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History of Gujarat Textiles

From Farm to Fiber from Fiber to Factory from Factory to Fabric and from Fabric to Fashion, this is the story of five Fs of Fabric and Fashion.  Indians mainly have been wearing clothing’s made of locally grown cotton.  As far as our knowledge goes India was one of the first places where the cultivation of cotton existed and cotton was used and it is during the period as early as 2500 BC ie during the Indus valley civilization or what we call the Harappan era.   The presence of fabric worn by the people can be seen as a proof in the rock cut sculptures.  These sculptures show the figures of human wearing the clothes or fabrics which can be wrapped around the body, for eg the Sari or Turban and the Dhoti these are traditionally Indian wears which are tied around the body to cover oneself but done in various ways in different part of India and in different cast or communities around India.

Colouricious - Gujarat Textiles1Textiles can be felt or spun fibers made into yarn and then netted, looped, knit or woven to make fabrics, these appeared in the Middle East during the late Stone Age.  It is seen that from the ancient times to the present day, there were various methods of textile production which were continually evolved and this led to choices of textiles available and it influenced how people carried their possessions, clothed themselves and also decorated their houses and surroundings. The rich and stylized worn by the aristocrats and ordinary and simple garments worn by the common people.

Textiles are connected to communities and no other region in India is as rich in folk costumes even now. Kutch in Gujarat which is the western most state of India you will find not one or two or three but more than 25 different types of embroideries or patch work or weaving patterns in Gujarat, each belonging to different ethnic groups and each ethnic group have their own unique style of embroidery, different motifs, patterns that gives them their visual identity.  To name a few ethnic groups like jat Muthwa, Rabari, Ahir, Sodha Rajputs, Haliputra, Meghwals etc have different style of embroidery namely, Suf, Kharek, Ari etc,   Not only is the embroidery of Gujarat Famous but is famous for its weaving also like the Double Ikkat Patola, or Mushroo weaving or the Tangaliya weaving, also Single ikkat weaving etc or let it be the shawls for the Rabari community also known as Dhabada in the local language. You can also see  felt making in kutch region.  Ajrak printing work of the Khatri community people who have been doing this for the past 9 generations can be seen here, Kharad weaving is another unique art that can be seen here and the most beautiful art is  Rogan Painting an art been done by only a hand full of people of the same family and probably the only family doing this work in India and may be even in the world. Gujarat is the place to visit if you are on a textile tour to India.

Colouricious Gujarat Textiles 2Gujarat Textiles and Handicrafts reflect the splendid work of colours played in different forms of design. The major factor behind the success of the textile industry in Gujarat is the fact that it has managed to preserve its old tradition and rich cultural heritage. The state excels in both quality and designs of textiles, both customary and recent. Gujarat produce the widest range of woven fabrics like the patola, double ikat, bandhej tie and dye, the woven mushroo and the resist printing on cotton and silk.

Gujarat’s rich tribal folk contribute to the different variety of embroidery work from hundreds of years as per the tradition of each tribe or communities, this can be identified from the various stitches they do on motifs, patterns which are in use for hundreds of years Popularly termed as the textile state of India, Gujarat has one of the most flourishing textile industries in the country. And it was very truly said and called the Manchester of the East during the British era, and the Denim Capital of India.

Block Printing Styles of Gujarat

It is important to try and understand something about the Caste system in India when looking at art and craft, as it is the reason why a person practices their specific area of expertise.  Caste remains an influential social structure in this sector, determining to a great extent the transmission of knowledge and skill.  The area of block printing is no exception and is dominated by two castes – the Chhipas and Khatris, the name Chhipa or Chhipi is derived from the Hindi word meaning ‘to print’.  People tend to marry within their caste and first cousin marriage is common in the Khatris clan, often securing the alliance of two dynasties.

Despite the bonds of caste there were no formal guild or collective organization formed for many years and it was down to the individual clan to be entrepreneurs, this was particularly the case under British rule which secured the free exercise of individual energy and initiative, but marked a relaxation of any type of organisational protection.

After independence new government agencies were set up to aid the growth in the craft area and the revival of block printing gathered momentum from the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Organisations such as the Gujarat State Handicrafts and Handlooms Development Corporation (GSHHDC) and Rajasthli (Government of Rajastan Handicrafts Emporium) helped to aid the fruitful collaborations between hereditary block printers and professional designers, several from the National Institute of Design.  What blossomed from this was the transition of block printed textiles from caste dress to cat-walk, and saw it being developed to suit the needs of city dwellers.


AjrakhAjrakh block printing is one of the most complex styles of block printing in India, undergoing over 14/16 stages of work to create the finished product.  The cloth contains many meanings, the most popular story is that Ajrakh means ‘keep it today’.  It is also linked to the Arabic word for indigo –Azrakh.  Indigo dyed products are produced world over, with variations from continent to continent and it has mostly grown around the places where climates have the ability to produce the natural plant of indigo.  Whether it is in Japan or India, the dyeing of cloth with indigo is very laborious, with many vats of dye and water required.   The decreasing water table in Gujarat is proving to become a problem for those needing water for this work, so all efforts are being made to recharge and stabilize the area since it was affected by the earthquake.

The block printing style of Ajrakh is another skilled craft coming from the area of Kutch/Katchchh, practiced mostly by men in communities like the Rabaris, Maldharis and Ahirs where they wear the printed cloth as turbans, lungis and stoles.  The many stages of dyeing and printing are required to keep the dye fast and even, prepared in lengths the finished product is, like the embroideries of these people, identifiable to the worker and area.  Each Ajrakh artisan uses his own process and they can recognise each others work quite easily. When worn it is also a symbol of identity about their caste, gender, age, religious affiliation, marital status and economic standing.

This highly skilled craft of ajrakh block printing came to Kutch from Sind with the Khatris (artisans who ‘apply colour to cloth’).  After the devastation of the earthquake a new village was formed aptly named Ajrakhpur (place of Ajrakh) and today there are Khatris living and working here.  Almost the whole village is involved in the practice, now stimulated by government initiatives it looks like the younger generation of block printers are able to sustain their parents trade.  They are full of new ideas for designs while also being sensitive to their own families’ traditions.

So the process itself goes roughly as follows; first the cloth is washed in water to remove any finish or starch that may be present.  It is important to remove any trace for the dye to fix to the cloth.  The cloth is soaked in castor oil, soda ash and camel dung overnight, left to dry in the sun and when partly dried the process is repeated 7 to 9 times until the cloth foams when rubbed.  It is then rinsed in plain water.

The cloth is then dyed in a cold solution of myrobalan (powdered nut of the harde tree).  This stage is known as kasanu.  The Myrobalan turns the cloth a yellow colour and works as a mordant, helping to fix the dyes.

After drying in the sun, a ‘resist’ stage is then applied.  A mixture of lime and gum arabic is printed on the cloth to define the outline of the design, if the cloth is to be double sided it is repeated on the other side as well.

Next a paste is made by fermenting scrap iron, raw cane sugar and gram flour.  The fermenting takes about a week or two depending on the weather and when a yellow scum appears it is ready. The liquid is drained off and added to tamarind seed powder, then boiled.  The resulting paste ‘iron paste’ is printed on the cloth and gives the black part of the design. Similarly a red colour is produced when tamarind seed powder is mixed with alum (aluminium sulphate).  The next stage is a combined one where a paste of alum, flour, clay and gum is printed where there are to be large areas of red and at the same time a resist of lime and gum Arabic.  This stage is known as gach.  Sawdust is sprinkled on the printed areas to protect the design from smudging.

The seventh stage is that of indigo.  The preparing of an indigo vat is a skill in itself, it has to become established over a period of time.  Here the dye bath contains natural indigo, sagikhar salt, lime, casiatora seed and water, this is mixed in a clay vessel, plastic barrel or concrete vat.  Sometimes jaggery is added to aid fermentation.

The cloth is dyed in the indigo vat and after is washed in running water and laid flat to dry.

The next part of the journey for this cloth is the ninth one of either madder or al dyeing, depending on the availability of the dye stuffs it is boiled in a solution of tamarix and either madder or al root powder.  Then washed and sun dried. By this stage the red and black areas of the design develop and the resist areas are revealed as white.

Alum printing is now repeated and then left for several days. After this another round of indigo dyeing and then sun drying.  Then it is washed in running water and dried again. Stages 13 and onwards are repeats of earlier processes, more dyeing, variations for colours like green and resist printing for white areas of design. By around the eleventh process the cloth is dried in the sun and sprayed with a liquid made from pomegranate skins, this is repeated and then done with a turmeric and lime spray. Finally the cloth is washed again.

The Ajrakh block printed fabric is a valued fabric and worn by Muslim and Dalit cattle herders in the villages of northern Kutch.  It is also worn at weddings with designs similar to those on Persian carpets – a central motif surrounded by several borders.

It is not surprising then that chemical dyes are used by some producers to speed up the process.  Vegetable dye is susceptible to climatic changes but some find that the distinctive look is all part of its charm, and of course it is less harmful to the environment.


Bandhani-Indian-Tie-and-DyeAnother type of decorated cotton cloth is that of Bandhani, a tie-dye craft.  Bandhna gave its name to the old bandana pocket handkerchiefs and the word originates from the Sanskrit word for ‘to tie’.

Bandhani relies on indigo dyeing with the pattern being formed by the ‘resist’ part of the design.  The white ‘resisted’ areas are created by binding parts of the cloth with cotton thread and making small stitches.  To knot the undyed silk or cotton, the cloth is sent to a draughtsman, or chitarnar, who divides the whole surface into one-inch squares.  Then it goes to the knotter, or handnari, generally a woman or girl who picks up a little cloth at each corner of the squares and ties it into a knot with pack thread.  This would be for a quite basic design and for something more intricate there will be more ties and stitches made in the places were the dye should not touch. Thus forming a resist for the dye.

After being knotted all over, the cloth is sent to the dyer, who dips it into the colour required for the ground of the pattern; after which the knots are all untied.  For the simplest of patterns only one dye will be undertaken, but if more than one colour is desired it will continue to be knotted and dipped.  Different colour combinations are popular in the north and south of Gujarat.

A wide variety of Bandhani has evolved over the centuries because of its close links with the religious and social customs of different people. The main colours used are yellow, red, green and black. After the process of stitching and dyeing is complete a variety of patterns emerge, including, dots, squares, waves and stripes.

Rajasthan is one of the most important centers of the tie and dye textile. Each area, each caste and each tribe has its special designs as we have seen with the other crafts of Kutch.  The simple pattern bandhani textiles are inexpensive and allow the women of poorer communities to dress colourfully.  Generally speaking the more dots on the work the more expensive it is.

Usually men do the dyeing while women do the tying and stitching, with each dot being as tiny as a pin-head. The cloth is first washed and bleached to prepare it for absorbing the dyes. After this, it is then sent to the women who do the tying, who lift small portions of the fabric and tightly tie a thread around it. The more minuscule the raised stitch the finer the bandhana. The tied textile is then dipped in a light colour first while the tied areas retain the original ground colour. If a second dye is required, the areas to be retained in the first dye are tied for resist and the cloth dipped in a darker dye. This process is repeated, if several colours are to be combined.

The areas of Gujarat that have become the main centres for tie and dye fabrics are Jamnagar (where the water brings out a bright red), and Ahmedabad.  It can also be found in Patola and Morvi, which have a unique history of fine fabric production.

Roghan Gold Printing

Roghan Gold PrintEvidence of Roghan or Khadi gold printing dates back to 1411 and some fabrics from the medieval period still exist.  Now it is worked in Nakhatrana Taluka of Kutch where cloth decorated using this method is used as skirt lengths and for wall hangings

To apply the gold design to the cloth a paste is made from boiling castor oil, titanium dioxide and turpentine. This is printed onto the fabric with the use of a printing implement called a sancha, a brass stencil into which a wooden plunger is inserted pushing the paste through the holes and onto the fabric.  After this the gold or silver leaf or glitter is applied giving the appearance of brocade.

Roghan printing is not indigenous to India, it is a craft from Persia and came to India during the Mughal domination of the 16th and 17th centuries. It is a quick and simple method for gold printing and can be applied to many different fabrics, including velvet.

There are two types of printing called Rogan/Roghan, the other being the printing of colour patterns by hand with a thick oil based paint. The colour work and gold work share a lot in common, including the use of the Sancha brass stencil.

In the Nirona village of Kutch there are three families practicing this craft but producing it in two very different ways.  In one method the Rogan paste is made from castor oil and natural dyes (like mud, leaves and plants), pounded and heated on a slow fire then the coloured paste is kept in pots until required.  The printer dips a thin rod into the pot of paste and the fine ribbon of sticky slow oil paint is skillfully painted onto the cloth.  The cloth is folded over to blot the paint and thus a mirror image is produced.

Another variation is the same as for the gold printing. A thick residue called Khadi is made from hot safflower, (castor or linseed oil and cold water, it is then mixed with chalk powder and colour pigment and added to a binder agent to form a thick dye.  Here again the metal stencil block (with plunger) is used to push the thick dye through the holes and pressed onto the fabric.  Design motifs generally are of floral, paisley, geometric, birds and animals. This type of work can be more intricate and fine looking than the hand work as the stencil gives more control over the finished pattern.


kalamkariKalamkari is the name for pen work in printing onto fabric and like Rogan work, can be produced in two ways, one by hand-drawing the other with a block. It uses more subtle colours in its process than other printing as it only uses natural dyes.  The word Ghalam means pen and Ghalamkar is drawing with a pen.

In ancient times groups of singers, musicians and painters, called chitrakattis moved from village to village to tell the great stories of Hindu mythology.  They illustrated the historical stories onto large bolts of canvas, painting on the spot with dyes extracted from plants.  This was the start for the Kalamkari artisan (or Qualamkars as they were called then) who notated the stories into picture form and illustrations onto cloth.

The more intricate version of Kalamkari work is the Srikalahasti style – using pen alone to paint designs freehand and to fill in the colour also.  Using only natural dyes and colours the entire process requires 17 steps to complete.

In this craft the colours follow themes, women figures are yellow, gods in blue, and demons in red and green.  The backgrounds are generally red with motifs of lotus.  Generally the tradition of telling religious stories continues as the most common theme, Kalamkari designs are of sun chariots, famous deities and scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabarata.

The Ramayana and Mahabrata are both Sanskrit epics of ancient India, both discussing the Gods and morals to live life by, the later being the longest poem every written.  These works are compared in importance to that of the Bible, Shakespeare, Homer, Greek drama or Qur’an.

Kalamkari work can be said to be truly unique as no two pieces are the same, it is also incredibly eco-friendly and as people all over the world now understand the harmful effects of chemicals in the water, the taste for natural dyed fabrics is growing. Some of the items used to make the colours are mango bark, madder root, pomegranate seed and the myrobalam fruit.

The People of Gujarat

Textile-Tour-of-GujaratIf you are interested in the different crafts of India, and Gujarat in particular, then it is important to know about the people who make it, who take it very seriously and see their craft as important, like a precious emblem which must be protected.  Styles identify their users, and those making it can identify the work of others by their stitches, and skill level. Embroidery can also serve as a source of information that tells of the embroiderers history.

In the area of Kutch (Kachchh) you can find the Rabari people, distinctive in their dress, these nomadic herders are scattered through the state.  They are identifiable by their traditional dress, women in black wool with masses of silver and gold jewellery, and the men in white jackets and dohti like wrapped lower garments.  There are subtle differences in their dress from one community to another and it can also denote their stature within their village.

The Rabari  (also known as Rewari) have a passion for decoration, embellishing their homes with mud work and mirror patterns and their costumes for special occasions, yet in everyday life they stand out from the crowd with a definite identity.  In India people like to follow their heritage back to the Gods and the Ribari elders believe they are descended from the Hindu God Shiva. The third God of the three major deities of Hinduism, Shiva is formidable the name meaning “The Auspicious One”.

For almost 1,000 years, the Rabari have roamed the deserts and plains of western India, it is thought they originate from the Iranian plateau.  The women dedicate long hours to embroidery, with one part of their style being distinctive, that of Shisha mirror work.  They pride themselves as being the best of the best, with each individual using it as an expression of their dynasty, a folk style evolved over generations.  The pictorial elements in their work depict their history as Camel traders and the harsh times of living in the desert. This tribe have their genealogy kept by a professional and it is also learnt in songs which they find important when it comes to marriage as they do not marry within their own clans.


The History of Gujarat

India was probably the first of all countries that perfected weaving, and the art of gold brocades and filmy muslins, so if we are to talk about textiles, fabric, sewing, weaving and printing then it is important to know about its history and how the production of it is as important today as it has always been.

India, Assyria and Egypt were producing cotton long before the thirteenth century when it was first introduced into Europe (then it was a poor imitation of the skill that had already been perfected by India).  Cotton didn’t arrive in England until the seventeenth century when in 1641 ‘Manchester Cottons’ made up an imitation of the Indian cottons.  It could not compete however, and gradually Indian chintzes became so generally worn in England that it affected the wool and flax industries, the Government was so worried that it prohibited the wearing of all printed calicoes.

Textile Tour of Gujarat RabariFabric and its coloured designs has been causing ripples in society for as long as we can remember.  In some periods of history certain colours were only allowed to be worn by certain classes.  Clothing has been talked about in the most ancient of documents, even ‘the father of history’ Herodotus tells of the making of dye from natural trees and plants. In the Ramayana (4th century) it mentions coloured garments characteristic of the ways of dyeing cotton cloths in India.  The cotton of India has always been sought after for the beauty and brilliance of their natural dyes, more than for the fineness and softness with which they are woven.

Known as ‘the jewel of Western India’, Gujarat is a state rich with tradition and history that strives to preserve the old ways and skills.  Bordered by Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, the Arabian Sea and the Pakistani province of Sindh, Gujarat has absorbed migrants from all these areas, and the folk art and skills they brought with them.   This wonderful region still has many authentic old villages and nomadic people, living and working as they have for hundreds of years. Textiles are its forte with the area of Kutch providing the richest seam of treasures and an ethnic mix of inter-woven cultures.

Ahmedabad - Textile Tour of GujaratGujarat is also very beautiful, people travel here for the love of art and natural untamed vistas, once the site of some Indus Valley Civilizations, the ancient site of Dholavira is one of the largest and most prominent archeological sites in India from that period and Lothal is believed to be the world’s first seaport.

The ancient history of Gujarat was enriched by the commercial activities of its inhabitants.  There is clear evidence of trade and commerce ties with Egypt, Bahrain and the Persian Gulf, so it is not surprising that this area became an industry for decorative arts, fine quality fabrics with skilled decoration.

In 2001 Gujarat faced a Magnitude 7.7 earthquake whose epicenter was about 9km south southwest of the village of Chobari in the Kutch district.  The earthquake killed 20,000 people and destroyed nearly 400,000 homes.  Gujarat has worked tirelessly to re-build and repair and due to natural resources and the tourism trade it is doing very well, despite problems with the shrinking water table in this region. The main agricultural crop in Gujarat is cotton and is also predominant in the handicraft cottage industries, the abundance of the raw material providing the base for the textile treasure-trove of artisans working in weaving, embroidery, dye and print.

Make Bank Holiday Monday a Block Printing Day

Make Bank Holiday Monday a Block Printing Day

Next Monday is a holiday for us in the UK, so why not get yourself prepared and clear the decks to make Bank Holiday Monday a Block Printing Craft Day. We have loads of fantastic sets of wooden blocks you can purchase and hundreds of wonderful videos to inspire you and get the creative juices flowing. Just get yourself prepared, organise a space you can work in and spend the rest of the week planning what you want to make, get your orders in nice and early with us so we can make sure everything arrives in time, and then you are all ready for the big day!

Don’t forget that we have two fantastic sales on at the moment. You can choose sets from our Celtic Celebration offer where you get one set of blocks free if you purchase two sets; or our May Day Special where you can put together a combination of blocks and paints and get a stencil and some printing mats for free. The May Day Special would be perfect for Block Printing Craft Day as it really is an offer to get you up and running as soon as the set arrives. All you need is some space and an idea!

Whatever you choose to do, have fun on the day and enjoy your block printing.

PS. Regular visitors will notice a couple of changes are being made to our website, as we tweak the way we present our navigation and try to make it easier for visitors to find the products they are looking for. As always, we are interested in your thoughts, so please feel free to contact us to let us know what you think and if you have any suggestions.

PPS. Some of you will know that we have been copying the DVDs that have been out of stock for people who wanted them. We have now been able to configure an option where you can now download these DVDs. If you are interested in any of the older DVDs that used to be available like the Talking Threads series, then head over to our DVD & Downloads page where you will be able to order and download them all.

World Textiles at your finger tips

Here in the UK we are lucky enough to have a fabulous modern magazine called Today’s Quilter. In Issue 9 which has just come out, there is a free colour supplement called World Textiles where the journalist Jane Rae has researched and presented a discovery of stunning fabric around the globe. And guess what … on page 21 there is an article about our Colouricious Block Printing Holidays explaining the back ground to Colouricious Block Printing. Meet the experts and appreciate the traditional skills of block making. The joy of the 21st technology is that you have a choice of either buying a copy of this fabulous magazine across the UK or you can subscribe to Today’s Quilter magazine on line. Either way is is well worth a read as you will learn so much about textiles around the world.

Win £1,000 or a trip to India


If you would like the chance to win a place on one of our Indian holidays or alternatively £1,000 cash, then why not enter the Colouricious Competition. Just go to our competition page and pick a set of blocks that you like and make your purchase. You will be entered into the competition, with one entry for every competition set of blocks you buy. We are adding new sets all the time, so keep an eye on the competition page and get your set to be in with a chance of winning a holiday of a lifetime.

Holidays filling up quickly

Colouricious Holidays

Last week we announced that two new holidays had been organised. As we expected both the second trip to Japan in May 2017 and the March 2017 trip to Jaipur have proved to be extremely popular, and places are quickly filling up. If you are thinking about joining us on either of these trips then it will be important that you get your reservation in with us as soon as you can. We still have places available for both trips, but we are strictly limited on numbers (especially for the Arts of Japan tour), and we would hate for you to miss out. If you do decide you want to come with us, then head over to the holiday reservation page, fill in the form and send it over to us. We look forward to seeing you.

Our paint comes in all sizes and colours


The sets of fabric paint we sell prove to be very popular as they give you a nice taster of a range of colours to use for your craft projects.However, many of our more prolific crafters prefer the opportunity to buy bigger quantities of specific colours and they look to our larger 200ml bottles to meet their requirements.

We carry a range of approximately 50 different colours in the larger bottles, so you can build up a wonderful palette of colours to use for your crafting projects. From Baby Blue to Bengali Rose, from Fluorescent Red to Golden Yellow, I am sure there will be a colour that is exactly what you are looking for.

Head over to the Colouricious fabric paint page of our website to see all the different colours you can choose from.

Gelli Plates

Gelli Plates

We have taken delivery of some new sizes of Gelli Plates including the large 12″ x 14″ and the 8″ round. We also added some very interesting edge printing tools as well. they come in a set of three with either a square or rounded edge. Take a look at the video below to see the exciting and intricate designs you can create using them.
Be inspired by the following video on how to use gelli combs …

Gelli Tool Video



Silk Painting

Gift Vouchers

Gift Vouchers

Gelli Plates

Gelli Plates

Quilt Shows
I have just got back from the Malvern Quilt show. It was a great success and I really enjoyed meeting so many Colouricious Club members. It was great to see you all and share crafting tips and ideas. My next show will be the big Festival of Quilts at the NEC in Birmingham. This show is in August so I will be telling you more about it a bit closer to the time.

In the meantime though…

Learn, Create, Be Happy!

kind regards
Jamie Malden

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