Sunday, September 13, 2020

Kalamkari textile workshop with Kirit Chitara at the Selvedge World Fair

The world gets smaller every day! This is especially true now, with the aid of technology. 

Through the dedication, hard work and forethought of Polly Leonard and the team at Selvedge Magazine, paired with Zoom technology, I was able to attend the Selvedge World Fair 2020A Celebration of Cloth, Culture and Creativity—to take a virtual workshop with Kirit Chitara on kalamkari painting. It was amazing and eye-opening, to say the least.

Issue 93 of Selvedge magazine and page spread featuring kalamkari textiles.

Kalamkari textiles
I was introduced to kalamkari textiles by Rohni Sandhu, the owner of Diamond Textiles. Diamond Textiles is a fabric company that specializes in authentic world textiles... not reproductions that are printed on a base fabric to "look like" various woven, dyed or printed techniques like ikat, serape and kalamkari

One of my Make Nine 2020 projects is to make something with yardage I have of this beautiful textile. The kalamkari prints [from Diamond Textiles] that I have (shown below) are block printed by hand with natural dyes. 

Hand block printed kalamkari cotton fabrics from Diamond Textiles.
Natural dyes: madder and indigo.

The virtual kalamkari workshop with Kirit Chitara—an artisan from India whose family has carried on this tradition for eight generations—focused on the Mata-ni-Pachedi hand painting kalamkari process. With the assistance of an interpreter, Kirit explained the history of this 800 year-old art and the meaning behind the images of the mother goddess, animals and flora depicted in the scenes. 

Kirit paints the colors by hand using a sharpened bamboo stick.

Generations of kalamkari artisans
Starting when he was a young boy of 5, Kirit learned how to draw the images by watching his grandfather and father. The workshop participants watched Kirit create an entire scene (with pen and paper, for ease in capturing on video) before our eyes. There was no sketch, tracing or pencil guidelines that he followed. Starting with the mother goddess, then adding mountains, water, sea creatures, animals and other figures... the drawing was a total stream-of-consciousness from the story in his mind through his hands to the ink on paper.

The start of the drawing.

Progress on drawing the goddess.

Natural dyes
The colors in the images and the background of these textiles are created with natural dyes—madder, indigo, turmeric, iron, pomegranate, etc. The drawing, painting, mordenting, dyeing and washing processes are extensive. Depending on size, a piece can take anywhere from 1-1/2 to 8 months to complete. 

Various seeds, roots and minerals used for natural dyes.

Questions from worldwide participants
People from all over the world attended this workshop. Selvedge, the host of the event, is based in London, England. Judging from the various accents of the attendees, people from several countries and continents were able to attend virtually. 

When asked, Kirit replied that his favorite parts of the process was coming up with the narrative and doing the drawings. He also enjoys adding the details to the images. He said, "the filling-in process is tedious," at which we all chuckled. When asked if women did any of the painting or drawing of the kalamkari, he responded that the women do the more tedious parts—like the filling-in of outlined areas and backgrounds.

Kirit Chitara, kalamkari artisan from Gujarat India,
at the virtual workshop.

Kirit showed several of his kalamkari textiles (like the one below) during the workshop. Pieces made by Kirit and other textile artisans participating in the Selvedge World Fair can be seen and purchased on the Selvedge website. The kalamkari items start on page 12.

Close-up of one of the kalamkari textiles made by Kirit Chitara.

Kudos and thank you to the Selvedge magazine team for coordinating and hosting this virtual event! The lectures, workshops, show-and-tell sessions, and the streaming video at the weaving village were full of information about textiles, culture and the creative artisans and entrepreneurial businesses involved with preserving, sustaining, supporting and sharing these textile traditions.

With a 6:45am login, a freshly brewed cup of coffee in hand, I was able to participate in this amazing, worldwide textile extravaganza in my own home in the US. It doesn't get any better than that!

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