Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The butterfly block used for red and black printing. On the right, alum mordant [with a temporary red colour added] is being printed, after which the cloth will be boiled in an alizarin solution, then washed. Only the alum-printed areas will retain the alizarin red.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gangadhar and Narsaiah are not only fine technical craftsmen, they also have a strong code of ethics: they will not knowingly copy a block belonging to one customer, for someone else. They have had unscrupulous people coming to them with such requests and have refused the job. This is important for malkha, since we use designs commissioned from artists and designers and we depend on block makers and printers to keep our designs exclusive to malkha.

Here Gangadhar [right] discusses a design with one of his master draftsmen.

Printing on malkha is done by handblock printing, using vegetable and non-toxic dyes. The blocks used in printing are made from seasoned teak. One of the finest block maker workshops in the South is that of Gangadhar and his brother Narsaiah, National Award winners.

Early morning in the workshop 4 masters are already at work in their separate space. The apprentices trickle in and begin work by filling drinking water and setting up the tables. By 8.30 the workshop is in full swing.

From bottom to top, the apprentices setting up the tables, next, the workshop with Gangadhar supervising, and at the top, a block being chiselled.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Malkha has had an easy ride in the market till now, but there are bound to be shoals and quicksands in trying to match rural production, and that too by people unused to manufacture, to sophisticated urban markets that need on-time, quality goods. To add to our problems our own organization the Malkha Marketing Trust is seriously understaffed, and still in the learning stage. In the last few weeks we have offended some of our good customers by late deliveries, and one by mistakenly delivering malkha from a set of novice weavers.

While urban customers have to juggle their deadlines and margins, rural malkha suppliers have to cope with transport strikes, the vagaries of the indigo vat, unexpected glitches in the newly minted pre-spinning machinery and the effects of 'development': The Dastkar Andhra master dyer tells us that pomegranate skin now comes from hybrid varieties which give a paler yellow than the desi. Unlike mass-production systems, malkha deals with people working independently at each stage: cotton farmers, yarn makers, weavers and dyers, all living and working in their own cycles that include seasonal variations - handweaving and natural dyeing are both affected by heat and humidity.

It's a long way to our ultimate goal of linking producers directly to buyers, and the first step is to get to know each other better.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

BLTN, here is a picture of Nandita Das & her husband in our Kala Ghoda stall last February

Friday, May 7, 2010

The operators and weavers in the Burgula malkha centre are getting used to regular visitors. Being the closest malkha unit to Hyderabad, it inevitably gets a stream of them. Here L Kannan, the inventor of the Gramaspinner pre-spinning machines and head of of Fractal Foundation, Chennai, the technical collaborators of malkha explains the working of the machines to senior Government officials during their visit in early April.

A few days ago Lakshmi Bhatia, Director Global Responsibility of the international Gap clothing company and a Board member of the Ethical Trading Initiative and Nandita Abraham, faculty member of Pearl Fashion Academy were there and met members of the Village Organization. In this pic Sumana gaaru, ZP president, translates the Gandhian texts framed on the walls for the visitors in the new first-floor hall where the looms are soon to be installed, while Yadamma and others from the VO look on.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I used to wonder what it was about the traditional Gadwal saree that made it so much more expensive than other dressy cotton sarees with zari on silk borders and pallavs. One day about 25 years ago Nazeer Kamal came to visit. He was a powerloom operator from Karnataka. His father had been a handloom weaver in Kurnool and had migrated from there to Sholapur when textile mills were set up in Sholapur the 1950s. Nazeer and his brother lived there as children, and moved to Bellary when the mills closed in the 1980s. Starting as an operator in a powerloom concern, he joined with other operators to make a union and to buy their own powerlooms. Now Nazeer was interested in technique, and what could be done on handlooms that was not possible on mechanized looms.

I opened my cupboard and showed him my heritage sarees, among which were the Gadwals I had inherited from mother and aunts. Nazeer was fascinated, and pointed out the specialty of the Gadwal technique: unlike other sarees in which cotton and silk combine, in the pallav of the Gadwal saree the cotton warp as well as the weft changes from cotton to silk. While it is a simple matter to change the weft, in order to change the warp each of the thousands of single cotton yarns of the warp must be twisted by hand onto a silk warp yarn, for each pair of sarees.