On the morning of the first day the students arrive. Everyone who is registered for the course receives an apron. This is mainly so we can identify the students and distinguish between the students and interested onlookers. The students will participate; but everyone in the village – down to the local dhaba cook is welcome to observe. A village can contain an almost palpable curiosity and the easiest way to manage this and prevent the spread of misinformation is simply to let everyone in.
Our man in Assam – Chandan Keshab, has done an excellent job of finding the right people to take the workshop: individuals who are motivated, have a familiarity with the fibers and can put the knowledge to good practical use and, hopefully, even pass it on to others. This workshop represents a huge commitment on the part of the artisans. They must leave their obligations behind for many days in order to attend. The closest student had only to walk across the lane to arrive at the workshop. The most distant had travelled for sixteen hours to be here.
The day opens with an introduction by Charllotte (with Chandan translating). Then the students will proceed to scour and mordant the silks. It is a huge anti-climax. As any dyer knows scouring and mordanting are very important – you can’t really dye without completing these first steps. But neither one involves any colour. So after a hard days work you have a line hung with very clean, but uninteresting yarns.
This is the point where we may loose students. We must be as animated as possible. Fortunately our demo table is covered in very colourful yarns – otherwise they doubt that any colour will happen. The next day we start what they have all been waiting for - we start putting colour on silk.