A Brush with the Indian Ocean

by - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kalamkari - printed with natural dyes.
As our car gets closer and closer to the ocean our main goal has been to connect with artisans who produce kalamkari blockprints. “Kalam” means “pen” and “kari” means “work.” – so the kalamkari is traditionally a form of decoration done with a stylus. Kalamkari have figures outlined in thin black lines.

Kalamkaris being collected after the first layer has dried.

The blockpinting imitates the penwork. The main block has thin black lines and other blocks are used to fill in the colours. Just like ajrakh (from the Kutch desert) and dabu mudprinting (from south of Jaipur), kalamkari is it’s own distinct art. Like the other forms of blockprinting it is a struggle to find practitioners who still use cut wooden blocks and even harder to find those who use natural dyes.

We are lucky however, and we are able to renew our acquaintance with a group of printers working near Vijayawada who do very fine work.

Exhibition quality pieces looking very much like persian carpets.
After greetings and chai we take a tour of the studio. The tables and blocks are familiar to us, but for this style of blockprinting the craftsmen use a short heavy piece of wood covered with a padded cloth on the end. They use this to tap the block – hence insuring that the thin lines print clearly.

Kalamkari blockprinting represents a slight variation on technique.
Afterwards, our group gathers on the verandah and they bring out their sample books. They are not so much books as large sheets of cotton onto which up to nine samples are displayed. It is a feast of pattern and colour with each fresh design looking like something we simply must have.

The sample book - how to choose?
When we are finished selecting it turns out that we have chosen too many patterns for an order. We must edit down our picks to something more reasonable. This new order will form the basis of a new line of bedding and it should be in the store in about a year. Always when we place an order we tell the artisans “no hurry, no hurry” or “slowly, slowly” because we want the best work they can do.

We check over our previous order as part of the essential quality control. Two-thirds of it will be used to make Maiwa clothing and other portion will be available as yardage. Keep your eyes open it should arrive in Maiwa Supply in about 45 days.

After leaving the blockprinting studio we give ourselves a little treat and drive the short distance to the ocean. It is a wide yawn of beach, an infinite expanse of sand, flat as the horizon. The water is tropically warm, and we soon find ourselves requested into group photos. The visit is refreshing to body and soul.

Our visit to the beach and suddenly we are on the other side of the cameras.

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  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your vivid descriptions as well as photos, and the opportunity for vicarious travel to India.

  2. I am so envious of your visual pattern treats! I can't wait until you have these prints in the store!


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