“It can, however, only be a good thing to know how these peoples set about applying colours to their cotton cloths, which not only do not run or fade when washed but emerge more beautiful than before” – Journal Economique, Paris, 1752, anonymous article.
All the fabrics available in the world can be embellished in various ways. But, one of the most fundamental methods is to colour it.
The fabric, colour and design of a garment can say everything about the wearer. It gives identity to him or her and also speaks about his or her status. Colours indicate seasons, emotions and states of being. They drench into the tonal phrases of a musical raga. Auspicious occasions are enriched by their use. They mark phases in daily life. However, history has it that, the Mughal Emperor Humayun wore colours only according to the guiding planet of the day which dictated his activites. On Sundays, for example, he wore yellow and dealt with the affairs of state, whereas Mondays were reserved for green and merry making.
The colour pallete has charmed us in so many ways that we fail to notice the sheer talent inherent in the dyeing process. Dyeing has been known and practised in India for at least five thousand years, always as much science as art. The process of natural dyeing flourished through extensive research on age-old dyeing methods. It was practiced since the days of the Indus Valley civilization. These dyes came from nature, from the roots and bark of trees, from fruits, flowers and leaves, from lichens and shrubs. They strengthened the fabrics they were applied to. And with each wash the fabrics emerged ever more rich and glowing.
Centuries of experience had given the dyers deep knowledge of colour chemistry. However, intuition and sensitivity added other dimensions to it. It also gave artist – dyers insight into the nature and temperament of colours. The perceived subtleties of perspectives in colour ranges, and could produce effects of ever – changing colour patterns in different lights. Other than having profound respect for their materials, they also believed the materials to have healing capacity or medicinal properties. Myrobalan, both strengthened the fabric and protected the dyer’s body. Turmeric is still known for being antiseptic. However, earlier the madder roots f turmeric was used for treating rashes and abrasions.
Dyeing, however involves an elaborate process. It is time consuming and labour – intensive. They are depended on natural light of the sun to coax out tones, repeated soakings in water or dye to fasten the colour.
However, with the discovery of chemical colours things became much easier. And chemical dyes could be used in all kinds of yarn and fabric. The dyers did not have to depended on huge supplies of water. Or on plants for plants for the raw materials. This work was no more labour – intensive. Only creativity and chemical dyes is enough for our fabrics.