Bagru is a village located 32 km west of Jaipur, the capital City of Rajasthan. It has long been home to the Chippa Community, a caste dedicated to the art of hand block printing. It's clay rich soil and hot, arid climate have for four centuries provided it with the perfect conditions for its unique style of printing. Bagru printers use a technique called dabu in which a mixture of black clay, acacia gum, spoiled wheat flour, limestone, and cow pies is printed onto the fabric. The fabric can then be dyed and left in the sun to dry. When the dabu is washed out the printed portions of the fabric are left undyed. Although synthetic dyes have been introduced to the textile industry, offering a much wider range of colors, the village has kept up its tradition of using natural dyes. These dyes include indigo blue, madder root red, pomegranate yellow, harda yellow, syahi black, and a green obtained by mixing harda and indigo.
My first trip out to Bagru this February was a bumpy motorcycle ride through tightly packed streets with vendors on every side. We reached a gate leading to the printer's quarters known as Chippa Mohalla. Wild pigs bathed in streams of indigo water that ran into the main street. Inside the Chippa Mohalla was a large courtyard with fabric laid out on the indigo stained ground to dry. Fabric of every color hung from the terraces, blowing in the breeze. The scene was a far cry from the rapidly industrializing city of Jaipur just 40 minutes away.
That day I met Vijendra Chippa, the master printer behind Coe Textiles' fabrics. Vijendra, born into the block printing trade, was the first in his family to attend college. He returned to Bagru shortly after and applied his business skills to his family's company. At that point, Bagru had already become internationally recognized. The hippie movement in the 1970s had brought a wave of new interest to traditional Rajasthani block printing. The art form, once patronized by Rajput Royalty, became recognized in the west. As India opened up to foreign trade in the early 1990's the Indian market became flooded with branded clothing and silk screened textiles. To thrive in the new economy, printers had to carve out a niche for themselves. Vijendra's eye for design and non-traditional approach to block printing led to collaborations with designers both foreign and domestic. He now runs a successful business out of Bagru, providing unique prints to stores worldwide.
A typical street in Bagru with a very short cow
Vijendra, holding up a freshly dyed indigo sample
Vijendra and I carrying another indigo sample out to dry