Handmade: Meet the Makers Jaipur Tiedye Workshop
Brightly coloured and ornate tie dye designs made in India have been a hallmark of hippie style since the 1960s. In this blog series we take you behind the scenes to visit the places and meet the people who make our clothes.
Traditional tie dying processes are closely kept knowledge handed down through families across generations. Our tie dye garments have been made at the same family-run tie dye workshop since the early 1990s. The Ali family can trace the continual practice of their art back 400 years as tie dyers to the royal families of Jaipur. When we commenced working with Mr Ali the workshop was situated in his family home in the heart of Jaipur’s Pink City. To make tie dye designs on fabric sections of a garment are tied tightly using cotton string at various points and then dyed. When the string is removed the portions that were tied remain the base colour underneath. Tie dye designs that use multiple colours can involve three of four processes of tying and dying. In the early days the craft was based in the Muslim quarter of the Old City and was mainly performed by people within the Muslim community. Neighbourhood women in easy walking distance did the tying, while local men helped with the dying within the family compound.
Visiting the workshop premises, now located on the outskirts of Jaipur but still attached to the family home, some things have changed but many aspects have remained the same. The dying process is performed by a small group of specially trained male workers from Jaipur. The tying process is still performed exclusively by women, but they now hail from homes spread across the city and its surrounds. Specialist piece work of this type is favoured by married women with young children at school as a good way to supplement the family income without the need to leave their local area. It also provides women the benefits of flexibility because they can choose the amount of work to accept depending on their family and social commitments, and are able to work from home. Both male and female makers now come from a diverse mix of religious and community backgrounds.
The workshop is a light and airy space with intriguing vats containing fabrics at various stages of the dying process. Despite dying being ongoing during our visits there is no noticeable smell emitted from the workshop. The dying industry is now carefully regulated by the government for safety and environmental protection and workshop workers are employed under government stipulated award wages. Azo-free chemicals are used which are not toxic and do not cause harm to the skin. Workers wear gloves for some processes to protect their skin from being dyed (because who wants pink hands!) and take care with the hot water used. Special drains are in place for easy removal of run-off water which is then processed in an on-location plant to neutralise it of polluting content.
When we asked Mr Ali whether this craft will continue he responded that the art of tie dye is dying (no pun intended…). Orders from large scale retail chains such as Gap and Banana Republic have dried up as manufacturing moves to different locations, such as China, where the use of synthetic fabrics and screen and digital prints that simulate the handmade style of tie dye can be made for less expense. He complained that people don’t want to pay for hand work and said that ultimately if it is not profitable the next generation close the business. While his perspective was a sobering end to our most recent visit we continue to feel optimistic that this beautiful handcraft has a place in the world and renew our commitment to include tie dye as part of our signature Tree of Life style.
Text Meherose Borthwick
Photographs Billie Edwards