Having missed the talk on ‘Exploring the Technology of Chintz : From buffalo milk to sheep dung and all the magic in between’ organized by Craft Revival Trust I couldn’t afford losing more time so I went directly to Art Motif Gallery, New Delhi, to witness Renuka Reddy’s chintz magic, first hand.
With a background of crafts and technical textiles (manufactured for non-aesthetic purposes, function is their primary concern), the lady in 2011 set up redTREE textile studio; engaging in research and development of chintz. Rediscovering these magnificent textiles had her blood pump joy.
Armed with BSc in Clothing & Textiles from M.S. University, Baroda. and post graduate diploma in Leather Garment, Design and Technology, from NIFT, New Delhi in 2007, she completed MSc in Apparel, Textiles & Merchandising from Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, U.S.A.
Subsequently, sometime in 2012, she visited V&A to meet Rosemary Crill (senior curator in the museum’s Asian Department and the author of ‘Chintz: Indian textiles for the West’), with her portfolio and a large roll of fabrics. There a nonplussed Crill couldn’t stop gushing over the artworks; finely drawn and brilliantly complimented with traditional mordants and dyes. As an expert, she noticed Renuka’s fine white wax-resist sinuous handdrawn lines which were only seen in the works of early chintz makers as they produced spiraling patterns in white against coloured background, making each one of them unique. And felt that there is no other contemporary artist like Reddy, who has mastered this art; infact most have not even attempted it, preferring to imitate these beautiful designs, by simply drawing them onto the cloth (usually black).
Chintz originated as a handpainted, mordant and resist dyed pattern cotton cloth from India. Seen in a map of block printing and trade cloth centers of India, Masulipatam is a significant production area, (suggested by Julia M. Brenan, a textile conservationist since 1985). As a prized cloth trade for centuries, it had profound impact on many textile practices around the world, e.g. Calico Printing in the West, Javanese Batik of the East in 17th & 18th centuries etc.
At one time it was so popular that western countries banned its import in the fear of an economic instability within their local textile trade; having caused a revolutionary change in fashion, as an epitome of artistic and design exchange across cultures and continents.
Ideally, its difficult to fathom how from an era of basic existence came sophistication and technical excellence which is unparalleled till date. These techniques have evolved since over thousands of years. Maybe, at some point a brilliant soul figured out how dung and sunlight bleached the cloth pristine white, leaving all the dyed areas untouched and bright, while another human learnt to draw wax lines finer than the pen…..
Nonetheless, this complex craft has regressed into a simplified version today with synthetic dyes, while the fine wax resist technique has died a slow death!
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