5 minute read
No Monday morning blues for us, only positivity and good energy from the little prayer corner in our sanctum sanctorum, right at the entrance where all the boys from different religious backgrounds offer their daily prayers before starting work. They come from diverse environments, speak different languages yet are bound by one religion, the love for all things handmade and value in what we do. The smell of rose incense greets me every morning with ‘Prasad’ (sweet offering to the Gods) at the workshop that spells happiness, peace and well-being.
As a brand we aim to make our processing completely transparent and ethical so when you ask yourself the question, “Why?” before buying, you have all the answers. You know who made your clothes at aeshaane and how! Our cloth is made by hand from beginning to end, bringing together the skills, traditions and cultures of artisanal communities from India.
We believe that handwork is a true luxury. Our products are a work of love, hard work and perseverance made in small batches, devoid of unnecessary pressure & stress on our artisans, bringing you unique one of a kind pieces.
This is usually the first step to kick start the process. Degumming is the process of removing the sericin, a sticky substance produced by the silkworm that holds the strands of silk together. It is also known as silk scouring. Removing the gum improves the lustre, colour and hand feel of the silk. For this, a large vessel is filled with water and a generous amount of soap is added, about 2 handfuls. It is important to use only natural soap, instead of detergents which contain enzymes that can harm the fibres. Some recipes call for washing soda or lye. Simmer, until the fabric collapses and looses shape. This can take anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour depending on the specie of silk. Protein fibres do best in an acid state, so a splash of vinegar is added to the final rinse with water.
The colours for silk can only be made by an expert hand; a purple for instance, will look different while printing and deepen during the processing. Hence, it’s very challenging to arrive at a pantone shade, that has to be made by mixing a few colours. While constantly adding new hues to our colour bank, this journey has also been about fine tuning the mindset of the artisans. I still remember the day when my little boy had arrived from the village and saw the shade card; he almost did a double flip! Despaired, that he only knew how to make primary and secondary colours, he insisted that I hire someone else. But today after a decade, he stands tall among his peers, better known as ‘Masterji’. You can give him any tone, and he can instantly whip up the concoctions. It's interesting that he has a unique name for every colour. It’s ‘Bhaiganiya’ for Purple, ‘Ferozi’ for Teal, ‘Badkilla’ for Royal Blue, and ‘Raat’ for Midnight Blue. The strangest is what he uses for ‘Canary yellow’. He can’t pronounce Canary, so he calls it ‘Dirty yellow’! Now after so many years of working with him, I am so used to calling it 'Dirty Yellow' myself, that I have to be extra cautious, my workshop jargon doesn’t travel with me. The dyes we use are all AZO free, non-toxic and eco-friendly synthetic colours with low environmental impact.
SETTING THE ‘DHALA’ OR INK BATH
Once the colours are made, Masterji shouts from one end, ‘Dhala jamma’ (set the Ink bath)! Each unique colour has a separate ‘Dhala’, which is usually stored under the block table for easy access. Once we decide the sequence of hues, the printer picks the right ‘Dhala’ and starts by pouring the freshly made colour onto a small piece of gunny placed inside the box. He then mixes it by hand, evens out the surface and starts by dipping each block into the ‘Dhala’. Only the hands of a master craftsman know exactly how much ink is required to get the desired effect.
Now the fabric is pinned across the giant width of the block table, and we pick out the blocks that help build the design. This is the most exciting part of the process! The blocks are dipped into the dye, and pressed firmly onto the fabric, followed by being hit firmly with hand, to create a clear impression. This is repeated until the pattern has covered every inch of the cloth. If the design consists of more than one colour, the artisan has to let each colour dry separately before moving on to the next. For this reason, this process is extremely time consuming and only experienced printers can do the job with precision. The subtle gaps and overlaps are a unique way of telling the world that the piece is crafted by hand.
When I started my journey a decade ago, I did not have enough to invest in teakwood blocks, so my first block was actually carved out of a potato, in my Mother in law’s kitchen. As you can see below, we’ve actually cut a potato in the shape of a leaf. I vividly remember going with my artisan to the local 'sabji mandi' (vegetable market) looking for huge potatoes. The vendor was fairly amused as we rummaged through his produce. Dozens were shredded, while we playfully experimented till we zeroed in on this one, a simple uncomplicated leaf that needed nothing more. It’s my reminiscence of our early days with just one artisan, one table in the backyard and no blocks; of course with my Mom-in-law peeking from the kitchen window to see what we were doing with all her potatoes!
We have hundreds of printing stories. For us at aeshaane, storytelling is a way of sharing our experience with others. We choose to weave our tales into textiles. My community of artisans enrich my life daily, by submerging themselves completely into the craft, contouring my vision; like for instance, when I tried to create this design below exploring an amalgamation of geometry. The thought stemmed from teaching ‘The Little Person’ about quadrilaterals. At first, we thought we could go with 3-4 colours, but somehow the motifs took shape so beautifully that we decided to underplay the palette. When 'We' create, each artisan participates. It’s a beautiful marriage of artistry and execution. It turned out to be quite a joy ride, watching our vision come alive! Everyone’s faces lit up after the last block was imprinted, with a sense of ownership towards the design elements that each one had contributed. It’s interesting if you look at the sketch below, you can see a lot of names, from people to countries, it’s like talking in code; a beautiful new language. But that’s the joy of sharing one’s journey with someone for more than a decade!
'The Little person’ at home had to do a project on non-green leaves performing Photosynthesis. I thought it was a regular run of the mill diagram with leaves trying to prepare food, but as usual she wanted something out of the box! She was so inspired by eco-printing at the workshop, that she converted her study table into a mini studio of sorts. A distressed red ink pad replaced the dye bath and a real leaf from the backyard substituted the wooden block. She had drawn a sketch of her vision and wanted to hand print with real leaves all around the poster, to create a strong visual effect. I was so excited by her sense of putting colours together, that I decided to dedicate a scarf to her artwork. This is the 'Photosynthesis scarf' owned completely by my daughter! I loved the dash of Ash Blue that she used under the Rust, from a regular stamp pad.
Hours and days of intensive care and labour goes into handcrafting each piece. Each printer is trained to produce “quality with no fear of time. My boys are not cheap substitutes for machines, each of them is unique like the piece they create with timeless imperfections, intermingled with these Threads of thought! At aeshaane, we know exactly who hand weaved that piece for you and who printed it, and we are on a first name basis with each one of them.
Although it’s the same process time and again, each time we mix the colour, it’s different. The hands that print, use the same technique, but each piece bears the unique stamp of the printer. I love sharing these stories, because most of the time what you see is the final product, but it’s the consequence of hundreds of hours of intensive workmanship that is laborious and sometimes mentally very exhausting.
Once the ink on the fabric has dried completely, each piece is gently rolled by hand onto a stick and steamed for a few hours, to enable colour fastening. This entire cycle is extremely laborious and involves 16-20 man hours for each batch. The processing has a characteristic smell, and I can tell from a distance when my boys are steaming! They are like trained cooks, who can gauge when to stall the heat or stop completely, depending on the emanating aroma. There are days when all the love and hard work is put to test and we have an entire batch that is damaged beyond repair. Amidst all the heartbreaks each time, well, we gather ourselves and 'start again'!
Most of the days, I am greeted by the smell of freshly dyed scarves drying on a clothes line, after the washing phase. Each piece is pre-washed 4 to 5 times gently by hand using a special, mild liquid soap. It’s done by highly skilled artisans, who do not let the fabric sit in the water even for a few seconds, and keep swirling it gently enough, just to remove the excess ink. At aeshaane, we are very careful with the way we wash our garments, as it plays an extremely vital role in mitigating our water footprint. It’s a visual treat to watch the fabric swaying in the wind, and I’m always reminded of William Wordsworth’s poem ‘Daffodils’ -For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
I can’t help but mention the humble ‘Gada’ cotton cloth upon which the fabric to be printed is pinned. After being dabbed with layers of paint and ink splatters for weeks on end, it looks nothing short of an artist’s canvas. I realise that as it ages with time, it speaks volumes about our processing techniques and how each piece gets it’s unique expression! It captures every single brush stroke made by each artisanal hand, slowly conjuring up a riot of colours that come alive; almost as if it were a person, a modest understudy suddenly being hurled into the limelight!