Going the Natural Way!
All about the natural colours of dyeing
Madder red, indigo, pinkish hues from onion skins, henna leaves, tea leaves, coffee traces… the list is endless if one were to look at natural resources for dyeing. The use of natural sources for dyeing is ancient as civilisation. Civilisations have laid emphasis on plants, animals and minerals as sources for colouring or dyeing textiles. In India, the use of these dates back to the Indus Valley Civilisation. The ancientness of Indian textiles and the rich history of its export does make one believe that even in factory like settings for production, the use of natural colours to dye textiles was feasible. It was accessible and very prevalent. The manufacturing of bulk quantities might not have been an issue. Historically speaking, with the advent of chemical dyes, the use of natural sources diminished. Chemical colours were easier to use, it was cost effective, an excellent range of shades and colours was available, it was faster and the colours lasted. The colours used, did not run or fade. The cloth would tear but the colours held fast. It also made production of huge quantities in the use of eco-friendly organic options. This is for both production and dyeing. The consumption of water in the processes, the effect of the colours on the skin of the wearer, the pollution to the environment, are all issues being considered. The use of natural sources for dyeing is being advocated as it is not harmful to the skin, does not pollute the environment and is considered a more eco-friendly option. The biggest question though that arises is how easy it is to procure these colours for dyeing? Is it cost effective? Is it easy to work with? Is it easy to follow or is it just an elitist concept?
THE INDIAN SCENARIO
The culture of using plant, animal and mineral matter for dyeing is an age old tradition found across the country. There are pockets devoted to this. Much before chemical colours were discovered, it was the norm to use these for dyeing. One of the best places to find vegetable dyed textiles and clothing is through smaller craftsmen. An area where it has seen the maximum use is in Kutch and Jaipur. In both these pockets the use of natural colours especially of vegetable origin has increased in recent times. Ajrakh, an area known for its block printing technique revels in the use of natural colours.
Dr Ismail Mohammad Khatri is legendary when specialises in hand block printing using natural colours, he has been honoured all over the world for his knowledge. The passion of the man is infectious. The painstaking manner in which he explains how he makes the dyes, the colours, is extremely fascinating. A die-hard optimist, he swears to find the Indian substitute for plant materials imported from other parts of the world for specialised colours. He is a popular figure in almost all lectures and demonstrations on organic or vegetable colour dyeing. His range of offering is hand block printed using vegetable colours. It is hugely popular overseas. It is a high end product, more boutique oriented or one of a kind product.
After Ayurveda, it now seems to be the turn of Ayurvastra. Ayurvastra in lay man’s language means a cloth which has ayurvedic properties.
An ancient branch of Ayurveda, it involves using the knowledge of Ayurveda and incorporating it by dyes into cloth. The yarn is dyed with medicinal herbs such that the yarn accumulates the properties of the herb. This is then woven into cloth. The cloth possesses all the healing properties of the herbs with which it was dealt. When worn, the properties are absorbed into the skin from the cloth and thus help with the healing and curing process. This is used to treat a host It is finding use in the treatment of a host of diseases. Also, it helps to keep the skin free of
SINCE A LOT OF PLANTS GIVE THE SAME COLOUR, CARE WAS TAKEN TO USE ONLY THOSE WITH NON MEDICINAL VALUE. TURMERIC AND FENUGREEK BOTH GIVE WONDERFUL COLOURS BUT THEY ARE EDIBLE AND HAVE MEDICINAL VALUE. SO THEY WERE NOT USED.
any skin ailment. Cosmetic benefits for the skin can also be harnessed on this basis.
This history of Ayurvastra is long. So ancient is the knowledge that some tout it to be 5000 years old. This contemporary use is making waves both for its reviving techniques and for bringing back to life a technique long forgotten. In its present form it is now making a comeback to make cloth which would have medicinal properties. The method is similar to the advance nano technology method of bonding the fibre with little microscopic vials like that of aloe vera which remain embedded in the fabric and pass on the benefits of the herb for a long time. is being undertaken by a small weaver’s cooperative in Kerala in Thumbod. The Handloom Weavers Development Society based in Balarampuram is weaving these fabrics. Plenty of research is going in to it to focus on the dyes as also for validation of the scientific claims. The export market especially to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Malaysia, US, Europe, is booming. It is available in the domestic market as well, but with the cost being high; it is yet to make a dent in the mass merchandise segment.
The Ministry of Textiles also through the D C Handlooms commissioned Tantavi – a heritage project, entirely on natural colours. The result was a range of textiles and saris all from natural dyes. The project used a number of vegetable or plant materials. From a list of many available, around 18 – 20 were short-listed. Since a lot of plants give the same colour, care was taken to use only those with non-medicinal value. Turmeric and fenugreek both give wonderful colours but they are edible and have medicinal value. So they were not used. Yellow was got from the local flower harsringar (night flowering jasmine or Nyctanthes arbor-tristis). Blue came from indigo procured as cake from the cultivators in Tamil Nadu. The documentation and the results are available for anyone wanting to replicate it. The emphasis had been to document the use of natural sources for dyeing and preserve it at a place.
THE FUTURE AND ITS FEASIBILITY
Natural sources for dyeing seem to be the way forward. The biggest drawback though is the cost and availability of quantities for it. Today’s apparel trade hinges on fast forward fashion. The lead
WHAT MOST ADVOCATES OPINE, IS THE MIDDLE PATH WHICH EMBRACES THE CHEMICAL WITH THE NATURAL. CHEMICAL, NON-POLLUTING WITH MINIMAL ADVERSARIES FOR MASS MERCHANDISE AND THE USE OF NATURAL COLOURING, WHEREVER FEASIBLE.
time in production has come down to weeks. There is a massive change in colours, styles and garments. Colouring using natural sources is more time consuming, requiring patience and dependence on nature which may not fall in line with fast forward fashion. In an article in www. guardian.com, Phil Patterson, a consultant to textile companies globally and director of UKbased Colour Connections, believes natural dyes are not the answer. “Natural dyes, which come mostly from plants these days, are expensive, require larger quantities to create the same depth in colour, and need mordants (which include heavy metal salts) to stick to the fabric. The colour also washes off over time, raising questions over the fabric’s sustainability.”
What most advocates opine, is the middle path which embraces the chemical with the natural. Chemical, non-polluting with minimal adversaries for mass merchandise and the use of natural colouring, wherever feasible. How this shapes up will be interesting. Also, with technological developments a lot of the drawbacks may be erased. There are companies in Europe which are producing colours using natural resources in quantities akin to chemical one. This is an interesting area which will see a lot of development in the days to come.