Few textile manufacturers still take the time to process natural indigo or block-print fabrics, but both practices continue to flourish in Rajasthan, India, where this handcrafted bedding is made using techniques that have been perfected over centuries. Bundles of the indigo plant are soaked to extract the vibrant dye, while long sheets of cotton are laid out awaiting the color. With hand-carved wooden blocks, a wax resist is applied to the fabric. When dyed, the wax areas remain white while the rest takes on the evocative hues of midnight, lapis lazuli, and cerulean that all begin with the tropical indigo plant. 100% cotton.
Wash before using. Indigo may lose color. Machine wash in cold water with like colors on gentle cycle using a non-chlorine bleach detergent. Tumble dry, low heat. Fold and smooth.
In the family's studio compound, a dye vat is prepared over three weeks using a mixture of indigo, molasses, slaked lime, and water. When the dye mixture is ready, sheets of cotton are spread out awaiting printing. Using hand-carved wooden blocks and a mixture of earth and tree gum as a resist, the artisans stamp the fabric in a repeating pattern. After each block of the pattern, sawdust is dusted across the surface to ensure that the images don't smudge. The block-printing process is repeated for each motif that is to make up the final design.
Finally, when the printed cloth is dried, it is dipped in the indigo vat. The stamped parts of the pattern will resist the dye and emerge with lighter hues. Immediately upon removal from the vat, the fabric appears white, and then green. It is exposure to oxygen that quickly brings out indigo's well-known blue hues. This chemical phenomenon led many travelers to regard Indian dyers as magicians. Indian lore also associates indigo with Lord Krishna, making it an auspicious color to work with and to use in one's home.
During 1920s India, Mahatma Gandhi promoted cottage textile production as a means for rural Indian self-employment. Resisting the import of foreign-produced cloth became a touchstone of the freedom struggle, and even the flag adopted by the Indian National Congress in 1931 features a spinning wheel as its main insignia. Today, sixty years after India's independence and as the country rises in the global economy, workshop-produced textiles remain an important local industry in rural communities, and they struggle to stay productive alongside large-scale Indian-owned manufacturers.
The Jaipur family who makes this indigo bedding has been doing so in the textile town of Sanganer for more than 200 years. Here people specialize in the use of alizarin, indigo, and a range of vegetable colors. The elderly father oversees the dye vats and production, while his sons keep the books and learn the skills they will need to take over the business.
The day usually starts late for the printers around 10 am and after a leisurely cup of tea they open the printing operation. Due to the extremes of heat and cold, often the printers will work in the evening hours as well. Dyed fabric is carried through the desert for finishing using camel-drawn carts. Printing is not only a career, but a passion to these artisans who have perfected this art of printing and dyeing.
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