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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