Of all artisan-made cloth, the tie-dye resist of Indian bandhani stumps most people. It’s a technique of creating patterns in cloth by binding small, continuous knots with thread before immersing the cloth in dye. The dye can’t penetrate the areas where the knots are tied, thereby leaving these areas the color of the original fabric. And due to the thread wrapping, the resulting cloth has a highly textured surface.
Learning bandhani from one’s elders is the traditional way. It’s what imbeds deep cultural meaning and a connection to cloth, permeating the tactile senses beyond spoken words, and contributes to artisan sustainability. It’s the way Abdul Aziz Khatri of Kutch, India, mastered the art from his family. His grandmother’s and mother’s skilled hands taught him the fine tying and binding of traditional patterns. And from his father, he learned the technical art of dyeing. But Aziz’s passion for learning has continued beyond his family, pushing him to incorporate stitched as well as folded and clamped resist-dyeing technique into his designs. Now his daughter has learned from him, extending the art to the next generation.
The Making of Bandhani
The process starts by drawing a design on stencil paper that is then punched with needles. A fugitive dye is then brushed through the paper, imprinting the design directly on the fabric. The base fabric can be fine silk or cotton, or even wool. A fine silk cloth can be folded in two for a symmetrical design or to make two scarves, thereby saving time. Next is the tying of the pattern with thread to form the resist. This step is generally women’s work as it’s portable; men do the dyeing.
Most widely used is the simple dot (bindi) which is formed by pinching a small area of cloth and tightly wrapping cotton in one continuous connect-the-dots around the raised parts. Using a metal tube through which the cotton thread is fed facilitates the winding around the dots. Once the wrapping is complete, the fabric goes into the dye bath, the dye squished into the fabric to make sure it penetrates. The binding resists the dye from reaching that part of the cloth so when the thread is removed, the undyed pattern is revealed. Once the fabric is dyed and dried, the knotting is removed simply by pulling on both ends of the cloth. Watch this whole process in this video (length 2:16).
Aziz Khatri has expanded his resist dyeing to include shibori, the Japanese term for these technique. His clamped (itajime) designs are complex patterns achieved by folding and clamping the cloth multiple times and dyeing it in successive dye baths. His stitched “mokume” or wood-grain shibori is made by sewing parallel running stitches across the width of the cloth, gathering tightly, and dyeing. If you look at my past blog on shibori, you can see how the sewn-resist is done. Of course, Aziz’s technique is much finer, more complex, and is worked on silk!
You can meet Aziz Khatri and other global artisans at the annual International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe during the month of July.