With the rapid advancement of technology, most textile crafts now have a machine-made version that is extremely close in look and feel to the handmade original. So, what does an amateur connoisseur do?
We are so excited to launch the Jullaaha Journal for all you gorgeous saree lovers out there.
For our very first post, we thought of sharing the solution to a common dilemma faced by lovers of Kalamkari sarees.
How do you identify original Kalamkari work?
We can’t all become technical experts in every art and craft that we admire and hope to acquire a piece off. So, what do we do?
A piece of Kalamkari work goes through many processes before the final product emerges. This is an advantage for those of us looking for an authentic piece as it affords multiple clues to help us detect an original Kalamkari saree.
Through her varied and personal experience with Indian handcrafted textiles, over a decade, Jaya Devi Cholayil, offers you these simple distinguishing factors. A deep knowledge of the artistic techniques and textile crafting processes lies behind the quick litmus tests that she shares here.
Understanding Kalamkari Styles
In traditional Kalamkari work, there are two styles based on the point of origin in history.
The first style of Kalahasti Kalamkari is completely hand-worked and originates from ancient temple art. Here the artist hand-draws the outline with a pen, after which he fills in the colours, again by hand. This style is also called pen Kalamkari today.
The second style is called Machilipatnam and is a kind of block printing, which shows Persian and Mughal influences. Here the artist uses reusable hand-carved blocks to stamp the outline onto the textile and then fills in the colours by hand or using blocks again. This is essentially a derived form of the art, though it is still authentic Kalamkari.
If you’re interested in learning more about these two styles of Kalamkari, fret not, we’ll be doing another post on it soon.
The Kalamkari Litmus Tests
All Kalamkari crafted fabric is dipped in raw buffalo or goat’s milk to add gloss to it. This means that an original Kalamkari saree will always have the fragrance of unpasteurised milk, right till the end of its wearable life, though this may get fainter with time and modern cleaning methods.
As the Kalamkari art form is completely hand-worked, the designs will not be as perfectly drawn as one would expect to find in a machine printed piece.
For the Kalahasti Kalamkari style, expect to find uneven lines, in the shading as well as from one portion of the design to the next, when the design is repeated. For example, a leaf drawn in one area, of the saree, may be slight bigger than a leaf drawn in the same pattern in another area.
For the Machilipatnam style, since the blocks are hand-carved, there may be irregularities in the printed outlines, though these may not stand out as they will be repeated all over the painted area and may seem deliberate.
Traditionally, a Kalamkari saree will be washed close to 20 times, over the course of its making and this tends to render the fabric soft and glossy. The touch and feel will be similar to a well-worn saree and there definitely will not be any stiffness to the fabric despite having been painted on. Hence, a stiff new saree may not be an original hand-worked Kalamkari piece.
When using the original Kalamkari techniques, the saree is washed in running river water after each stage of the process. Thus, at a minimum, these sarees cannot originate from any part of India that does not have flowing rivers, at least for a few months in a year.
All traditional, authentic Kalamkari colours are from natural dyes and this means the colour palette is limited. With an original, Indian Kalamkari saree, your rainbow should extend only to red, yellow, blue, cream and a darkish derivative green. Anything beyond this, except maybe a few variations in shade, means that the Kalamkari saree in front of you is most probably not traditionally authentic. See an example of the colours here
This last test can be, obviously, performed only after buying a Kalamkari saree, so it won’t really help identify the authenticity of the work at the store, however it is a point worth knowing.
As every Kalamkari saree is washed in running river water, multiple times before being completed, there is absolutely no chance of the colours running when the saree is being washed, after being worn. However, do be careful not to use hot water when you wash an original Kalamkari saree.
Now wasn’t that simple?!
Employing these basic parameters, you will able to identify a majority of the machine made Kalamkari textiles that exist in the market today and get yourself an original piece of art the next time you shop.
Want to own an original Kalamkari piece without the hassle and risk, or just browse a collection? Head over to Jullaaha's Kalamkari Collection.
Since Jullaaha supports many artisans and impoverished women, you have the added benefit of doing your bit in preserving the original arts and crafts of India.
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As a newlywed, almost 30 years ago, Jaya was introduced to the world of Ayurveda and the Cholayil culture of combining natural, ethically sourced ingredients to create products that started lifestyle trends.
Given her love for art and her compassion for the less fortunate, Jaya Devi decided to take this heritage one step further and thus was born Jullaaha. A brand that is loved and respected as much for its all-natural personal care products and authentic, Indian, handcrafted textiles as it is for its work in bettering the lives of the down-trodden.
Block printing, as we know it today, is thought to have originated in China; though this art form has probably been practiced for close to 2,000 years.
After Vasco Da Gama discovered the shipping route to India in 1498, most of the world came to know of the beautiful textiles of India and this gave a boost to all related industries including that of the traditional block print.
The Ajrak textile was so unique, that its fame spread across Asia and Africa between the 9th to the 14th century; and the Egyptians and other Arabs travelled all the way to the sub-continent to trade for what they called 'Sindhin'.
A traditional Ajrak fabric can take around a month to make, in a process very similar to that of Kalamkari, where the fabric is washed between each of the steps in flowing river water. However, unlike Kalamkari, Ajrak painting is done using only wooden blocks and not a pen.
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