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 tying small, continuous knots before it’s dyed. The areas where the knots are tied don’t allow the dye to penetrate, leaving these areas the color of the original fabric, and creating a highly textured surface.
The bandhani from the Kachchh District in Bhuj is traditionally practiced by the Khatri community. It is an artisan community renown for tying extremely fine dot patterns in a sophisticated composition style. Abdullah and his brother Abduljabbar (Jabbar) Khatri of Bhuj, India, stem from these traditional tie-dyers, but their family had stopped the practice a few generations before. But after the catastrophic Bhuj earthquake in 2001, they decided to pursue their heritage. Mentored by their uncles and cousins, who were still in the trade, they reinvigorated the family business. Their mother and sister, along with over two hundred women from the community, tie the fine patterns that merge traditional and contemporary designs under the label SIDR craft. They are also incorporating ideas of sustainability and ecological awareness in their enterprise, especially in their use of natural dyes such as indigo, logwood, madder, rhubarb, and weld.
This July, Abdullah and Jabbar were chosen for the Living Tradition Award by the International Folk Art Alliance which honors artists who are extraordinary examples of IFAA’s mission of contributing to the preservation of culture through reviving and strengthening a traditional folk art with a strategy for passing it on to future generations.
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. The tying of the pattern with thread to form the resist is next. 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 circle is revealed. Once the scarf 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).
In this scarf, you can see the fineness of the tying, how close each small bindi pattern is next to each other. I’ve stretched the scarf so you can see the pattern and how the shell or fan shape scrunches the fabric while still keeping it prominent.