Printing Kalamkari Fabrics

Posted on March 04, 2013 by Candace Whalen | 0 Comments

This year, our annual India trip took us to Andra Pradesh, on the east side of the subcontinent.  One of our goals was to visit a village that's known for its kalamkari textiles.

Scenes In A Kalamkari Printing Village

Some Kalamkari History

The coastal area of Andhra Pradesh is the traditional source for hand-printed, cotton, kalamkari fabric.  Originally, designs were painted onto the fabric using a pen (or kalam), and most of the textiles were exported to Southeast Asia.  By the 16th century, European merchants were arriving in Asia with the intention of trading for spices.  They discovered that they could purchase kalamkari in India, sail to the areas that are today Indonesia and Malaysia, and profitably barter the cloth for the spices they wanted from those regions.  Eventually this printed Indian cloth also found its way to Europe, where it was known as “pintado” by the Portuguese and “chintz” by the English.  Persia was another export destination for the fabric, because of a relationship between the local, Muslim ruler in India and the ruling dynasty of Iran.  This connection was a two way street: fabric was sold in Iran, and Persian motifs became important designs on kalamkari fabrics. Not all kalamkari was exported, but local demand for the fabric was primarily for religious paintings and narrative cloth scrolls.

In the 19th century, wooden blocks were introduced as a faster way to print kalamkari fabric.  Since then, very little freehand drawing has been done, with the exception of work for temple hangings.

By the middle of the 20th century, kalamkari was in steep decline.  First the European nations in the 18th century and then Persia in 1924 placed restrictions on its importation to protect their own textile industries.  Indonesia’s batik industry, which developed in the 19th century, further reduced the market. 

Fortunately, with the assistance of the All India Handicrafts Board, textile enthusiasts began promoting a revival of kalamkari in the 1950’s.  A training program was established and young workers were recruited.  Kalamkari fabric has now regained popularity in India and is becoming known abroad. 

Kalamkari Today

One of the printers

Today, with the exception of temple paintings, which are done using the traditional pen, kalamkari is a block printing process. It is usually characterized by the use of natural dyes and Persian-inspired motifs.

Natural Ingredients Are Used To Make Dyes

A Roomful Of Printing Blocks & Buckets Of Dye

Printers At Work

Fabric Drying In A Courtyard


Displaying The Finished Product

Posted in Andra Pradesh, diy, fabric, home decor

Dabu—Mud Resist—Printing From Rajasthan

Product Highlight: Extra Large Iron-On Appliqués

Leave a Reply

Comments have to be approved before showing up.

Recent Articles