Life isn’t perfect, but your outfit can be. In a world of social media, we are obsessed with the way we look and the way we dress. There are new technologies that have contributed immensely to textile printing and production. Consumers today love to wear new-age fabrics and designs that make them appear modern and urban. However, in this race of development and technological influences, we have somehow got disconnected from our roots. This post is all about the art of daboo printing that has managed to stay alive despite tough market competition.
Thanks to Pushpendra and Walk and Pedal Travel Tours for providing Spirit of Art tours that focus on this particular fabric art at Aavaran. We did this tour on the same day after we completed our bicycle tour in Udaipur. After the cycle tour, we took a break for a few hours. Sarah and I returned to our Airbnb homestay in Udaipur.
We took a bath and recharged the camera batteries. My body was still aching after the cycle tour but it was better after the bath. Also, Pushpendra was so kind to pick us up from our location and take us to the place where we can experience something we had never seen before.
Let’s Go Back in Time:
The concept of block printing originated in China, but gradually it had its influence in India. Rajasthan became the leading producer of block printed fabrics and daboo printing flourished here. Also known as the mud resist printing, Daboo printing history dates back to 675 A.D. in India. The art is immensely popular and has its presence in the village of Akola in Chittorgarh.
The internet says that the word ‘daboo’ originates from the Hindi word ‘Dabaana’ which means ‘to press’. However, I personally believe that the word is taken from a Gujarati word ‘dabu’ which also means the same. The mud resist printing recipe is a guarded secret of the families that practice this art in Akola village in Chittorgarh.
Rajasthan is also popular for other block printing styles like Bagaru, Batik and Sanganeri. Daboo prints have similar designs to these other printing styles but have distinct look and procedure. Most of the daboo print designs are inspired by nature. Hence, you will see designs of plants, birds, flowers and fruits in ethnic motifs. The printing technique uses natural dyes made from fruits, flowers and vegetables and therefore it is environment-friendly.
Daboo printing was immensely popular in Rajasthan and in other states of India. However, right before the Independence, machine fabric printing made its way in India. This was an easier, faster and affordable way to print fabrics.
On the other hand, Daboo printing is labour intensive and involves several stages of printing and dyeing. It became hard for daboo printing to match the competition. However, these families in the villages of Rajasthan have revived the art.
When we reached the destination, we saw this huge space where blue and white sheets were laid to dry in the sun. The white building looks very ordinary. It was surprising to see so many talented artists and minds working here.
Pushpendra introduced us to the man who spearheads the daboo printing process at Aavaran. Meet Mr Kalyanji, he’s the 17th generation daboo printing artist who knows his art like a back of his hand. He has a rock-steady hand, an exceptional hand-to-eye coordination and an eye for detail.
However, the thing that attracted me the most in him is his simplicity. While sorting the images I realized we were wearing the same colour t-shirts on that day. Creative minds love blue, I guess. Okay, so after the introduction, Mr Kalyanji wasted no time and took us right where the action was happening.
So, the step one is to wash the plain fabric that is received from the mills. The fabric goes through a careful washing process to remove impurities and dirt stuck in it. After washing and drying the fabric is brought to the workshop.
The artist spreads the white fabric across the long table and pins it accurately. The fabric must not be loose, but it shouldn’t be over-stretched. Before the fabric is pinned to the table a layer of sawdust is sprinkled on it. Why sawdust? The reason for that when the artist applies the mud block on the fabric, the fabric will get moist and stick to the table. A layer of sawdust prevents the cloth from sticking to the table.
Once the fabric is laid out on the table, the artist uses the block print method to print the initial prints. The blocks are dipped into fast-drying dyes. The most amazing part of this process is that an experienced artist doesn’t use any measuring tools to measure the distance between the two prints.
The accuracy with which they do freehand block printing is simply mind-blowing. Some inexperienced artists use a stick to measure the distance between the two block prints. However, with years of practice, they master the art of block printing with their hand and eye coordination. Checkout the video below to see how perfectly these skilled artists do freehand block printing.
The next step is to use the mud resist print that is unique to daboo printing. So, the artist uses the block to apply the daboo paste on a certain part of the design. This part of the design will retain the original colour of the fabric.
The artist uses a wooden box known as ‘Tari‘. It has a steel mesh underneath that ensures the right amount of mud is retained on the surface when the artist dabs the print block on the mud paste. It also provides the support when the artist presses the print block on the mud paste. See video below to experience how daboo printing is done.
A Quick Detour on How Daboo Paste is Made:
The daboo printing process uses a special mud paste. This is a mixture of a distinct mud brought from nearby villages, gum, lime and waste wheat chaff. The paste is made manually because it has to achieve a certain level of consistency. But why not use the latest technology? During the tour, Mr Kalyanji did mention that they tried using machines to make the paste. However, machines couldn’t replicate the consistency they need.
A dedicated person works on filtering the paste using a fine quality muslin cloth. He pours the daboo paste on the muslin cloth and stirs it with hand until all the fine mud filters into the vessel below. The residue is basically mud impurities that is thrown away.
Back to the Daboo Printing Process:
After the initial designs are printed on the fabric, it is laid out in the sun to dry. After drying the fabric goes to the indigo dyeing area. Daboo printing involves the use of natural dyes. For instance, indigo for blue shades, Kashish (a mineral produced from iron deposits) for grey and brown shades and pomegranate dye for red and yellow shades.
The indigo dyeing process is quite simple and fast. The workshop has multiple 9-feet indigo dye wells. So, after the initial design print and the first round of daboo printing the fabric goes into the indigo dye well. A dedicated worker manages the dipping process manually.
After few minutes of the dipping process, the fabric is removed from the indigo dye well. The fabric turned greenish colour the moment it was pulled out. The assisting female workers quickly laid out the fabric to dry in the sun. However, the moment it was exposed to the sunlight the greenish colour fabric turned indigo-blue.
At this stage, if the requirement of the client is single-daboo treatment then this fabric would go to the washing department once it dry. However, some companies demand double-daboo and triple-daboo treatment. See the indigo dyeing process in the video below and see the fabric colour changing from greenish to blue.
Hence, in the case, of double-daboo treatment, this fabric would return to the workshop after drying out in the sun. The artists would now apply the daboo paste to another part of the design using the block. The fabric would then come out to dry in the sun and get dipped in the indigo-dye well. Then again it would be laid out to dry.
Initially, when the fabric was white, daboo mud was applied to the parrot design only, not the branches. After the first indigo dyeing process the white fabric has turned light blue. The daboo mud on the parrot design has turned black, but it has prevented the indigo from penetrating into the fabric. So, the parrot design will stay white.
The second layer of daboo mud (in the pic above) is applied to the branch design and the thick border. After going through the second indigo dyeing process the light blue area will turn dark blue. Since the branch area and the thick border area had daboo mud paste the fabric underneath will stay light blue.
In the case of triple-daboo treatment, the fabric would return to the workshop again and the same process would be repeated. After this, the fabric finally goes to the washing department and the final product is made.
Let’s Go to the Washing Area:
More About Aavaran:
Our visit to Aavaran was not just about experiencing daboo printing, but beyond. So, Pushpendra and Kalyanji took us to other areas of the facility that focuses on other areas.
Right at the start, we saw bundles of plain fabric from the mills. The clients that want to get the daboo printing work done would send in their requirements. After a couple of discussions with the company and finalizing the print, colour and other formalities the process begins.
Graduates from NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) work here on various projects and lineup. They have their own section where they create their own work using natural dyes and print motifs. This section usually has templates of different sizes and there are tailors that work in coordination with these students.
Aavaran is an Udaipur-based NGO that focuses on empowering low-income craftspeople through education and income generation programs. The organization also emphasizes evolving and sustaining traditional crafts and to make rural artisans self-reliant. To combat the issue of migration for work, Aavaran in collaboration with Hindustan Zinc Ltd initiated project Swavlamban (which means self-sufficiency). This project focuses on making rural and tribal women self-reliant and self-sustainable. Women and girls receive training on various aspects of textiles, and personal health and hygiene.
The facility also has a section for ready-made products. If you visit this place you can always come here to buy some great fabrics at the right price. Our tour ended with me and Sarah shopping for some items for us. Overall the experience was quite memorable as we got to interact with the local artisans and workers.
If you are visiting Udaipur, you can book your tours through Walk and Pedal Travel Tours that provide bicycle tours in Udaipur, Heritage Walk Tours and Spirit of the Art Tours. We hope you enjoyed the tour and also had an opportunity to look at one of the forgotten fabric arts in India.