One of the things that most excites me about being in India is the textiles. I have always loved handicrafts and making things, but I have a special interest in textiles and fibre arts. When my mom used to visit me in Scotland, we would often plan to visit wool festivals and textile artist studios during our road trips. I distinctly remember one taxi driver in Oban telling us that the wool festival being held in a small town church was not worth visiting and he would wait for us outside. We told him not to and then went on to spend over an hour poking around at the various stalls in the tiny church gym followed by a cup of tea.
What makes Indian textiles so fascinating to me are the regional techniques and the bold colours. I am so inspired by the way Indian women wear bright and beautiful colours and patterns every day. I laugh about it because I only brought one pink shirt with me and the rest are black and grey neutrals. Heck, even Steve brought more colour in his micro-wardrobe than me! Anyways, the point of this post is that even on hard days when it is hot and we are lost and dehydrated, all I have to do is look around to remember that I am in textile heaven.
A little town outside of Jaipur called Bagru is famous for a specific type of textile – block printing. Block printing is a process of stamping multiple layers of colour on fabric to create a repeating design. The blocks are made of hand carved wood and often feature flower, leaf or animal motifs. I really wanted to get to Bagru to see the process for myself but unfortunately the timing didn’t work. I did, however, find a maker space in Jaipur called Creatis that offers block printing classes for beginners. I decided to go for the full day “Pro” class on our final day in Jaipur, leaving Steve at the guest house to work on some farm bookkeeping stuff.
My Uber dropped me off and thankfully there was a lot of signage or else I wouldn’t have found the place. It was much more industrial than I had expected, but in a good way. As I waited for the class to start, I was able to poke around and look at the on-going work. Creatis does not just offer classes; they are a true maker space that allows up-and-coming creatives to use their equipment and provides mentoring on all aspects of design, creation and production. In addition to block printing, they also specialize in embroidery, tye dye, and sewing.
I was the only block printing student that day so I got to work one-on-one with my mentor. Although he didn’t speak much English, he demonstrated the techniques and helped me adjust as we went along. I picked all my colours based on swatches but found that the colours dried differently on the fabric.
In the morning, I worked on a tile flower design with four blocks. Each block fills in a different part of the pattern. The trick is to align each subsequent block correctly so the colours is layered without gaps.
The whole process was harder than it looked. It took me six hours to create about four metres of printed fabric in total. At the end of the day, one of the sewing mentors transformed one of the pieces into a tote bag. This was definitely a highlight in Jaipur for me.