After covering lots of high-tech fashion design, I wanted to bring you to an area of the world that proudly maintains the traditions of the past. In India, I was fortunate to visit fabric printing factories in Rajasthan.
Here, they use a mud resist technique called Dabu, dating back hundreds of years. The wood blocks are hand-carved. Each color needs an individual woodblock. The pigments are made from natural materials like dried flowers, seed oils and clay. There are different techniques, some have an indigo base, some on a white fabric base. The motifs are passed down from generation to generation. There are regional patterns.
These processes may seem simple because they have evolved little in the past few centuries, they are still highly technical. The woodblocks are made for different purposes. There are holes carved behind the delicate patterns or in between the motifs to ventilate certain printing techniques or allow pigments to spread properly. Particularly intricate patterns may be intended for embroidery layouts. The shape of the blocks themselves may be designed to fit like puzzle pieces to be combined with other motifs.
In a region where traditional households are the norm, I was surprised to find so many smiling women working here and enjoying each other's company. While they were still quite shy and hid their faces when my Dad arrived to photograph them, they were very welcoming when I was in their studio to shoot their work.
We are so used to seeing machine printing and digital printing of very complex designs that when we see these fabrics used in our favorite Boho chic boutiques or festival fashion street style shots, we don't think about all of the hands that have painstakingly worked on them with artisanal techniques. Each color, border, and motif are hand-printed individually. Then they are washed, treated and dried in open air.
In the United States, clothing deliveries are coordinated with fleets of late-model trucks. As you can see in the top photo, petite women are bundling their handicrafts to be carried by delivered on camel.
Fashion trends are being knocked off from brand to brand. The media is filled with issues of cultural appropriation. It was surprising to find out that India was leading globally with legal protections on their traditional arts. It says a lot about their cultural pride and how much people and their skills are valued.
You may be familiar with the exorbitant cost of Haute Couture clothing. Few of us can afford a gown from a Parisian atelier. Clothing made by the masterful techniques of fabric printing in Rajasthan are works of art that are much more accessible. You would be wearing natural fabrics with natural pigments and supporting artisans trying to keep their traditions alive.
All photos by Mariana Leung