Many people associate block printing with Northern India, but it actually began in the state of Andhra Pradesh in a fishing village called Machilipatnam in the 16th century and later travelled to Northern India to the state of Rajasthan. Before the 16th century, fabrics were hand painted with natural dyes and the process was called Kalamkari. The advent of etching a design into a block and stamping the fabric with that block decreased the cost of printed fabrics and made these types of fabrics popular for fashion and home decor.
Sadly, the block printing art form died off in the 17th century. But thanks to a few good people, the art form was revitalized in the 1960s. Today, Passion Lilie sources its fabrics from a workshop that was apart of this revitalization and while I was in India, I had the privilege of visiting it.
The block printing workshop started in 1969 by a hand loom weaver and now his two sons have taken over. After spending months communicate with the one son, Nagendra, by email, I was thrilled to meet him in person. He is a happy man who is always smiling and full of life. He is in his mid 60s, but works like he is in his 20s and has the presence of a caring fatherly figure with his workers. Both brothers are not only dedicated and extremely knowledgable on this art form, but they are also good, trustworthy people who have created an amazing and uplifting work environment.
The workshop regularly employ about 10 women and men from a variety of religious backgrounds: Muslim, Christian and Hindu. Despite, the religious differences they all work in peace together. Some workers have been with the workshop for as long as 35 years and others for 4 or so years. The more experienced block printers have 20-32 years experience in the field.
Thanks to the work that this workshop has provided, the workers are living above poverty, but many of their neighbors in the small village are struggling and in poverty. Not only does the workshop pay fair wages that are above the national minimum average and above what other workshops are paying, but they also offer many benefits such as:
Passion Lilie is proud to support this workshop. About 75% of our Spring 2015 fabrics will be from these block printers. Stay tuned next week to learn more about the natural dyeing process.
On a visit to India in the summer of 2014, I met with a new group of handloom weavers. They lived in a little village that looked like a small plot of land in the middle of nowhere on Google Maps. It was there that I spent a full day absorbing the unique and ancient process of tie and dye, also called ikat fabric, and discovered just how complicated and intricate handloom weaving can be.
With its rich ties to Indian culture and widespread use throughout the country to this day, I set about learning as much as I could about the handloom weaving process and why the clothing it produces is still so valuable today.
As dyeing and weaving go hand in hand, let’s take a quick look at the dyeing process.
In India, ikat is a special technique used to create patterns on textiles through the process of resist dyeing. Yarn is first stretched and marked according to the designer’s intended pattern. Then it is tightly wrapped in dye-resistant bindings that will create the chosen pattern and dyed.
If additional colors and patterns are going to be used, the yarn must first be fully dried after its initial dyeing. The bindings can then be changed to create another pattern, and the yarn dyed again in a different color.
This is very similar to today’s tie-dyeing technique. With ikat, however, the dyeing is done on yarn before it has been woven into a fabric. Aside from binding the yarn, other resistance methods, such as wax or a paste, can be used to create the patterns.
Main sources for traditional dyes over the years have included shellac for red, iron shavings for black, and turmeric for yellow. Today, plants and vegetables are often used to create natural dyes.
The dyeing and handloom weaving process is a source of livelihood and tradition for artisans all over India. These handloom weavers and dyers must have incredible skill and creativity to produce fabrics in a variety of designs and with complete precision. Each finished handloom product is distinct with its own character and pattern.
Today, very few countries still use the handloom weaving process. According to Elle India, India is responsible for producing 95% of the world’s handwoven fabrics. Let’s take a look at the steps involved in this ancient art:1. First, several rows of yarn are stretched out through the length of a house. This length is approximately 10 meters and will create 24 meters when woven into fabric.
7. If a second or third color is used in the design, then steps 1–6 will be repeated for each color needed. This allows for a great deal of variety, providing designers with endless pattern and color options.
8. Once the yarn is completely dry, and all colors and patterns have been applied, it is then placed on cones on the loom. It takes 32 cones of yarn to make 24 meters of fabric. The handloom weaving process can be complicated, as the weaver has to precisely dye the threads and then place them exactly in the right pattern on the loom so that it is woven correctly.
The design process takes up to 5 hours to complete, while the dyeing and drying process can take another 1–3 days for 24 meters. A handloom weaver takes 16 hours to spin 24 meters manually, or an electric loom can spin 24 meters in about 12 hours. Once the loom has been spun, the 24 meters of fabric are ready!
There are two main kinds of looms used today: a manual and an electric. While most of India still uses the manual handloom, many other countries in the world have taken to the electric loom, which works at a quicker pace.
The electric loom takes about 12 hours to spin 24 meters of fabric. It wasn’t until around the 1850s that the electric loom became widely used with the demand for faster fabric production.
While its speed is beneficial, the electric loom doesn’t give the same amount of freedom and artistry that the traditional handloom still used in India can deliver. It is also less sustainable than a manual loom, which does not require electricity.
Slightly slower than an electric loom, the manual loom can take up to 16 hours to spin 24 meters. Handloom weaving plays an important role in the Indian economy by providing employment opportunities to artisans and increasing economic development. Because the manual loom does not require electricity to operate, it allows artisans who do not have access to electricity the ability to weave fabrics.
Weaving is a vibrant part of Indian history, and the manual handloom has been a critical part of the process. Its flexibility allows for the introduction of new designs that are often not able to be replicated by the electric loom. The handloom is still widely used in India today to create sustainably handwoven fabrics.
At Passion Lilie, we pride ourselves on our traditionally crafted, handwoven clothes. By shopping with us, you can help keep ancient dyeing and handweaving traditions alive in India.
My recent trip to India was one crazy, exciting, adventurous and blessed journey.
The progress I made in the first 36 hours with an overwhelming lack of sleep was incredible. On my first day in India, I met with the owner of a handloom weaving unit. I was extremely disappointed to find out that his practices did not meet my fair trade standards.
So on the second day, I was magically connected with a wonderful group of handloom weavers. A friend of mine and her father graciously drove me two hours outside of the main city, we then turned off the highway onto a dirt road and drove another hour. We passed by a funeral in the street, a heard of goats, cotton fields, rice paddies and of course cows.
We pulled up to a stone house that looked like it was from the Flintstones! Out front sat a little old lady tying threads. Yarns of fabric were drying in the sun. This was a true village.
I spent the day understanding the handloom process, discussing my designs and having lunch in the home of the master handloom weaver. I met his whole family, including the little old lady, which was his grandmother. The living room was stacked high with completed bedspreads, all neatly stacked and ready to go to market.
I may have surprised these weavers, as they had never had a foreigner visit their town, but we both felt blessed to have made a connection – one honest company working with another- from two different worlds, but one common goal.
Stay tuned next week for pictures and stories about the handloom weaving process.
Forgive my absence from blogging; I spent most of July and August in India. My goal there was to further develop relationships with our artisans, source and design fabrics for Spring 2015 and bring back pictures and stories to share with our fans, customers and followers. The stories and pictures are coming soon, I promise.
Today, I wanted to share with you 5 steps to doing business with artisans in India. It is a rocky, yet rewarding road when working with individuals from a different country. The culture differences are immense, but when understood correctly, they add character and life to a business.
So begins my list:
First it is important to understand, what median should be used to best communicate your message. Surprisingly, one of my handloom weavers, who speaks very minimal English, responds best to very short and to the point messages on “What’s Up”- an App for smart phones. It makes me laugh that he lives in a village without electricity at times and no email, but he has a smartphone.
Then, one must understand their level of English to determine, which words they use to describe things; for example: courier versus shipping. Finally, it is best to keep communication direct and to the point. When something is too complicated, Indians don’t typically say no or that they don’t understand, they just try to do their best to please the customer.
India is a beautiful disaster, I love my artisans and I love my work!
Did you know that Passion Lilie not only uses fair trade and hand block printed fabrics, but we also feature 100% khadi cotton.
What is Khadi? Khadi, the Sanskrit word for cotton, is any cotton that is hand spun and hand woven in India using the charkha spinning wheel.
1920s Khadi production on the charkha spinning wheel
Mahatma Gandhi set the fashion trend for wearing khadi cotton by promoting its use as a way to support rural self-employment and self-reliance.
To this day the khadi industry continues to women individuals from lower income groups whose expertise and dedication is the driving force behind these beautiful fabrics.
So why should you wear Khadi cotton in these hot summer months?
Join the fair trade cotton movement today by buying a Passion Lilie product.
Today is a “snow day” in New Orleans, which basically means that we will have freezing temperatures all day and possible rain that may create ice on the roads, hence un-safe driving conditions. As I sit in my house working, I am reminded of the time I visited a rural village outside of Rajasthan, India.
I visited a friend’s cousin who had an orgamic farm in the middle of nowhere. In order to reach there, I took a bus that dropped me off at a restaurant on the side of the highway, then the Uncle picked me up on his motorcycle, we drove down the highway, turned onto a dirt road, passed a Camel tractor and fifteen minutes later we reached a blue building, some cows and a happy family.
The first thing I did was sit with the women waiting for the children to come home from school, so they could show me the town. When they arrived, they were eager to take the long walk along the dry dirt roads. As we walked, I was parched, but the only place to get fresh clean water was at the local well. The town had a couple tiny shops and a mosque. We bought a Coca-Cola and drank it in the pouring summer rains under the overhang of a building. It was the best Coca-Cola I have ever had.
On the way back, we stopped at the neighbors to sit in front of their house. And as I was counting down the hours till bed- time, I started to notice the birds; they intrigued me. And all the sudden I became extra observant of all the sights and sounds around me. I started to become ok with just sitting, and I felt myself completely relaxing.
As the sun set, we watched 30 minutes of TV (all huddled in one room) before the power went out. Huge bugs flew into my room and in order to escape the heat, and bugs, we slept outside, letting the gentle breeze cool us down.
As the sun rose, we rose. The women began their chores, and I sat watching. When I left the farm I pledged to always take time to just sit in the open air, but I have not upheld my pledge.
If you have a snow day or any free day, don’t forget that it is ok to just sit. You never know what you may see or feel when you sit.
As the owner and designer of a new clothing line, I have different roles and responsibilities from marketing to design to the big decision maker. During the fall I worked long hours creating patterns, making samples, and approving fabric prints and colors for the new spring collection. About mid-November, with a sigh of relief, I made my deadlines and shipped the spring patterns and samples to my manufacturing unit in India.
But my job wasn’t done. My role had only changed from designer to production manager. Passion Lilie works with a small workshop that is fair trade certified and employs about ten wonderful women who live in India. I truly enjoy my relationship with this workshop.
In the evenings, around 10 or 11pm my time, I go on Skype, answer the call and see the smiling face of the workshop manager. She always says, “Good morning Katie or good evening for you” with a little laugh. She is always happy to talk to me. I am usually shy to turn on the video, because by 10pm I am in my PJs, but when I do turn on the video, she looks excited just to see my face and make a personal connection.
And that is truly what this business is about, making connections and creating positive relationships. We are all humans and despite cultural, religious or language differences, we can all find something in common that connects us.