Jun 2, 2014

Hand Block Printed Childrens’ Wear by The Color Caravan

It all started as a four month internship for our design intern Anurita Roy. She came in from Indian Institute of Craft and Design, Jaipur for her internship with The Color Caravan. We helped her explore fabrics, patterns, colors, understand the design process. Her brief was to create a clothing range for children, inspired from animals, fruits, ice creams, cars; using hand block prints.
At The Color Caravan, we are always excited about giving a new twist to our lovely Indian traditions.  And that is exactly what we did – with Anurita learning and designing to create a memorable childrens’ wear range.

Designs and motifs were kept simple, yet playful – appealing to children and adults alike.  We made a variety of doodles (crows, parrots were discussed, but rejected); with giraffe, elephant, pig, mouse, car and lollies making it to the final shortlist.

The design to actualization journey had now begun.  We had to look at deign repetition on fabric and placement of motifs.  With the next step being the final selection of colors to be assigned to each print.  With the next step being the conversion of these designs into wooden blocks.
 Our partner craftsman Abdul Raouf maybe just 41 years old, but has over 25 years experience in the art of block making.  Abdul made these blocks using the traditional sheesham wood,which he carved into desired shapes using steel chisels. Once carved, these blocks are soaked in oil to soften their grains.

The blocks were now ready. And we were excited about the next step in our design journey. The block printing!  We went to the finest block printers of Sanganer, Jaipur to get our fabrics printed.

Block printing is a 6-step process that involves:
- Pre-printing treatment – removing starch and dust by soaking the fabric in bleach for 1-2 days
- Drying the clean fabric
- Actual block printing process – which itself can be an intricate 7-8 step process, depending on number of colors used
- Drying in the sun to fix the color
- Steaming fabric in special boilers and drying
- Ironing to further fix the color permanently

We now had our precious fabrics to begin the final leg of this journey. Stitching them into cute shirts and adorable frocks for 3-9 year old boys and girls.
For boys, we chose half-sleeved shirts with two-pockets and a straight collar. The buttons matched the tones of the respective prints.

For girls we created two different patterns (don’t we girls always need more?).One was an A- line pattern with Peter Pan collar with a closing on its back. The second was a yoke pattern frock (again with a back closing), with frill and one pocket on the lower half of the frock. The color of collar, yoke and buttons matched the tones of the respective prints.

The new range is deliciously lovely (even if we do say it ourselves).  Come and buy these at The Color Caravan online store for a smart, cool summer for your kids, nieces and  nephews.

Feb 28, 2014

Revisiting the Nawabi traditions: Naqqashi Paandaans & Khaasdaans

Introduced during the time of the Nawabs, Naqqashi or repousse is the art of engraving that has been present in the city of Lucknow for a very long period of time. But however timeless this craft maybe, this industry of decorative engraving is slowly losing itself to antiquity. During the time of the Nawabs, it was lucrative business for the artisans to sell their craftsmanship to the British as well as the markets in North India. This craft actually marked one of the turning points for the high culture that was found in Lucknow from 18th century onwards. And engravings on metal such as on Paandaans, Khaasdaans and Ughaldaans were the objects that glorified Lucknow’s ethnicity.

Paandaan’ is basically a box with divisions which is used to keep essentials for making pan.  In the box there are two big metal cups to keep ‘kathha’ and ‘chuna’ and three to four smaller, equal sized receptacles. ‘Khaasdaan’ is the betel case in which the prepared paan  is served in formal gatherings and nowadays even on a daily basis. It is usually a tray covered with a beautiful lid. The idea of presenting paan in Khaasdaan still marks the celebration of the ‘nawabi culture’ of Lucknow city.

Jaalidaar Naqqashi Paandaan

Paandaan is a box with divisions which is used to keep essentials for making pan
Chewing paans and offering them to guests was part of Luckhnavi culture and associated with this were the Paandans and Khaasdans. The Begums used to prepare paans from the Paandans and placed them in Khaasdans to be offered by the Nawab Saheb to his guests.

Ubhaar naqqashi Khaasdaan can be used to serve chocolates.
Earlier this work of intricate naqqashi was done only on copper, brass and silver but as the times flew by and innovations and the need for market growth came in, this craft also began to be attempted on aluminum and steel as per the convenience of the customers.

Naqqashi art is on a rapid decline as only a handful of skilled artisans are left who practice this art form. There are many reasons that have lead to this slow death of the craft. Some of the reasons can to be attributed to a rapidly declining market condition that has been the reason for the deaths of many other art and craft forms. With the artists realizing that the income generated from such work is negligible, they tend to jump occupation. There have also been instances where the artists have felt less inclined in sharing their knowledge of the craft outside of themselves, their family and or even their clans. Such instances have caused the art to die out with adding of generations to the artisan’s family. Globalization and the attack of machine made products can also be another reason for the decline of this traditional craft.
At present, there are only 15 artisans who are practicing this craft.

The metals that were traditionally used are copper, brass and silver. And now, aluminum and steel are also being preferred by the artisans.

The common tools which are used are:  kalam(chisels), prakaar (compass), hathoda (hammer), nihai(iron slab) and khakha(paper stencils, dies).


The raw materials are sourced from Mathura, Moradabad and Jagadhri in the form of rectangular and circular sheets.

Once the products are made, this beautiful craft of naqqashi is done on them by skilled artisans. There are two types of naqqashi: ‘ubhaar naqqashi’ and ‘jaalidaar naqqashi’. This intricate work is totally done with hands. Beautiful engraving is produced through intricate chiselling and constant hammering on the metal depending upon the designs. Various tools of different sizes and different shapes are used for the desired look.

The process of both the naqqashi is same except some forms are cut in jaalidaar naqqashi with a specific chisel.

The traditional popular products of this craft are Paandaan (which contains various items used to prepare the paan), Khaasdaan (the pots in which the prepared paans are kept), Ughaldaan (used as spittoons which are necessary after chewing pan), Wajoo ka lota, (water pot), silapchi (for washing hands), Lagan (paraat), Sini (metal pate for covering), Kabgir-chammach (cooking utensils), deg (cooking pot), and jugs.
New products are being made in small sizes for gifting purposes in the ceremonies (for keeping sweets).

Wajoo ka lota
Design difference and Variation
The motifs of naqqashi are similar to those found in Mughal art designs such as the half-moon, full moon, stars and floral designs. The only difference lies in the intricacy of this work. Earlier it used to be more elaborate but now the designs are minimalist for the sake of production purposes.

Products constitutes itself mostly as a décor product
Usage difference
Earlier the products were actually used on a daily purpose for cooking food, washing hands, keeping beetle leaves and gilori and for keeping water. But now, it is limited to gifting purposes and constitutes itself mostly as a décor product.

As it is a natural quality of copper to oxidize over time, it is advised that these intricate items be cleaned with vinegar and salt using a non-scratch cloth to reduce oxidization.

The Color Caravan is delighted to present a handpicked collection of intricately carved Paandaans & Khaasdaans from the city of Lucknow.
To check the collection  click here.

Nov 7, 2013

The Journey of Lakshya - Badhte Kadam

Every year thousands of children are rendered homeless because of tiring and terrible situations.Many of them are either forsaken by their parents or guardians or the children run away because of hardships that force them to look for comfort outside of their homes. But the sad reality is that hardships become worse once these children find themselves on the streets.

In this post, we commend the many young artists who have brightened our Diwali. These artists are young boys who found renewed hope amidst a life of prior hardship working as rag pickers and pickpockets in railway stations. Lakshya is a Self Help Group that strives to help these children by rescuing them from a life of terrorizing hardship. Their attempt is to rescue these runaways from the streets and the railway junctions by providing them food, shelter, opportunities to attend school on a regular basis while also vocationally training them such as they become self sufficient over the years.

Lakshya was started in 2004 by Ramesh Gupta in 2004 in the village of Bhatola, Faridabad
because he wanted to help those kids who had undergone a similar nightmare as he had in his childhood. As a kid he was rescued from the streets; he was exceptionally lucky because he was picked up by the police but was later handed over to Salaam Baalak Trust where they provided him shelter and rehabilitated him by teaching him some vocational skills.

In terms of craft, Lakshya is an amazing initiative because this organization has an eco-friendly approach to the things they help create. Not merely that, they have even managed to provide support to over 100 children and over 150 women in the years they have become active. The SHG is mostly known for its bag and similar such products made from waste paper and cloth.

Umesh, a member of Lakshya and Ramesh Gupta’s brother, insists on the advantages of
recyclability. According to him, there’s an abounding work culture at the SHG because the work is linked to the greater cause of helping children who are in dire circumstances. He says that children aged 8 to 15 help in rolling out these products to be sold later on. They are usually taught how to make bags from recycled paper. The fact that these children understand that even this recycled paper should be used to avoid wastage is a commendable feat to Umesh.

Umesh tells us that the newspaper bags are usually made by the women who are of Bhatola village because it provides them a means of income. Meanwhile jute and patchwork bags are a specialty of the street boys. Around 25 boys come together, some of whom are now married but still working with the SHG to make the jute & patchwork bags which are then sold later.

Umesh rues the market conditions as we talk. He says business has suffered a bit because of weak markets. He worries because it affects the group in terms of the allocation of their funds. The money that they gather from their sales goes in the children’s education because they feel that education is the true empowering tool that these kids require. He also vehemently discourages the donation system and says that Lakshya has survived all these years because of the hard work that their children put in.

Umesh also excitedly tells us about Lakshya’s products that are being doled out in collaboration with The Color Caravan. He tells us about patchwork products such as belts, wallets, wall hangings, handmade diaries, lampshades and photo frames that are being made by about 15 boys from Lakshya. Patchwork is mostly done with stitching small patches of differently hued cloth together to form an interesting piece of cloth (in this case the cloth is usually a leftover piece). He tells us that this cloth is then cut and stitch in accordance to what the final product is supposed to be. The children are capable to getting at least 3 -5 big bags ready but the durations keep varying. Similarly, around 4 -5 wallets are done while 5 -6 belts are produced in a day. 

He says that considering the SHG is situated near a village, it also becomes their duty to generate work opportunities for the village, and that is why much of the stitching and sewing work is handled by the womenfolk of the village. At the same time, children are sent out as small sentinels on the lookout for recycled paper and clothes from the streets. 

By the end of the conversation, we was left in awe of the work ethic of the organization and therefore we sincerely wish that Lakshya brings a bright future to all the children who were seen as stowaways.

 Lakshya's colorful products in patchwork are available on The Color Caravan. Check the collection here.

Nov 1, 2013

Artist Talkies: Sajid Khatri on the tie and dye tradition

In the remote town of Bhuj in Kutch, the now traditional and well known craft of tie and dye was first born about 5000 years ago and over the years it has found recognition as a traditional Indian craft. Bandhej or Bandhani is derived from the Sanskrit word “bandhan” which loosely translates into “to be tied together”. This word alludes to this notion of something that is closely knit together. This is such a sacred notion in the Indian tradition that in Gujarat and Rajasthan, brides are made to wear Bandhani saree because it is supposed to bring a lot of luck in their marriage.

The Khatri community also has a long drawn ‘bandhan’ with Bandhej. The entire tie-dye tradition is indebted to the Muslim Khatri community who allowed this method to thrive in India. What started as a means of barter with the different nearby communities as a means of survival became one of the trademark craft of not merely their community but also of the country over the recent past. The tie and dye method was used on clothes and then they were worn as turbans, sarees and ‘odhnis’ by the different communities. The various patterns on these clothes also were a means of identifying which community a person belonged to. 

Sajid Khatri, son of master craftsman Khatri Abdul Shakur Osman, has been over the years the torchbearer of the Bandhej tradition within his community and he is really humbled by this. He says it has been over 15 to 16 years since he joined the family’s craft tradition. A craft that was seen as necessary only as a means of survival for the community has thrived for so long that it has become part of the Indian heritage. He constantly reiterates the skill that is required in the art form and how over the years this skill has somewhat declined. But he is an optimist who talks about his community with pride. He tells us about how thousands of men and women are central to this continuity of the tradition. 

Sajid Khatri at work.
Abdul Khatri won the National Award in 1998 for his
contribution to the Indian craft heritage.
Sajid talks us through the process of bandhani and tells us that there are three major division of the process; first is the pressing method which is followed by the tie and dye methods which makes for beautiful and multi colored and layered cloths. In the pressing method, the design to be used is imprinted onto the white fabric. This imprinting is done with a thin transparent paper which has pinpricks on it to allow the colors to be transferred onto the cloth. The cloth is then pulled with a long fingernail where the hole has been imprinted on the cloth. This area is then tied and tightened in such a manner that the cloth protrudes to form a knot or a bhindi. Sajid tells us that this process is usually done by women. He says that the community has thousands of women who are adept at this technique, having learnt it from their childhood itself. 

Once the entire design has been implemented by tying knots or ‘bhindi’ over the cloth, it is then thoroughly washed. This is followed by drying and then dipping it in napthol and then some lighter colors. It is then again dried before the actual dyeing method is introduced wherein darker and then lighter colors are dyed onto the cloth to achieve the desired print. The tied knots avoid getting colored as the color doesn’t seep into those tightly tied knots. Once the final stage is dispensed with, the cloth is washed and if it is deemed necessary, is starched. 

He tells us that over the years, the community has shifted from natural colors to synthetic colors because it allows them a varied range of colors to be used on the cloth. He also says that natural dyes, even though they make their craft much more authentic, don’t allow for a good get up of the cloth overall. Plus over the years, natural dyes that are extracted from roots, berries and other such resources are dwindling; this along with the cheap availability of synthetic dyes have made such shift important. 

Another interesting fact that he tells us is that the one can recognize the design pattern based on way the knots are tied on the cloth. Many of the final products of Bandhani are known by various names, some of the common ones being Khombi, Patori, Ghar Chola, etc. The patterns on the cloth are also representative of the class of the various community, but they also tell whether a woman is married or is expecting kids based on the colors she wears. 

When we near the end of our conversation, Sajid tells us that his father, Khatri Abdul, who inspired him ever since his childhood, won the National Award in 1998 for his contribution to the Indian craft heritage. He humbly adds in that he himself is a National Merit Certificate holder since 2008 for the efforts he has put in. He enjoys the recognition the community has gained because it allowed him and his father to go places. He proudly tells us that he is waiting to go to Columbia in December for another demonstration of his skills at Bandhej. 

Sajid Khatri signs off by saying that over the years his art has flourished only because the community managed to travel around to display their wares. Older generations suffered because they remained within their boundaries. 

Abdul & Sajid's stunning creations are available on The Color Caravan. Click here to view the collection.

Oct 15, 2013

Artist Talkies: Sufiyan Ismail Khatri & Ajrakh

In June 2010, a few months prior to The Color Caravan's formal launch, I travelled to a small village called Ajrakhpur in Kutch, Gujarat. I was introduced to Ajrakh - a unique technique in handblock printing by my friend Stina Gardek, a textile designer from Sweden who was then a visiting faculty at Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya. Stina introduced me to Sufiyan Khatri, son of master craftsman Dr Ismail Mohammad Khatri, who invited us to his home for a delicious lunch, followed by a visit to his workshop where he told us about his family’s history and walked us through the process of Ajrakh printing. 

Sufiyan told us the meaning of Ajrakh; it is loosely translated into “aaj rakh” which means “to keep it today”. These simple words are so evocative of this idea of patience that is really necessary for the survival of this art form. The process is complex as it may involve anywhere from 14-16 steps, depending upon how many colors and layers of block print are desired. The art uses natural dyes that include a mixture of camel dung, soda ash and castor oil, waste iron, myrobalan, madder, indigo, pomegranate peel boiled in water, the root of rhubarb and sprays of turmeric water.

Sufiyan Ismail Khatri

Sufiyan's roots can be traced back to the medieval times (circa 17th century) when his ancestors coming from Sindh settled in Kutch. He easily recounted nine generations of his forefathers ever since they settled in Kutch. The then emperor, Raja Rao Bharmal I invited these people to settle themselves in the village of Dhamadka so that these printed fabric could be provided to the royal family exclusively. This really helped the community because of the proximity of the Saran river to this village; water is an essential ingredient of the Ajrakh process because it constitutes an important part of the natural dyeing process thereby cutting down on many expenses that the community might have otherwise incurred. 


Indigo dye

The indigo plant from which the indigo dye is extracted

Blocks for printing

The Khatris have been a trading community and they thrived because of the traditional market of the olden times. The Kutch traditional markets included the Malir, Sirakh and Ajrakh forms of printing which were worn by the men and women of the Sindhi and Jat communities. These prints and patterns were an important attire of the Sindhi and Jat cattle herders who wore them as turbans and other clothes of various patterned designs. The proximity of the market and the Saran river were the essential reasons that made the Khatri community settle in Dhamadka, apart from the easy availability of the natural dye ingredients. 

Printing in progress

The process is complex as it may involve up to 16 steps, depending upon how many colors and layers of block print are desired.
A stunning Ajrakh stole

Around 1950-60s, the making of natural dues was stopped for about 15 years due to the easy availability of chemical dyes that infiltrated the markets. This meant that many of the local artisans shifted to chemical dyes over natural dyes. Sufiyan’s grandfather, Mohammad Siddique Khatri was also one of the artisans who shifted to chemical dyes, but wanted at the same time to keep hold of the tradition that had helped the community survive for so long. This meant that he ensured that his three sons, of whom one was Dr. ismail Khatri, learnt the traditional method of using natural dyes in Ajrakh printing by telling them the nuances of natural dye printing and then elaborating the process on small pieces of cloth. 

Sufiyan’s grandfather used to sell clothes in the local market and that is how his family’s luck changed. Once while transporting his products to the markets, he was stopped by a police superintendent and was asked to show what he was carrying. What was going to be a harrowing experience changed his luck entirely. The police superintendent was so impressed by Mohammad Khatri’s work that he visited them and seeing the naturally dyed cloth, ended up ordering many of them while referring the Khatri’s art to many of his friends. This spiked interest in the art so much that Sufiyan’s grandfather restored the vegetable dyes in the resist printing process. This lead to an even more exciting venture where the family was introduced around 1975 to Mr. Bhasin, who was the director of Gurjari (Gujarat State Handicraft Development Coperation Limited). When Mr. Bhasin saw the natural dyeing process, he was impressed. But he wanted them to excel at their work, so he collaborated with people of National Institute of Design and sent two designers to their village. They stayed for a little over a week with the family to teach them color combination and improving on the overall layout of the patterns. This mutual appreciation helped Ajrakh printing so much so that they ventured out to the national markets. They reached to markets in Ahmedabad to Delhi and Bombay, ultimately finding appreciation in the global markets ever since. 

After the devastating earthquake in 2001, many Ajrakh block-printing artisans in their native village Dhamadka had their homes and workshops destroyed.The earthquake not only affected buildings, but affected the mineral content of the river Saran. This change affected the way the fabric absorbs the dye through this traditional process. That's when Dr Ismail Khatri decided to move his base. He came forward to establish a block printing settlement, a tiny village named 'Ajrakhpur' in Kutch and the artists relocated to Ajrakhpur which has suitable water. This small village is an example of rebuilding lives from scratch.

Sufiyan credits his grandfather and father as the men who inspired him to take up his family’s tradition. But he’s greatly indebted to his father who over these years has gained recognition in the world of handicrafts. Dr. Ismail Khatri has so vociferously stood by his family’s craft tradition that he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Leicester de Montfort. 

'The' Dr Ismail Mohammad Khatri

Sufiyan had a story up his sleeves regarding this too. He told us that when his father gave his first lecture in broken English at the university, people were amazed by his history, which made them proclaim that he would be awarded the doctorate 
for his achievements. His father who didn’t know what it meant, asked them what a doctorate was? They explained that it was the highest degree awarded for excellence in a particular field of study which prompted another question from Dr. Khatri on why was he being considered given that he hadn't studied at all. They smiled and told him that he was the reason that many of their students had got their doctorates in the research of Ajrakh block printing methods; that he was a Master of his Arts that had prompted the university to consider Dr. Ismail Khatri for such an honor. Dr. Ismail Khatri also holds a National Merit Certificate for his contributions to the field of Indian handicrafts. 

Sufiyan Ismail Khatri
Sufiyan also told us a little more about his connection to the Ajrakh printing process. He said it has been sixteen years since he was first introduced to the craft form. One of the biggest reasons that he has continued in the family tradition is because he never saw it as a business process. He was rather enticed by the colors and the patterns when he first took it up as a hobby. From gaining recognition in the traditional markets to being earmarked by many Indian designers like Tarun Tahiliani, Sabyasachi, Anita Dongre; Sufiyan has seen it all. But he prizes his UNESCO Award that he received in 2008 as one tenderest to his heart. He just wants his craft to do well in a time of extreme competitive markets where many replicas of the Ajrakh print have infiltrated the markets. And with the labour costs increasing and the water resources depleting in their village, he seriously fears for his craft. Probably that is why he wants to impart knowledge of this dying art to as many people as possible. 

He coyly told us that over the years, he has travelled to a few countries to demonstrate the Ajrakh printing process some of which include Germany, Austria, and Switzerland although he prefers to show them the natural dyeing process back at his village. He told us that over the past few decades he has seen many art enthusiasts visit the village to know about the intricacies of Ajrakh resist printing method on sarees, stoles, dupattas, lungis, and even on suits. 

Sufiyan's says that true art can only be recognized when it is both seen by the eyes and felt by the hands because these are the two senses that an artisan invests in the most when he creates a piece of art. And these words really do ring true when cheaper replicas are thriving in the markets. 

 The Color Caravan is extremely lucky to be working with great craftsmen like Dr Ismail Mohammad Khatri & Sufiyan Ismail Khatri. 
To check some of the their creations available on The Color Caravan store, click here.