Block printing is one of the most ancient and beautiful of Indian arts, and for the artisans of Bagru, it's a traditional skillset that has been passed down throughout generations of local families.
This typically dry, dusty, bustling village located about 30 kilometres outside of Jaipur in Rajasthan, India, is home to a community of Chippas (meaning people who stamp or print) who work together in a place called Chhippa Mohalla (Printers' Quarters). They produce exquisite textiles in their own unique printing method, using natural colours with wooden blocks in a style that has come to be known as known as 'Bagru printing'.
I was so inspired by these artisans and the fabrics that they make during my first visit to Bagru, it planted the seed for my concept of Tulasii to begin to grow and take shape. It's been many moons since that introduction, and we've since built a relationship with a fifth generation, family-run block print house in Bagru, working directly with the master printers to finally release a collection of block print textiles, scarves and throws (coming soon to Tulasii)..
Bagru block printing is a long, slow, laborious process, from preparing the cloth to the final finished printed fabric, which can take up to a week or more to finish, depending on the intricacy of the design. It's also a beautiful dance to watch. The printer places the carved wooden block on the fabric, gives one or two quick hits on the top to distribute the dye, and repeats the process over and over again. Typically, a design will start with the gadh block (for the background), then the rehk (for the fine outlines) and, finally, the daata blocks (to make the solid, inside filling).
The signature natural Bagru colours are down to the Harda treatment – considered the essential element of this printing and dyeing technique - which is made from a seed that is powdered and mixed with water to produce a wheat-like tint to cloth.
Harda also has natural Tannic acid in it that acts as a mordant for the printing colour – especially crucial for the formation of the natural black dye, which, interestingly, is made from horseshoes that have been soaked in big vats of water and sugar cane juice, which has been left to ferment for periods of months to yield the blackest of dyes. You'll see this combination of natural black and Harda showcased in the Tulasii X Bagru collection, with the kind of perfectly imperfect finish that defines the Bagru print (just one of the reasons why we love this style so much!).
Other common vegetable colours used for Bagru printing include a deep, dirty red or Madder from the Aahl tree, blue from the Indigo plant, and yellow from dried pomegranate rinds, turmeric and dried flowers of Dhabaria trees.
Motifs are transferred with intricately carved wooden blocks following two styles – the traditional Bagru print of direct dye application, and a resist style, known as Dabu, using a paste made from locally available black clay, spoiled wheat flour, calcium and limestone to stamp the designs on to the fabric, which is dried with sprinkled sawdust. This covering essentially protects these parts of the fabric, allowing it to 'resist' the dye used later on, creating a stunning, very unique, effect.
A walk around the printing quarters reveals fields of colour, as long golden-hued saffron or deep indigo yardage is laid flat to dry on the bare dirt or hung from the high cement walls and left for 2-3 days in the sun. Rewashed, and then boiled in a large copper pot with various mixtures of natural ingredients, including alum and various flowers, the colours completely transform.
Bagru block printing is a complex and beautiful art form that is over three hundred years old. We have spent the last 12 months collaborating with our own Bagru artisans on a limited edition Tulasii X Bagru textile collection to bring it into a modern aesthetic. Our first range features the artisan's own designs, with a bespoke collection of Tulasii prints to follow.
These images have been captured by us during our trips to Bagru in Rajasthan, India in March 2018 and December 2018.