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History and Process of Indigo Dyeing in Rajasthan, India

Indigo is blue in colour and is obtained from the ‘neel’ plant, also called the indigo plant. The use of the indigo dye dates back to 5000 years ago. It is reported as one of the oldest dyes in the textile industry. Because of its efficiency, the dye became popular globally and was used by ancient Romans and Greeks. Arabs then introduced its use to Europe and the Mediterranean, calling it with a name called a-nil which means “blue dye”. Later, the British took interest in indigo since it was profitable; hence the dye was called ‘blue gold’.

Indigo Dyeing in Rajasthan

Even though Kutch in Gujarat still has the rich tradition of using natural dyes for the textile industry, Rajasthan is the predominant place for indigo dyeing in India. In Rajasthan Akola of Chittorgarh district, Bagru, Barmer, Jodhpur and Saganer have been popular centres for indigo dyeing.

The usual raw materials used by craftsmen in Rajasthan are natural Indigo, harada (myrobolan) for a pale yellow , iron fillings, gud (jaggery) , alum, kesula flowers, guar gum or babool gum (thickener). The natural hue and colour of the dye can be changed by treating with it mordents and metal salts.

Indigo Dyeing Process

Traditional methods are used for making dyes for printing designs. The colours are restricted to black, maroon and red. The following steps are involved in the indigo dyeing process.

1. Scouring

The fabric is immersed in water that contains a mixture of cow dung or sheep dung for 24 hours. This eliminates natural and added impurities like oil, starch and dust. The fabric will then be rinsed in water. Next, the fabric will be dried in sunlight, usually on bamboos or on the ground. This allows the fabric to be more permeable for future processes.

2. Printing

The special resistant paste "Dabu" is made of mud, clay, lime and gum. Dabu would loosely This technique is used only for making patterns with indigo blue. Dabu paste is applied with the help of a wooden block on the fabric and saw dust is sprinkled over it. Saw dust has two main functions at this stage: to absorb water from the Dabu paste and to give an extra layer of resistance. After printing, the fabric will be left in the sunlight for drying before immersing it in indigo tanks.

Hand Block Printing

The art of making ‘dabu’ paste is maintained as a secret and every family has its own way of making the paste. Though Dabu printing is a laborious process, it is still practiced by the “Chippa community” of Rajasthan craftsmen.

3. Indigo Dyeing

For making the indigo bath, the expert craftsman will do constant addition of indigo, lime and jiggery. He or she will use the exact quantity of every ingredient required based on his or her own experience. Sodium hydrosulphite will be used for reducing the effect of vat dye.

Hand dyeing Indigo

Then the printed cloth will be folded with pleats and gently submerged into the indigo tank. Later, the fabric will be taken out of the tank, squeezed and opened out to react with the atmospheric oxygen for oxidation of colours. This step will be repeated if the desired shade is dark.

Finally, the fabric will be dried by laying it flat on the ground. Utmost care is given for dyeing and drying to avoid cracks or breaks in the ‘dabu’.

4. Washing

The dabu and the superficial dye physically sticking to the fabric will be removed by washing. The dyed fabric will then be placed in big tanks for a minimum of 3 to 4 hours until the paste becomes smooth. The fabric will be beaten against stone and flowing water to remove excess dyes.

5. Drying

The final product is left to dry in fields in the Rajasthani sun. 

With all the benefits that indigo dye brings into the environment, truly this art of Rajasthan craftsmen will live forever.

Keen to see the end product? All our Indigo Rugs and Cushions are hand-printed using the same technique.