methods of decorating a cloth. India, in particular, has a rich and ancient history of dyeing clothes, stretching back thousands of years. Many of these have been refined over the years and passed down from one generation to the next. The varied geography of the country, combined with the tumultuous political history, has ensured that every state and region has their own unique textile language. This also applies to the kinds of dyeing techniques that have developed. The color palette changes drastically as we move from one state to the next. In the lush green states of Kerala and Bengal, pale shades of white shot with gold and/or red are preferred. In the hot, sandy, desert state of Rajasthan, bright, beautiful colors are the norm. In the Deccan region the black colored soil has inspired the use of a darker range of hues.
Even in ancient India, artisans had perfected the art of dyeing. The colored cottons and silks of India were famous around the world and much loved for their vibrant beauty. The secrets of dyeing were closely guarded. It led to the arrival of traders from around the world, all seeking these fabulous fabrics and hoping to make money of off this industry. Under the many changing dynasties of ancient India, and under the Mughals, Indian dyeing techniques flourished. It was only once the British arrived that the textile industries of India faced a serious setback. The foreign government introduced chemical dyes, machine-made fabrics and other imported products made with advanced technology. These were cheaper and more durable. Moreover, the British government placed restrictions on many dyeing industries, in an attempt to stifle their growth and promote imported clothes.
Post independence, the Indian government took some serious steps to undo much of the damage done by the British. The textile industries of India, including the dyeing industries, were recognized as a great cultural asset. They were also seen as key to the economic health of rural areas. By providing patents, trademarks and organized workers unions, the government was able to give a new lease of life to these struggling industries. Thanks to the patronage of the government and the increased attention from high fashion designers, the dyeing techniques of India are once again back in the limelight.
There are many different types of traditional Indian fabric dyeing techniques, most of which are done by hand. The most famous of these is probably the tie and dye technique. In this technique, portions of the cloth are tied using string, after which the cloth is dipped in vats of natural vegetable dyes. This achieves a brilliant color on entire cloth, except for the tied up portions, which remain uncolored. This process can be repeated over and over again, with the cloth being dyed in different places, to achieve a kaleidoscopic design. This technique first originated in Rajasthan, where it is also termed Bandhej or Bandhani. The typical pattern is of dots all over the fabric. Another popular pattern is lehariya, where the dye is used to create beautiful wavy lines. This technique is also used to make unique regional garments like Gharchola sarees and Bandhani sarees.
When tie and dye is used to color threads before weaving, the technique is called Ikat. This textile dyeing technique is totally unique and produces a gorgeous, multi-colored effusion on the fabric. The technique is often repeated over and over again, with different variations, to create a wider range of designs and patterns on the fabric.
Block printing is another method through which cloths are dyed. Through direct, resist or screen printing with carved wooden blocks, various designs are printed on the cloth. Batik is the name given to a special clothes dyeing method in which various parts of the fabric are covered in hot wax to protect it from color when the cloth is dipped in a vat of dye. It produces soft, wavering designs which are renowned around the world for their unique ethnic beauty.
Different types of fabrics can be dyed with brilliant colors. Cotton and silk are the most popular and traditional dyeing fabrics but nowadays artisans have even taken to dyeing polyester, rayon, nylon and other such artificial materials.
Dyeing Fabrics of all Types
Dyed fabrics of India are highly in demand around the world. With the emergence of ethnic fashion as a major trend around the world, various traditional techniques of India, including dyeing, have become very fashionable. They are today used to make a host of different garments besides the traditional sarees and dupattas. Dyeing techniques like Bandhani, Ikat and Kalamkari are used to create all types of garments, from salwar kameez, lehenga choli and kurtas to tunics, tops and shirts. These beautiful and vibrant dyed fabrics pair well with traditional Indian jewelry such as oxidized metal jewelry sets, beaded necklaces, terracotta earrings and wooden bangles.