Natural Dyeing in India

Art history/ Historiography, Crafts, Handlooms, Art

Natural Dyeing in India: Past and Future


Natural dyeing using vegetable materials on textile fibres consists of first extracting the colouring matter from the dye material, and then creating a bond between the colouring matter and the fibre to be dyed. Textile fibres of animal origin, such as wool or silk take the colouring matter quite easily, cotton, on the other hand needs a complex series of pre-treatments before it absorbs any dye except indigo, with which it bonds naturally. The Indian genius of natural dyeing in historical times lay in their mastery of the pre-treatment of cotton, enabling the production of bright, fast, and washable fabrics which were a byword in ancient times: St Jerome, in the 4th century AD, is said to have remarked "Wisdom is as enduring as the dyes of India".
Dyeing practices vary immeasurably from region to region. It is the art of combining local dye-yielding plants with locally available adjunctive materials, plants or minerals, for mordanting (a pre-dyeing process that makes the fibre receptive to dye), or colour-fastness, or brightening, in which Indian dyeing excelled in the past, and it is this regional specificity, rather than generalised principles, that should be re-established. Such regional specificity is, incidentally, also a cornerstone of biological and cultural diversity in general. Whatever may have been its contexts in the past, today the most important ingredients for the re-establishment of natural dyeing are the ingenuity and confidence of the various practitioner communities, developed through linka...
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