Handpainted Kalamkari from Srikalahasti, Andhra Pradesh: Process and Technique

Handpainted Kalamkari from Srikalahasti, Andhra Pradesh: Process and Technique


Figurative and narrative painting, using natural dyes, on textiles is an art which has been practised for centuries in Srikalahasti, Andhra Pradesh. Used as temple hangings these textile paintings are drawn free hand with charcoal sticks while the painting is done with a bamboo kalam (pen). The themes, mainly religious in nature include scenes from the great epics, picturisation of deities, the rendering of the Ras-Lila and other stories. The process followed is lengthy and painstaking with attention paid to minute detailing and each step is rigorously followed to produce a final piece.
  1. Unbleached cotton cloth that is to be used for the hand painted Kalamkari.

  1. The fabric after it has been washed in water and bleached by soaking in buffalo or goat dung solution, then washed in clean water and dried in the sun for a few days.

  1. The cloth dipped into a solution of milk and myrobalan (harda). Both the raw and ripe Myrobalan fruit can be used. Buffalo milk is added to the solution as it prevents the vegetable colours from spreading and smudging in the later stages the milk also adds a certain stiffness to the fabric thereby making it an easier canvas to work on.

  1. The pattern an auspicious Ganesha figure, is sketched on to the cloth with charcoal made of burnt tamarind twigs.

  1. The sketch is outlined using a kalam dipped into a solution made of iron filings that have been fermented in molasses. This mixture, when combined with fermented starch or with coconut water, results in the formation of iron acetate. When painted on to fabric that is treated with myrobalan it turns black due to the reaction between tannin and iron. This black holds fast when it oxidizes and it becomes permanent when boiled with red colouring matter. There a two types of kalams used by the artist. The sharp tipped ones used for outlining and drawing the details and the round broad tipped one used for filling in the sections. Usually a separate kalam is used for each colour or else the wooden rag which form the tip is changed.

  1. The areas and background meant to be in red are painted with an alum (phitkari) solution that is used as a mordant. Alum being colourless has a fugitive red colour added to it so that it is visible when painted on. This fugitive colour washes off easily. The cloth is then rested for at least 24 hours before the next stage commences.

  1. The cloth is washed in flowing water to remove the excess alum mordant. By washing the excess mordant the artist seeks to avoid the colour from running on to the other sections of the cloth. The cloth is dried very carefully and evenly to prevent overlapping of colours and uneven dyeing.

  1. The cloth is washed in tree bark (surulupatta) and rice water (chawalkudi).

  1. The cloth is again soaked in milk and myrobalan solution.

  1. The background and some other sections are re-painted with the alum mordant in order to obtain a deeper red for the section that is thus treated. This treatment helps to differentiate the two shades of red as this re-mordanted section has a red that is darker than the red of the figures.

  1. The cloth is washed again in flowing water to remove excess colour.

  1. The cloth is boiled in surulupatta and chawalkudi

  1. The cloth is bleached overnight once again in sheep, buffalo or goat dung and then dried in the sun for a few days. The cloth is normally dried on the riverbank for bleaching in the sunlight.

  1. The cloth is washed and treated in milk. The cloth is painted with crushed myrobalan flowers to obtain yellow.

  1. The cloth is washed in flowing water.

  1. The cloth is painted with chawalkudi

  1. The cloth is painted with an extract of dried pomegranate rind.

  1. The cloth is painted with myrobalan flowers and ferrous sulphate which is the second mordant used.

  1. The cloth is painted with alum and an extract of katha



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