Go­ing the Nat­u­ral Way!

Apparel - - Contents April 2017 - Chi­tra Bala­sub­ra­ma­niam ex­plores the nat­u­ral colours for dye­ing.

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.

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