The raw materials involved are base fabrics of cotton or silk, natural dyes and wooden blocks.
Fabrics for printing:
Cotton: Cotton is readily available from the nearby markets of Indore. The cotton normally used is from 'Century Mills' - (for bedcovers, table cloth, etc.) with different counts like 60/60 and 40/40, depicting the thickness of the yarn used.
Silk by cotton: Silk-by-cotton fabric is purchased from the towns of 'Maheshwar' and 'Chanderi'. From 'Maheshwar', loom made plain silk-by-cotton saris and from 'Chanderi', silk cloth or dress pieces are procured. 'Cambric' cloth is purchased from Mumbai to make dress materials. 'Mulmul' fabric comes from 'Bhivandi' town and is priced depending on the quality of the material.
Silk: Silk cloth materials like 'georgette', 'crepe' and 'chiffon' are procured from Indore and Mumbai. 'Tussar' silk is procured from the towns of 'Raigarh' and 'Bhopal', at the price rates varying from Rs.110 to 300 per meter.
Jute: 'Dhaka Jute' is purchased from Delhi at the price rate of Rs. 30-40 per meter fabric.
Goat Droppings: This is used in a solution along with castor oil and generates heat when trampled on with feet. It helps in making the fiber more absorbent.
Fitkari or Alum: This is mixed together with tamarind seeds and boiled to create a paste. This paste is used during the process of red color printing.
Tamarind Seeds: These are used in the above-mentioned process during the printing of red color.
Alizarin: This is used in the process of printing red colour.
Dhavdi Flowers: The extract of these flowers is used as dye and mixed along with Alizarin.
Harda: This is used to give the fabric an off white tone.
Wood: Wood is used as fuel in the furnace.
Cotton cloth padding: Layers of cotton fabric cut to the size of the wooden trey that contains dyes are stacked together and soaked in the dyes. Blocks are directly pressed on to this cotton stack before printing. It helps prevent dripping of the liquid color.
As the fabric needs to be washed in water several times, firstly to remove the starch and then after the printing has been done, water wastage is involved. Measures should be taken to reuse the water for other purposes. Other wastage includes the biodegradable remains, after natural color extraction.
Tools & Technology
Wooden blocks: The craftsmen only use teak wood, locally known as 'Sagwan', sourced from Valsad, a town near Gujarat-Maharashtra border for making Bagh printing Blocks. Teak provides the perfect base for carving intricate motifs as it is a dense and strong wood. It doesn't absorb water or distort in shape even after years of usage. The craftsmen use a hand-drill arrangement that involves a bow called 'Kamthi' and a driller 'Saarardi' to drill out larger portions of the design voids from the block. For finer carving and finishes they use a variety of chisels of varying shapes and sizes. These tools are also handmade by them according to their requirements. The blocks that have a raised wooden cut out are used in printing the design motif (image 1). The other kind of blocks that have a softer wood stuffing are used as negative printing blocks (for the negative spaces of the print), for the larger areas (image 2).
Dyeing trays and ladles: Trays made of wood or plastic are used to fill the dyes (image 3). Various ladles are used for mixing the dyes. A thin bamboo 'Trellis' is fixed inside the tray containing the liquid dye mixture. This structure holds the coarse piece of cotton cloth. The blocks are pressed onto this cotton cloth padding that has been soaked in the dye rather than dipping them directly in the solution. This enables the dye to spread more evenly onto the block and prevents dripping and bleeding of colors on the main fabric.
Printing Tables: These are raised wooden surfaces and are roughly about 5ft by 3 ft. in dimension (image 5). Wooden stands or bricks are used to uniformly raise this platform by 9 inches above the ground and the printer sits on the ground to commence the printing process. The tables are chosen according to the width of the fabric. The craftsman print from left to right and when the width of the fabric is more than that of the table, they move it vertically upward to make a continuous print.
Large Containers: These are used to mix and store various solutions and dyes, to be used later (image 4).
Water Tank: Large cemented water tanks have been created to store different types of water solutions required for processing the fabric before and after the printing process. These are used for fabric soaking and washing purposes.
Bhatti or Furnace: The furnace is made of mud and is used to boil fabric in various solutions. It is fueled by dry wood.
In Bhil weddings, the groom's side brings Bagh printed 'Lugda' (drape), 'Pulke'(bangles), 'Gud' (Jaggery) and grains as a gift for the bride. The bride wears the same 'Lugda' during the main ceremony.
Carving the Block
The teak wood blocks are made smooth with the help of woodworking tools. The craftsmen cut out pieces according to the required block size and are careful to cut away from any knots in the wood. The smoothened surface is painted white with lime paste and then the design is traced onto it. This increases its contrast and visibility. The craftsmen use hand-drill arrangement that involve a bow or 'Kamthi' and a driller or 'Saarardi'. They drill out large portions from the block; and for finer shapes, they use a variety of chisels in different shapes and sizes. The craftsmen make their own work tools as per their requirement. Once prepared, the blocks are immersed in oil for a few days to protect them against warping and insect attacks. This is important since the block is going to be in constant touch with water-based dyes, which make them more vulnerable to decay. Wooden blocks range from as small as an inch to as large as sixteen inches in size(image 1). While a basic block (3" to 4" across) takes a day or two to be made today, an intricate one may take almost a week's work.
Preparation of the Fabric
Raw material processing is carried out in copper tubs. The fabric is washed to get rid of the impurities and left to dry in the sun. Once dry, it is dipped in a solution made of castor oil and goat droppings, which react with each other to generate heat and this makes the fiber absorbent. The cloth is dipped in this solution repeatedly and trampled on by foot to produce froth and then left to dry(image 2). After this, it is soaked in a starch solution of 'Tarohar' and 'Harada' powder and sun dried again. This also gives the fabric its yellow tone. It is necessary to dry it in the shade to prevent the desired yellow color from turning green due to the sun.
A paste is made by mixing the dye with 'Dhavda' (a kind of flower) gum. There are two types of pastes: one is a red in color and the other is black. For the printing of red color, alum is boiled in a solution along with tamarind seeds to create a paste. For black, Iron rust is boiled till it becomes a thick paste and this is used to print black. After preparing the pastes, it is filtered and poured into a wooden tray. This dye is applied to the wooden blocks by pressing them onto this tray(image 6).
Meanwhile, the yellowish cloth obtained from the earlier process is evenly stretched across the table. A black boundary is drawn with plain stamps around the cloth. The cloth now becomes a canvas for the craftsman who skillfully prints and matched the intricate designs. He starts printing in rectangles, beginning from the outer portion of the cloth and moving inwards until it is covered. He avoids overlapping of the prints by putting an old cloth or paper where the printing has already been done. It is left to dry and washed once more.
For the 'Bagh' printed cloth to have its characteristic contrast and finishing, it must pass through another dyeing process. 'Alizarin' mixed with 'Dhavadi' flower extracts are boiled together in a big copper container concealed in a cement structure. The printed cloth is then left to boil in it for five to six hours. The printed dye containing alum reacts with Alizarin to produce red (image 5). At the same time, 'Dhavadi' flowers work like a bleaching agent on portions printed with 'Harda', creating white areas.
After this process, through which the designs turn red, black and white, the cloth is left to sun dry in shade.
The printed dry fabrics are finally taken to Baghini River for subsequent washes(image 7,8). The iron content of the river and the running water helps in bringing out finer colors and also softens the fabric (For all the previous stages, the artisans use the water stored in in-house tanks).