Our Online Exclusive Neela Collection
From the ‘true blue’ spirit of Australia to the truest blue colour crush in India, the ‘Neela’ collection features a very special kind of blue print. This reverse stripe comes in a wild wash of natural indigo dye, hand-stamped using an ancient mud-resist, block printing technique called Dabu. Both indigo dyeing and Dabu printing are centuries-old techniques traditional to Rajasthan. Our talented family of artisans have manually crafted this fabric using natural dye and printing methods with skills that have been handed down over generations. There is a raw and unpredictable beauty with ‘Neela’ that we love. The hand-stamped imperfections which naturally occur are a reminder to us of the significance of community pride and timeless tradition.
The truth about indigo is that it is as deep, mysterious and variable as the midnight sky. Full of ancient dreams and stardust inconsistencies, its distinctive blue has been admired for its purity all over the world since the earliest days of civilization.
Indigo is the colour of intuition and perception, higher levels of consciousness, spirituality and wisdom. It is one of the oldest-recorded, plant-based pigments and has been used as a dye since Mesopotamian times. Over the centuries, its depth of colour and character has defined it as a precious commodity with cultural purpose and significance.
The word ‘indigo’ derives from the Greco-Roman era, with its close relation to the word ‘India’ suggesting the likely place of origin. India is believed to have been the primary producer and supplier of natural indigo dye to the Middle East and Europe until the 15th century. However, when freshly chartered waters navigated by Vasco da Gama opened up a new passage for trade, the distribution and production of indigo expanded to the Far East and beyond.
India is a mostly caste-based society, made up of a cultural tapestry of regional specialities and traditions. It is amongst the Chhipa caste of Rajasthan and Gujarat that the centuries-old speciality of dyeing and printing fabrics has been preserved for centuries and where many Boom Shankar fabrics are hand-printed. The term Chhipa originates from two Nepal Bhasa words: ‘chhi’ (to dye) and ‘pa’ (to leave something to bask in the sun).
Colour plays a symbolic role in Indian culture. Indigo was originally considered a female colour only, and was a popular dye for silk saris and ghargra chouli (a traditional outfit consisting of a long-length, full skirt with a drawstring waist, pleated and embroidered, worn with a matching blouse).
Natural indigo dye has been produced from many plant variations that grow only in tropical climates, but the truest blue form is the indigo plant, (Indigofera Tinctoria), suitably domesticated to India’s hot and humid conditions.
To prepare the dye, the indigo leaves are bundled into vats and soaked in fresh water until fermented. They are then transferred into huge wells and stirred by hand, body or wooden beaters until the colour develops from leafy green to varying blues until the desired shade of indigo is attained. Mass sediment is extracted, boiled, filtered and then pressed dry to a powder. The indigo pigment is cut into cubes to present it for the dyeing process.
As a natural, plant-based dye, indigo demonstrates the imperfect beauty of a colour that is variable by nature but kind on the skin and friendly to our environment. That is the depth that we love in our indigo wash fabric designs.
Dabu Block Printing
Dabu is also a speciality of the Chhipa caste of Rajasthan, and is often a family business. It is a reverse print effected by a mud-resist, hand-block printing method which is highly labour-intensive and is quite distinct from other methods of Rajasthani hand-block printing techniques.
Typically, local mud is collected from the bottom of ponds, soaked, sieved and then mixed with ground (old) wheat and a natural glue gum to create the dabu, a natural, mud-resist paste.
Dabu is freshly prepared for each print run and poured into large wooden trays. A layer of natural jute is placed over the dabu to act as a filter to preserve any fine details of the wood block design.
The wooden blocks are dipped onto the jute layer and the dabu paste creates the block design resistance during the dyeing process.
Rolls of fabric are hand-stamped length by length, along extended printing tables 10 metres long. Once the block printing of dabu has been applied, sawdust is sprinkled onto the fabric to help bind the mud-resist and the fabric is hung to dry.
On the second day the metres of fabric are ready for the dyeing process and manually dipped into large wells of indigo dye. Colour intensity is controlled by the dipping time, sometimes repeated for double or triple Dabu effect.
Once dyed, the fabric is washed to remove the mud-resist that reveals the non-dyed element of the block-print design. Rajasthan is often a great vision of metres of freshly-dyed fabric lying flat to bask in the sunshine.
There are many reasons to love Dabu. It truly is an ancient art and when it comes to life in our fabrics, we can feel joy in the uniqueness of each hand-stamped print, there to remind us of the magic touch that goes into printing by hand.