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In the recent past, Kalamkari has suddenly gained prominence in the wardrobes of Indian women. Commercial hubs in the city are filled with mannequins posing in kalamkari blouses, or sarees stretching out for yards on hangers.
As the name suggests, 'kalamkari' means 'craft from a pen'. Artisans draw on cloth with a pen, and colour it in with paints. This art form originated from the Mughal era and many of the scenes that artists choose to draw are scenes from Mughal gardens or palaces.
The Mughals were great patrons of art, and were known for their unique painting techniques. They would use a single haired brush to elaborate scenes from battle or from mythology. This technique was adopted by artisans of Hyderabad, who use a tamarind twig to paint cloth.
An artisan drawing with a tamarind twig on cloth with dyes Image source: wikimedia commons
These days, apart from mythology, kalamkari depicts scenes from everyday life too. The face of the Kathakali dancer, a pair of earrings, and the enlightened face of Buddha are some famous designs that people are seen wearing. The colours are usually dark blue, brown, olive green, or deep red.
Kalamkari, a 23-step dye process, is done in two different ways. The Kalahasti art type was a household form, where a brush is used to manually paint in the designs. Srikalahasti is an important center in Andhra Pradesh for this type of art. The Machilipatnam art form involves block painting, where designs are drawn on wooden blocks, dipped in the dye, and pressed on the fabric.
Kalamkari artist using wooden blocks to stamp designs on a sari Image source: wikimedia commons
One of the reasons why this handicraft has suddenly become popular could be due to the sustainable quality of its dyes and fabric. Kalamkari uses natural vegetable dyes and preferably cotton fabric as the base. It has grown as an art form, and in the fashion industry, it is being revered as an indigenous inclusion of heritage on an international platform.
Keywords: Kalamkari, Mughal, Art forms, Block painting, Andhra Pradesh
South India is a land full of heritage and culture that is unique to the peninsula. It is impossible to have any craft that is entirely separate the culture of the people. Kanjeevaram sarees are such an example. They are a heritage and a historical document of Southern culture.
Kanjeevaram sarees are woven in a small town in Tamil Nadu, Kanchipuram. This town is known for an immense number of temples and cultural architecture. The sarees bear the mark or symbols of these motifs. Elaborate temple designs, floral brocade, and bold colors are woven into these sarees. They are made of pure mulberry silk but the gold zari in the border is from Gujarat.
Kanjeevaram silk, dyed and spun, ready for weaving Image source: wikimedia commonswikimedia commons
The sarees are woven in three shuttles. Three people simultaneously weave the cloth and its designs. The silk is first soaked in rice water to give it strength and thickness, then it is dyed, and mounted on the loom. One distinguishing feature of this saree is that the pallu and the body of the saree are woven separately and then attached by a zig-zag line called a pitni. This attachment is very strong and cannot be broken unless the pallu is manually cut with scissors.
The gold brocade in the sari is intricately woven into the borders, they are also woven separately and attached to the saree with the same precision and strength as the pallu. The gold that the saree holds at the end of the weave can cause it to weigh up to two kilograms. Kanjeevaram sarees are the most preferred sarees in South Indian festivals, weddings, and special occasions. Their brilliant sheen and rich look cannot be matched by any other weave.
Silk saree being woven at a Kanchipuram loom Image source: wikimedia commonswikimedia commons
It is believed that the origins of this weave are deeply rooted in mythology. According to a legend, the Kanchi weavers are direct descendants of Sage Markanda who weaves for the gods. King Krishna Devaraya of the Vijayanagar Empire is credited for propelling this weave to prominence.
Keywords: Kanchipuram, Kanjeevaram, Silk, Sarees, History
Tipu Sultan was a man who patronized many things in this lifetime, and silk is one of them. He ordered 32 power looms from Switzerland and set up the largest silk manufacturing unit in India. Based in Mysore, Karnataka, Mysore silk manufacturers produce nearly 9,000 metric tons of silk, which come to around 45% of India's mulberry silk production.
Mysore silk sarees are unique for their smooth fabric. They are woven from the silk of a single cocoon, and are dyed in bold colors. The extracted silk yarn is checked for quality, soaked, and then stamped for its purity. It is one of the most expensive and thriving indigenous arts in South India.
The Maharaja of Mysore is also a great patron of the Mysore silks. In 1912, he was the first one to set up a 17-acre factory which is under the Government of Karnataka today. Most of the silk is produced in the capital, Bengaluru, and woven into sarees in Mysore. Karnataka Silk board is a famous location that leads to Bangalore's industrial sector.
The distinguishing features of Mysore silks are its rather plain weave. The fabric is not woven into patterns or designs like other south Indian weaves. The saree is left plain and a small border adorns its ends. This border has a pure silk and gold zari, which contains large amounts of silver (65%) and 0.65% grams of pure gold thread. The motifs in the border are delicate designs that are native to Karnataka's heritage.
A particular species of mulberry is used to cultivate the silkworms that produce Mysore silk Image source: wikimedia commonswikimedia
The authenticity of a Mysore silk saree lies in its touch. No other silk is as smooth as Mysore silks because the silk yarn undergoes a special degumming process that adds a sheen to it. Mysore silk sarees come with a unique tag at the end of the fabric which contains the details of manufacture and a certificate of purity. If this tag is preserved, the saree can be restored at any point in case of wear and tear.
Mysore silk sarees do not lose their shine easily. They look as good as new even after years of use. When this silk is rubbed, it produces a warmth that no other silk does. It keeps the wearer cool in the summer and warm in the winter, adapting well to the body temperature.
Keywords: Mysore silks, Karnataka heritage, Tipu Sultan, Maharaja of Mysore, Mulberry Silk, Sericulture
Considered a symbol of wealth and status across many world populations, this luxurious fabric was China's best kept secret for many years. After many years of reigning supreme in trade exchange value on the silk road, silk was adopted into neighboring cultures that could afford to cultivate and grow the silkworms needed for it. Now it is branded and sold across the world in differing textures, qualities, and colors, long having left china silk fabric characteristics to itself in the silk business.
Tussar silk is a darker shade and coarserwikimedia
Sericulture began in 3000 B.C., when a mulberry worm fell into the tea of Empress Leizu (Si Ling Chi, in some translations) one afternoon. The curious empress found the object in her tea unravelling. She pulled at a thread and discovered that it stretched up to the entire length of her garden. She collected more of these strange objects and found that these fibers could be spun, and trusted to hold their shape for a long time. Empress Leizu set up the first sericulture unit, and created a fabric that has survived to this day.
Bombyx mori silkworms which eat only mulberry leaves and produce white silk Image source: wikimediawikimedia
Silk became a trade currency during the Han dynasty, and was even used in making strings for instruments and bowstrings. Within China it became a household tradition, and women and children were taught to spin their own versions of it. Special colors and designs were reserved for the emperor. This exclusive trade was kept a national secret for nearly five thousand years, until pilgrims and scholars who travelled to other countries, smuggled moth eggs under their clothes. Prior to this, if anyone was found exchanging the secret on the trade routes, they were executed for treason.
Silk spun directly from the cocoon of the B.mori silkworms Image source: wikimediawikimedia
The neighboring countries that managed to learn of silk, like parts of Assam, evolved their own type of silk. The climate of the place plays a huge role in the viability of growing silkworms, and depending on the type of leaves available, the color of the silk differs. Tussar, Muga, and Eri silk are products of this evolution. They are coarser and browner. Eri cannot take on dyes due to its dark shade, but can be bleached.
Asian trade route where fabrics and export items were often exchanged as currency, commonly known as Silk Road due to the prominence of silk trade. Image source: wikimediawikimedia
In countries where the climate is not suitable to rear silkworms, silk is imported and therefore bears a higher significance in terms of being a symbol of wealth. Some civilizations, like the Greeks, have been harvesting byssus fibers to make silk. This is extracted from a particular species of mussels that stick to rocks and create fibers that are a golden hue. Novelists have made reference to this type of silk as 'seasilk' in many texts. It is very rare in the modern world, especially these days when the mussels are endangered, due to growth of parasites and bacteria from pollutants.
Seasilk , fine dark threads produced by byssus mussels Image source: wikimediawikimedia
Silk today, is being commercialized and developed in many ways to improve its quality, and suitability. It has even been adopted into other cultures in their dressing styles, and some silks are specifically used for certain religious and traditional garments. Genome testing and genetic modification is being done to ensure that silkworms can be cultivated in countries where they don't usually grow as well.
Keywords: Silk, History, china, Sericulture, silkworms, seasilk, china silk, china silk fabric characteristics.