A New Read for Textile Lovers!

 

The Anokhi Museum is pleased to announce a new book :   Farrukhabad – Art of the Block.

All you textile aficionados, have you tired of historical fiction, murder mysteries, and biographies? Are you looking for something different to add to your reading list while our world is slowly opening up? Are you ready to travel off the beaten trail?

 

Cover shows artworks created by Farrukhabad artisans in their workshops around mid 20th century.

 

Farrukhabad – Art of the Block might be just the book you have been looking for.  Captivated by the chhipas stories and their elegant complex blocks, AMHP has been immersed in the prints and history of Farrukhabad, Uttar Pradesh, an historic town nearly forgotten in time. Giving a voice to our guides — the Khans, a renowned family of block carvers — and complimented by a variety of tangential interviews, we let the artisans ‘speak’ to provide insight with their own words, and what a riveting tale they tell.

 

The Khan workshop in Khatakpura mohalla neighbourhood.

 

Linked to the trade routes along the Ganges north of Lucknow, Farrukhabad has a rollicking history beginning in 1714 when a Bangash Afghan warlord, Mohammed Khan, captured these lush plains for  Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyar. Khan founded a thriving town that weathered invading tribes, British traders, World Wars and even American missionaries to become one of the most significant centres of hand printed cloth.

The block carvers reigned. They created remarkable Persian-styled paisleys and flowering borders crammed with entwined vines and delicate tiny buds — elements of the famed Flowering Tree. These complex designs, dense with  elaborate flowers, earned Farrukhabad well-deserved accolades for several hundred years.  Although facing challenges today, the town retains a significant place within the context of block printing.

 

Replica of Ajmal Khan’s state award-winning block.

 

Classic Farrukhabad pattern interlaces delicate flowers and leaves with paisley motifs on a brass block.

 

So take a peek into this fascinating world. Numerous samples of prints and photographs illustrate the sheer beauty of the elaborate prints. An exhibition will follow. Contact us to order this book and other publications by AMHP.

 

A large scale floral pattern using 20 blocks to print a single repeat.
Revival of a vintage Farrukhabad chintz pattern.

 

Block printer carefully stamps datta filler block for Farrukhabad ‘Mehrab’ print.

 

Text: Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing

Photos: Anokhi Archives & Suki Skidmore

 

 

The Humble Printing Table!

Have you ever seen a block printing table being made? Probably not. It’s a fairly infrequent process. So when Anokhi block printers, Shariff and Vasik, decided to repair one, we followed them for a rare peek.

First, some printing table history. Traditionally the printer or chhipa stamped cloth at a pathiya, a small rectangular table sitting low to the ground and made of stone or wood. Several layers of coarse cotton fabric covered the top for a durable padded surface.  Seated on the floor, the chhipa slowly guided the length of fabric across the table while constantly smoothing any creases.

 

Block printer or chhippa sits at a traditional pathiya table.

Today pathiyas have largely been replaced by longer, wider and higher tables, enabling a standing artisan to meet modern-day production needs for increased speed and volume.

 

Printer works at a typical table used nowadays.

According to Shariff and Vasik, padding needs annual refreshing to retain the ‘springiness’.  Without a certain amount of bounce, printing quality is sacrificed and, worse, the uneven surface can damage the printer’s hands.

Then there is the question of sand. Over time, in a desert region like Rajasthan, sand pockets accumulate inside the table padding creating a lumpy surface recognisable by dark or light patchiness across the printed cloth.  The uppermost layer of padding or achara requires regular washing followed by drying, perhaps in a field or along a dusty road where sand again accumulates.  Adequate shaking out is necessary before re-application. Even then, dust constantly settles on the table, working its way through the layers creating a never-ending saga.

Workers lay out washed cloth to dry in the sun.

Can most printers re-pad a table? With a knowing grin, Shariff answered, ‘The older ones like us know how to and the younger ones learn with time, but none of them actually want to do the work.  They would happily do it if they were paid extra! Some of them say that pulling and fixing the coarse jute cloth hurts their hands for printing.’

Here’s how it’s done…

Two tables form one table. The end legs temporarily rest on bricks creating a downward slope towards the centre.

 

Sharif and Vasik layer about 30 pieces of tat patti, a coarsely woven cotton mat, while securing to the table with large nails for temporary stability.

 

They pull tightly as each layer is added..

 

…catching the cloth on large nails to temporarily secure in place.

 

These layers are held in place at either end by a row of nails with square rubber pads to prevent slippage.

 

After removing the bricks, the table is flat and taut. The craftsmen hammer the nails along the remaining sides, and pull the width even tighter from side-to-side with a metal hook.  According to Sharif,  ‘You need good strong table nails and good quality tat patti.  Most important is the tightness.’

 

Several layers of alota, a thick sturdy cotton, are pinned over the tat patti.

 

The last layer, achara, follows. A sturdy and absorbant cotton, the
artisans can repeatedly wash this protective fabric as layers of dye build-up.

 

Sharif begins to print on the newly padded table.

 

Table size may vary in accordance with available space. Usually it is no less than 2.7 metres, the size of a dupatta shawl, and no more than 6 metres to accommodate a sari.  The table width allows selvedge to  selvedge of a typical light-weight cotton.

 

Properly created, these padded tables are a ‘secret ingredient’ needed for block printing handmade cloth.

Text: Rachel Bracken-Singh & Suki Skidmore

Photos: AMHP Archives

 

 

The Titanwalas

Suraj Narain Titanwala is a 4th generation block printer, learning the trade from his father Govind Narain. His wife and son are also experienced artisans. Together they have created a dynamic family business firmly rooted in local heritage.

The Titanwalas’ success story is one of serendipity as well as commitment and hard graft. It really took off in the early 80s!  Faith and son were busy selling block printed cloth at Jaipur’s hathwara, a weekly Saturday market where printers from neighbouring villages usually came to sell their textiles. They had travelled from their home town Bagru, a small historical printing settlement 30 km or so from Jaipur.

Govind Narain and Suraj Narain at the Jaipur hathwara in the early 1980s.

Picked up by locals to make traditional clothing items, the Titanwalas’ printed bundles were spotted by Hiroko Iwatate, a passionate textile collector from Japan.  Hiroko loved the striking patterns and rich naturally-dyed cloth, and bought every piece they had carried to the market that day.

Since that chance first meeting inside the old city, Hiroko has helped Suraj Narain and his family forge long-term working relationships with local textile enterprises, as well as extend invitations to Japan to demonstrate his skills.  Suraj Narayan dogged perseverance to preserving the craft has certainly paid off; the family workshop has since become an attraction for textile enthusiasts, designers, collectors and academics in search of authentic Bagru cloth.

Now a successful print business, the Titanwala legacy is carefully preserved within the walls of a small museum.  The recently-opened Titanwala Museum, nestled inside a quiet neighbourhood of Bagru, explores the art of block printing and showcases the unique collection of Suraj Narayan and his family.  Exhibits display ancestral blocks and fabrics as well as a selection of tools and utensils associated with the craft. It’s a perfect way to share their expertise in the field of natural dye printing.

Cases display an assortment of tools, blocks, fabrics and photographs from the collection along with helpful information about the craft.

The museum was built in the grounds of the family home and workshop, and offers a unique experience to visitors; live demonstrations of natural dye preparations and an opportunity to watch and print alongside skilled artisans are just a short walk away.  A small shop is filled with freshly printed fabrics and furnishings that reflect the family’s craft heritage.

Standing proud, Suraj Narain at the inauguration of the museum.

 

 

Text : Rachel Bracken-Singh

Photos : AMHP Archives

A Weekend of Jajam Fun!

On January 20-21 AMHP hosted a 2 day event to study jajam and to introduce and learn from the masters who practised this craft. Participants included textile donors and enthusiasts, faculty from the Institute of Craft & Design (Jaipur) and Banasthali University (Tonk) along with college students and plenty of local children. Most importantly, members of the diverse Rajasthani printing community  including block carvers from Jaipur also attended the gathering. Few still print jajam yet most still work in the field.

Jajam from Bagru are arranged in the museum courtyard for seating.

After an initial tour of the exhibition, the first morning was spent discussing jajam – past, present & future. Seated in the museum courtyard upon floor spreads recently commissioned for the event, artisans reminisced and chatted about a variety of issues while staff recorded their thoughts. A panel discussion covered a number of topics beginning with the customs surrounding the use of jajam to reasons for their decline and lack of relevance in modern India.  Questions included: Is there a future for jajam? Can they be adapted for a modern audience?  What is the commitment to preserving traditions while seeking creative alternatives?  How is it possible to find an audience and spread-the-word? The craftspeople also wondered if the next generation should or could go to design school to further block printing? Of course, all of these topics and more are relevant to the survival of any type of heritage craft.

Block printers, carvers, researchers and enthusiasts gather  in the courtyard to talk about various aspects of the craft.

The second day was action-packed. There was conversation and chai but the museum was also full of laughter as guests of all ages mingled, tried their hand at playing chaupad while little ones mastered the art of designing and printing jajam motifs.

Guests, young and old, learn to play chaupad, a game frequently printed on a jajam.
Mastering the art of chaupad printing with a little bit of help from an expert!

Looking back, perhaps most striking was witnessing the craftsmen’s smile as their work was appreciated, discussed and displayed with their name.  Providing a venue for the artisans was an important goal in founding the museum, so their enthusiasm was truly inspirational. The gathering felt like a family reunion since quite a few knew each other and had alot in common to share. For the elders it had the touch of a ‘swan-song’.  All in all, it was a lovely weekend to celebrate jajam, craftspeople and, of course, the art of the block!

Artisans tour the exhibition.

NOW, don’t miss the exhibition! There’s still plenty of time… Rediscovering Jajam is on all year until 31 December 2018 except for 15 May – 15 July when AMHP closes its door to the public for the Summer.

A sneak peek at the collection –  vintage jajam with chaupad from diverse regions of Rajasthan.
A display of contemporary textiles by Wabisabi Project fuses the old with the new.

 

Text : Suki Skidmore

Photos: AMHP Archives

Rediscovering jajam

 

Have you heard of jajam? These large patterned floor spreads coloured in traditional shades of red and black were once commonly found in Rajasthan.  Here at the museum, we were familiar with these block printed textiles, however, until recently did not appreciate their cultural significance.  A new exhibition at AMHP,  Rediscovering Jajam ,  highlights a wide-ranging collection of new and vintage jajam, along with a selection of contemporary block printed clothing and home furnishings, the work of Kriti Gupta and Avinash Maurya and their fledgling company Wabisabi Project.

Traditional syahi-begar jajam by female printer Devi Sahay Chhipa, wife of Ramswaroop Chhipa,  Jairampura, c. 1997

This dynamic husband and wife team epitomizes how heritage crafts can flourish in a modern world where factory made goods often compete with the handmade. Traveling around Rajasthan’s small towns and villages, Kriti and Avinash took the time to listen and learn from the elder craftsmen who had made jajam for generations. Sadly, such printers are disappearing and with them years of acquired knowledge is slowly fading away.  Culturally sensitive and compassionate, this couple inherently understood the importance of collaboration for the future vibrancy of heritage crafts, a principal that underlies the museum’s own ethic.

Reproduction of a multi-coloured jajam style once freuently printed in Jahota. Purushottam Chhipa, Jahota, 2017.

While exploring the region, these stunning indigenous floor spreads caught their eye. In earlier days jajam offered a place for family and friends to congregate during the multitude of Indian festivals and religious ceremonies. Warriors on horseback and creatures like tigers, elephants and scorpions sometimes surround the border to protect the group from perceived dangers. And frequently, jajam contained a chaupad, a game board in the centre where people gathered for hours of entertainment tossing the dice and racing to the finish line, reminiscent of a round of Ludo.

Detail of traditional jajam. Stacked borders containing horseback riders and soldiers  surround bold patashi design . Krishna Gopal Chhipa, Shreenagar , c.1990
Chaupad game board  in the centre of a jajam. Wabisabi Project, 2017

Visit AMHP and explore this exhibition on your next visit to Jaipur. Don’t forget to ask for the fun participatory guide, or perhaps play a game of chaupad assisted by the AMHP staff. For the truly dedicated, Wabisabi Project offers workshops at their block printing operation based in Bagru. (AMHP blog: 9/17)

Complex diamond pattern with central chaupad by  Bagru master printer  Seduram Chhipa , 2017

Kudos to Wabisabi Project for their visionary dedication to hand block printing!

Text: Suki Skidmore

Photos : AMHP archives

 

 

Jajam Exhibition

 

 From everyday use to important  life ceremonies,  rediscovering jajam – the people’s textile explores the cultural significance of jajam floor spreads. A contemporary collection by Wabisabi Project also looks at ways to adapt these classic motifs and patterns for future use.

On at the Anokhi Museum of Hand printing until December 2018.

Print demonstrations and short workshops with our onsite craftsmen offer an opportunity to experiment with traditional jajam blocks. Jajam tours, quizzes and games are also available on request. Visit our museum shop to find an assortment of fun products inspired by the jajam exhibition.

 

 

 

 

 

Wabisabi Workshops

Jaipur’s palaces, forts and bazaars are on everyone’s must-do list when visiting this heritage-rich city but, if you’re a textile enthusiast or generally just looking to do something different that’s also off the beaten track, the Wabisabi Natural Dye Workshop in nearby Bagru offers a unique opportunity .

WNDW is the initiative of young entrepreneurs Kriti and Avinash, who founded The Wabisabi Project in early 2017. The project takes its name from a traditional Japanese sentiment that finds beauty in the imperfections and impermanence of the natural world; embracing simplicity, subtlety and the hand-made. It’s a perfect name for a venture that’s all about hand-crafted textiles made with the colours of nature!

To set up their print and dye workshop, Kriti and Avinash worked alongside local master craftsmen and, under their guidance, have been experimenting with age-old dye recipes, traditional techniques and block patterns. Their dye repertoire is growing, with a plan “to go completely natural” by  re-introducing dyes such as sappanwood, lac, natural indigo and turmeric. Join them at their Bagru workshop for a truly immersive experience!

For more details contact Kriti and Avinash on wabisabiprojects@gmail.com or  phone +91-99831 17978. Information can also be found on the workshop website wabisabiproject.com

 

Block printed samples dry in the hot Rajasthani sun in nearby fields.
Experimenting at a traditional pathiya table with guidance from a local master printer.
During Monsoon, for a short while, the countryside around the work shed transforms into a verdant wilderness.

 

Text : Rachel Bracken-Singh

Photos: AMHP Archives

Summer Stamp

Each year here in Jaipur, during school Summer holidays, Anokhi (the textile business) holds a Summer camp for children between the ages of 5 and 13. The camp takes place in the crèche  – an initiative started almost 17 years ago to support Anokhi’s young working mums – at the main Anokhi work site. For 5 weeks the crèche is abuzz as children of all ages are kept active and engaged with craft activities, indoor & outdoor games, reading, singing and dance. This year, block printing was added to the timetable!

With plenty of student-workshop experience, AMHP staff went along to help set things up in the Anokhi printing shed, conveniently situated around the corner from the crèche. The children had a great time and took the creative task of stamping their own handkerchief designs very seriously. Block printers, Shariff & Vasik, clearly enjoyed the whole experience too; and were more than happy to spend the afternoon tutoring such attentive youngsters in place of their usual work.

 

Shariff demonstrates how to steady the block with his little finger – a trick of the trade – then stamp it with the side of his other hand.
A chance to practice with the blocks; the sample fabric soon fills up with fun experiments.
An accidental work of art! Scattered animals and overlapping flower  impressions make a delightfully whimsical ‘painting’.
With handkerchief squares pinned to the table, Vasik gives a speedy but important lesson on how to print borders around corners.
Carefully trying out the newly-acquired knowledge!
Little blocks for little hands…… and a lot of con-centration from Mohit to get it just right!
A pair of expert helping hands assures the block sits right in the middle. It’s not as simple as it might look!
One final, satisfying “thap” and Vrinda’s piece is ready!

Back at the crèche at the end of the day, the children proudly show of their accomplishments. They had a great deal of fun trying to master some of the basics of block printing. It turned out to be the highlight of everyone’s Summer!


Text : Rachel Bracken-Singh

Photos : AMHP Archives

No sooner had the museum closed than it was back open again!

 

For two months, behind closed doors, there has been a flurry of activity in the gallery spaces which began with small renovations throughout the building – among other things, the mini-auditorium got a new ceiling and various areas received a fresh lick of paint  (see AMHP is Not Just About the Prints blog) –  followed by a thorough cleaning and the re-installation of gallery displays.

While that was going on, the demonstration printers caught up with print orders for the museum shop and the resident block carver kept himself busy making small repairs to archive blocks as well as enjoying his time carving out one or two exquisite new designs.

The shop is now brimming with new stock. Even the  small café in the forecourt (or Drinks Kiosk, as we like to call it) has been spruced up with a striking selection of traditional Bagru textiles.

Yesterday the museum re-opened. We hope you, your family and friends will have an opportunity to visit during the season – July 16th 2017 to May 14th 2018. New exhibitions are in the pipeline and we are lining up some fun student activities…….no age barred!.  If Jaipur is just that bit too far to come to, we hope you’ll continue to enjoy our posts as we highlight events and tell stories about AMHP and the colourful world of hand printing. We look forward to your visit one day!!

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A small piece of advice: The demonstrations are very popular and we do try to ensure that the artisans are present daily other than during official holidays. However, to avoid disappointment we recommend a quick call beforehand to double-check. Contact details are on the website and  also mentioned below.

 

When the museum closes over the Summer, Mujeeb moves his small carving workshop to the cooler ground floor courtyard.  With his clutch of tools and small work table he can set up shop just about anywhere he likes.
Taking a break from more complex work, he makes a small stock of flower ‘posies’ for the new season. With a bit of a grin, he’ll give them away to visitors who come to watch him at work.

Mujeeb likes to make an impression!! In this case, on his arm!

 

Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing

Chanwar Palkiwalon ki Haveli (Anokhi Haveli), Kheri Gate, AMBER, Jaipur

For inquiries: Tel.- +91-0141-2530226 / 2531267 or +91 – 0141 3987100

Tuesday – Saturday : 10:30am – 5:00pm

Sunday : 11:00am – 4:30pm

www.anokhi.com

 

IMPORTANT

There will be no block carving or printing demonstrations between:

1:00pm – 2:30pm Fridays

1:30pm – 2:00pm on other days.

Closed Mondays and major national & local holidays.

 

 

Closed for the Summer!

Today the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing officially closes its doors for the Summer – although the hot weather has actually been with us for some time. While it may seem like a long break,  the museum staff need two full months to carry out their annual cleaning and maintenance tasks (of which there are many in a 400+ year old building!!).

Still, every year the footfall grows and we are always amazed at how many intrepid travelers brave the heat to pay us a visit even in the middle of May!  While we mention the closure date on our website and in several other places, for anyone who misses that information and turns up at the museum, we do let them come in.

Until the dust sheets go over the display cases, the staff will happily let anyone look around the exhibitions. Even when everything is eventually covered or removed from its case, our block printers and carver continue to work behind closed doors and a stroll around the stunning, tranquil interior of the building is every bit worth the visit!  In short, while the museum is closed, it won’t be a wasted trip for whoever lands up! Just knock on the door!

AMHP will re-open, as usual, in mid-July once the hottest part of the Summer is (hopefully) out the way and monsoon is underway.

In the meantime, have a very good Summer!