In 2013 my father in law took me to Pipar, a small village in Rajasthan close to Jodhpur. There I saw men dip cloth in deep holes in the ground filled with indigo colouring. I was fascinated. Indigo is one of the most populars colours in Dabbu printing. They wait for the dyed cloth to dry, in what seems to happen in five minutes, under the hot Rajasthani sun and then proceed to stamp patterns on the cloth. In some cases they use a paste to form patterns and the cloth is dyed with the paste still intact. When the dyed cloth is removed, the paste is also removed revealing patterns that had not been dyed.
My fascination with dyeing and embroidery has not waned over the years. I wanted to see the dabbu process again and perhaps design some of my own things. I knew a few people in Rajasthan and after asking around for about five months I finally came across Vijendra Chippa and his team. Once I found out about him I booked tickets to Jaipur and went to meet him. The Chippa community live on land that has been handed over to them. Once you enter the gate of their area you step foot on a large field on which everyone dries their cloth. Over tea in his lovely home, Vijedraji told me how the Chippa community have been block printing for the past four fifty years.
Over the course of the next few month we designed a few sarees and dhurries and the result is what you see in the pictures. They use non toxic dyes chemical dyes, and even natural dyes. The non toxic dyes don’t run. I had to take a second trip because he could tell I was a bit iffy about the colour matches. I do like Bauhaus and Art Deco and am wildly inspired by them when I gave him the designs.
The entire process is done by hand, in his workshop in his house. His colleague Mukesh, helps him in the business with the mixing of the dye, the dipping of the cloth in the dye and the printing. Wooden blocks are made specifically for a particular design. One single block is used to print on one piece and Mukesh after having done this all his life does not even have to use a measuring tape or scale. The dye once used cannot be reused so it becomes expensive for Vijendra some days when he has to throw it out when the order is not large enough. There was a strange drying contraption, the clothes are squeezed dry in, that I was enthralled to see, engineered by ‘jugaad’.
Both Vijendra and Mukesh, have been involved in this process since they were kids helping their fathers, who helped their fathers before them. As the process is done by hand, the goods would cost way more than a screen printed or machine printed piece. In my opinion it is well worth it, seeing how much labour goes into it and how enthusiastic the Vijendra and other printers are about delivering a quality product. These things might be a bit pricey but we are investing in pieces of art and these artists deserve to be paid fairly. The whole process is a learning experience for me and seeing as I am fascinated by design I could not help but immerse myself in it. I would love to see other processes like this in the future, maybe embroidery or kantha next, who knows.