Kalamkari the ancient Indian art of painting Kalamkari refers to a method of painting natural dyes onto cotton or silk fabric with a bamboo pen or kalam. The name kalamkari translates as pen (kalam) work (kari) in Hindi/Urdu, and was most likely derived from trade relationships between Persian and Indian merchants as early as the 10th century CE. European merchants also had names for this type of fabric decoration: the Portugese called it pintado, the Dutch used the name sitz, and the British preferred chintz.
The name kalamkari is used prominently today, and is synonymous with both painted and hand blockprinted textiles that incorporate natural vegetable/organically-derived dye stuffs. While there are many forms of kalamkari throughout India and the world, the focus of this site is on extant kalamkari practice in Sri Kalahasti, Andhra Pradesh, in South India. WASHING/SCOURING CLOTH Methods for scouring and bleaching of gada cloth vary. Some artists simply immerse gada cloth in cool water over night then beat the wet cloth to remove further impurities.
The following sheep dung treatment for bleaching has been described by some artists, -Gada cotton fabric is scoured by immersing it overnight in a sheep dung/water solution (1 lump of dung for 10 liters of water). * The cloth is exposed to the sun for a day by spreading it on the banks of the river. * Water is continually sprinkled on the cloth to prevent it from drying. * In the evening the cloth is washed by folding it and slapping it against a washing stone, followed by rinsing in the flowing river. The cloth is then re-immersed in a freshly prepared sheep dung solution and the process is repeated. * On the second day the sprinkling is stopped in the late evening to allow the cloth to dry. The first step in making a kalamkari painting is the treatment of gada, or unbleached cotton cloth in kaccha or myrobalam and buffalo milk solution. A desired size of gada cloth is scoured and bleached before it is treated with the myrobalam/ milk solution. A paste of powdered myrobalam fruit (karakkai, T. chebula) is mixed in fresh, unheated buffalo milk.
For about 6 meters of cloth, 200 grams of myrobalam powder and about 2 liters of milk is needed. This solution is kept for 1 hour to extract tannic acid from the seeds. The cloth is then soaked in the myrobalam solution for 15 minutes, taking care to see that the entire length of cloth is sufficiently saturated. The cloth takes on a light yellow color. It is then squeezed/twisted to remove excess solution, and dried in the sun on a sandy riverbank for approximately 1 hour. The cloth is folded and can be stored in a cool dry place for up to 3 months.
The high fat content of the milk prevents dye from spreading beyond the point of application. The immature myrobalam contains tannic acid that acts as the mordant component for the black dye (kasimi). The kalam, or bamboo pen, is the most important tool in painting kalamkari and gives the artform its name: kalam (pen) kari (work/action/agent). A kalam is made from bamboo splinters measuring about 4-6 inches in length, sharpened to a tip of desired thickness. A thicker point is preferred for filling in background color, while a finer point is used for outlines. About 1 to 1 ? nches from the tip of the kalam, is a dye reservoir made from small rags of coarse wool that are wound around the bamboo and tied in place by cotton thread. This reservoir absorbs and retains the dye solution. According to many artists, cotton cloth cannot be used for the reservoir as it has higher absorptive capacity, no resilience, and would release larger amounts of dye when squeezed. Artists regulate the flow of dye down the bamboo kalam to the point through deliberate and controlled squeezing of the reservoir. In this manner an artist can vary the thickness of the lines s/he draws by skilfully moving the tip of the kalam over the cloth.
Kalams with thinner points are sometimes slit from the tip to the dye reservoir, and filled with a few strands of hair or thread to facilitate the flow of black dye. The reservoir of the kalam is never allowed to dry. It is washed and dried thoroughly before storage. CHARCOAL SKETCH Most artists will sketch a charcoal outline on the prepared cloth before application of black dye (kasimi). Some artists use charred tamarind twigs to draw, while others use commercially manufactured charcoal or lead pencils. The following steps are taken to prepare tamarind twigs (chinta boggo) for ketching: * Dried twigs that have fallen around the tree are gathered and broken to a length of 3-7 inches. * To char the twigs, a shallow circular pit is scooped out in dry soil and a heap of sand is kept besides the pit. * The dry twigs are piled up to a height of 2-3 inches above the ground level. Some newspaper is also placed among the twigs to facilitate burning. The twigs and paper is set on fire. * When the flame dies down, sand is thrown over the twigs, and they are set to cool in the pit for 3-4 hours. * This slow cooling makes the pencils tough.
The ash coloured twigs are then unearthed, rolled between one? s fingers to remove greyish bark until black color is revealed. * The pencils so prepared can be stored until further use (do not remove bark before charring; else the twigs will turn to ash). KASIMI (Black) Black ink/dye or kasimi is at the basis of all traditional kalamkari paintings; it is used to outline all figures, write texts and narrative descriptions, and is the first ink to be applied to myrobalam-treated cloth. Kasimi is made from a fermented solution of rusted iron pieces and sugarcane jaggery.
Scrap bits of iron are mixed with about 10 liters of water and _ kg of jaggery until it is thin to the touch and sweet to the taste. Keep the kasimi solution in an earthen pot, cover and let ferment for 12-15 days (longer if in a cooler climate). A brown/grey/blackish froth forms at the surface, indicating that the solution is ready. The iron acetate is strained through cotton cloth into another container (earthenware, plastic, stainless steel, glass). If stored in a cool place, the solution can be kept up to one year. Iron bits can be reused in later preparations of the solution.
Kasmi solution is used for outlining of figures/motifs and for filling in larger areas in black color. When the iron acetate is applied to treated cloth, a chemical reaction takes place between the iron acetate and the myrobalam solution, causing the kasimi to first appear as a dull, brownish gray, and after a few seconds reach a deep black color. Artists use a cotton rag (or the reservoir ball on the side of the kalam) to dab/clean up any excess or unwanted ink that falls on the cloth. It takes about 5 minutes for the kasimi to fully dry on the cloth. CHAVALKODI & SURALPATTI (Pink, Red, Maroon)
Red shades are acquired through a lengthy alum mordant painting/dyeing process. Alum powder (50 grams) is dissolved in warm water (1 liter) until a thin and watery consistency is achieved. Artists paint alum solution on all portions of the cloth that should appear red. The cloth is allowed to dry for two days. It is then rinsed in flowing river water to remove excess alum, squeezed and dried in the sunlight. The alum solution can be stored in glass or plastic containers for several months. Once the alum solution is dried, water is brought to a boil in a large copper vessel.
Chavalikodi root and Surulipatta bark is added to the boiling water. After about 20 minutes, artists submerge the alum-painted cloth and boil for about 40 minutes. The cloth is then removed, rinsed with cold water, and let dry. For a darker shade of red/multiple shades of red in a single piece, the entire process (treatment in myrobalam solution, alum painting and Chavalikodi root and Surulipatta bark dye vat boil) is repeated until desired color(s) is achieved. Some artists are also applying lime juice onto portions cloth that have already been dyed red, in order to obtain a light pink color.
Typically lime juice is used to create pink line details on red figures or on floral motifs. At present it is important to note that most artists are using a synthetic form of alizerine for obtaining red colors on cloth. Typically the alizerine is mixed with alum and painted directly onto the cloth, however some artists maintain the two-step process of painting alum first then dyeing the cloth in a red dye bath (in this case alizerine). BLEACHING Preparation for lighter colors After the Chavalikodi root and Surulipatta bark dye bath, the cloth has a slight red tint.
If the artist wishes to remove this red tint, the cloth needs to be bleached in a sheep dung and water solution and set overnight. The next day, the cloth is removed from the sheep dung solution, rinsed in flowing water, set on the banks of a sandy river bed, and sprinkled with water (until saturated) every hour for the entire day. In the evening the cloth is returned to the sheep dung solution and the process is repeated for 2-4 days, depending on the whiteness desired. Before yellow or additional colors are added, the cloth is again treated in the myrobalam-milk solution. MYROBALAM FLOWERS (Yellow, Green, Brown)
A yellowish colored dye is obtained by mixing 150 grams of powdered myrobalam flowers and 4 liters of boiling water in an earthen or metal pot. The solution is stirred for some time and then set to cool for about 2-3 hours. Some artists have indicated that a better, darker shade of yellow is obtained if the solution is left to mature for a week in a glass (or non-absorbent) vessel. Before painting the yellow dye solution onto cloth, 10 grams of alum is added. All portions of a cloth that should appear yellow and green are painted with this dye solution. The dye can be stored up to 6 months in a cool place.
Occasionally artists add a solution of aged mango bark and boiling water over the myrobalam yellow dye solution to obtain superior color fastness, or to create a slightly brownish color. The yellow solution, if set for several days, can turn a slight greenish tint. Otherwise, green can be obtain by painting portions with the myrobalam yellow solution, then treating the same portion of cloth with indigo dye. Once myrobalam yellow painting is completed, the cloth is dried in the shade. The next day, the cloth is washed well in flowing river water and dried in the sunlight.
Sometimes pomegranate rinds are used to obtain a yellow color dye. About 200 grams of rinds are powdered and boiled in 3 liters of water. Once cooled, about 8-10 grams of alum is added to the solution. The pomegranate rind solution can then be painted directly onto cloth, creating a dullish yellow color Indigo- Blue colour 1) An earthen pot is buried in the earth, filled with powdered indigo cakes or nil (1/2 kg) and water (15 liters). 2) Another earthen pot is half-buried in the ground. The half that is left exposed outside is coated with lime. On top of this pot another earthen pot is placed, with a hole at the bottom.
The upper pot is filled with paddy husk. Two solutions are then created, one a mixture of alkaline dirt (8 kg) and water (5 liters), the other a mixture of shell-lime (5kg) and water (5 liters). These solutions are poured over the upper pot, filtered through the husks, and drained into the lower pot. A lid is placed over the upper pot. The filtered alkaline-lime solution, collected in the lower pot, is called appala karam. 3) In a small pot, 2 kg thagarsa (cassia tora or tandipa ginjalu) seeds are boiled an aluminium pot with 3-4 liters of water for about 30-45 minutes ntil the seeds soften to a paste. The paste is cooled, and then mixed with the appala karam until a solution is obtained with the same consistency as that of the nil solution (step one). The two solutions (nil and thagarsa-alkaline-lime) are mixed together and left for 10-15 days (7-10 days in the summer, 15 days in the winter), stirring twice a day until a yellow-greenish color is obtained and the solution smells like mud. The indigo solution is then ready for painting, turning blue when exposed to air (through painting).