Kalamkari is a word formed from two Hindi words: "kalam”, pen, and "kari", work or art.  The technique is believed to have flourished in ancient Persia and traveled to southern India along trade routes. Many of the Indian artisans who practiced the art were supported by temples to travel a specific region and use their vivid fabrics to teach local citizens the mythological tales of their sect.  This form of art was understood and appreciated as a form of worship in many areas of India.

To begin the process, the fabric is washed and then soaked in a bath of buffalo milk with the dried powdered fruit, Myrobalan. The fabric is washed a second time and dried in open fields, giving the cloth a soft yellow color. The pen or “kalam” used to draw is a unique tool made of burnt twigs from the tamarind tree or bamboo.  The middle of the stick is wrapped with wool and twine to create a receptacle for the dye. The skilled artist draws the initial outline, freehand. After the drawing is set, the fabric is ready for the natural color.  Only natural plant dyes, extracted from bark, flowers, and various plants, are used.  Multiple steps are required to use these dyes and their mordants and the process can take several days. 

Most kalamkari motifs are traditional, varying from stylized plants and peacocks to depictions of ancient myths. However, some current artists use more geometric designs, inspired by modern art.  While traditionally painted on Indian cotton, current artisans are using silk, georgette and other fabrics.  Explore using these pieces in multiple ways…..add them to your wardrobe, give them as a gift, hang them on a wall…..enjoy this elegant art form any way you like.


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