Fabric Printing Workshop

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Dyes on the studio wall remind me of a Cy Twombly painting.

Yesterday I took a fabric printing workshop at Tharangini in Bengaluru (the city has officially changed it’s name since the last post). It was so much fun to spend time in the studio, touching the beautiful wood blocks and printing with them. We began by practicing on a sheet of wrapping paper and a gift bag. We were then given two cushion covers to design and we could choose from the hundreds of blocks lining the walls. The printing process is quite different from block printing with a brayer and printing ink. The textile color is not as tacky. It is spread onto a flexible support and overlaid with a rough jute fabric for blocks with larger print areas. For finer blocks a fine smooth muslin is put on top of the jute and the ink is encouraged to seep up through the layers.

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The owner, Padmini, told us about the history of Tharangini, then introduced us to some of the materials and the steaming process. Everything used in the dying and printing process is Eco friendly and often organic.

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Gum Arabic on the upper right and pomegranate rinds on the bottom. The pomegranate makes a dull lime green color.

The steaming area for fixing silk dyes.

The steaming area for fixing silk dyes.

The container on top of the red oven in the foreground is where the water is heated, it is then piped into the tall metal cylinder behind, where the fabric is first top loaded and then steamed. The cone in the foreground goes on top.

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For me one of the greatest highlights was seeing the teak wood blocks being carved. The artisan had his small chisels custom made in Calcutta. I love how he lightly outlines the pattern first, then carves with chisels and mallet to get a deep relief carving. Teak is a very hard and durable wood. I’m in awe of this craft.

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Tharangini

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Wood blocks drying in the sun.

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Two women mixing inks in front of the drying room.

I went to visit Tharangini, (tharangini studio.com), a place on the edge of Sankey Tank in Bangalore that makes block printed fabrics using all natural materials. I had visited before around ten years ago and had forgotten how great this place is. First it is in a beautiful spot on a quiet tree lined street. It’s an enclave in Bangalore, away from the sound and air pollution. They were in the middle of a print run of furnishing fabric designed by Seema Krish. After printing the fabric design, it gets sent to a unit for underprivileged women to have hand stitching. Ten women will work on it at the same time for five hours to complete five meters of cloth.

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One of these printers has worked here for decades. He worked for the mother of the current owner, Padmini Govind. Here he is in action, lining up the block for a continuous design. The numbered wood blocks line the walls of the workshop.

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Sunitha, my mother in law is having two saris printed. Below, she and my sister-in-law Vinuta are discussing with Padmini to decide which block patterns will work best. I went to see if they could print my truck blocks on fabric. Padmini and her printers ran a test to see how it might work and will continue to try a few different techniques to see how well they can get them to work. My linoleum block prints are shallower than the wood blocks that they use. They also contain large print areas and detailed areas, making it difficult to get a good print using their usual technique. They proposed thickening up their printing ink to make it stickier and using a brayer instead of dipping the block in a tray of ink. I am excited to see their results! I am also going for a workshop on November 5th to learn their fabric printing technique. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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Vidyodaya Adivasi School Gudalur

Last Thursday and Friday we visited the Vidyodaya School in Gudalur with Azim Premji University. APU is interested in enrolling students from a diverse set of backgrounds and went to talk to potential students. Venkatesh and I went to take part and we brought our son Ashwin with us. Initially he didn’t want to go, until he saw the Gudalur yellow autos, and then he didn’t want to leave! In order to get to Gudalur we had to drive through the Bandipur (in Karnataka State) and the Mudumalai (in Tamil Nadu) Tiger Preserves. There we saw deer, rhesus monkeys, langur monkeys, wild boar, elephants, mongoose, peacock and sloth bear. No tiger I’m afraid, but the sloth bear – mother and child were a rare and exciting sight. We stopped to look at some langur monkeys on the side of the road and two jumped on our car to peek into the windows. Usually langur are shy, but obviously people have been ignoring the signs that warn against feeding the wild animals. One wouldn’t jump off until we started slowly driving away.

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Vidyodaya School is an amazing place, set up to educate children from the Adivasi Tribe who live in the forest near Gudalur. I was asked by APU if I would make a presentation to the school kids, so I read my book ‘Sound Horn Okay’ to them while a school teacher translated explanations of each page. I think it was a bit of a flop as these kids come from the forest and haven’t been exposed to all the various forms of wheeled transportation. But then I demonstrated the block printing technique by inking a block with a carving of an auto rickshaw and laying a sheet of paper over it. When I peeled back the paper for the first print there was an excited gasp. They loved it! I encouraged them to come up and press the paper onto the block with the baren and help me peel the print. They were so happy to touch the materials and to see the results. It was a fantastic experience for me and I think for them also. One young man wanted to try inking and printing one on his own and asked me to teach him how to make prints. I had to leave after the demo, but I spoke to him for a while about various prints that can be made simply. I have also been asked to come back for a one day workshop, so I will try to fit it in during this trip to India. I would love to go back – these kids are so well behaved and so genuinely curious. It was a joy to meet them and talk to them.

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DSC01026 Check out this beautiful video made by a 9th grade student after completing a video workshop. These kids are amazing!

Ashwin was a little less impressed and he took some time to settle in. The Adivasi kids are a very close knit group and they were very curious about him. Ashwin didn’t want to stay with us during our meeting, so we let him go off with the kids and figure it out for himself. He spent some time running, hitting, screaming and generally behaving badly before he settled in to play. I knew the local kids could fend for themselves, so I let him run wild and free until eventually they were playing together.

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