Dabu printing is a form of mud resist printing from Rajasthan. It is used to make beautiful designs on fabrics. This technique of mud resist printing has been used in India since thousands of years. Archeologists have even found evidence of embossed cloths in the ancient Mohenjo Daro civilization ruins. One tiny Rajasthani village called Akola is the center of production for this type of printing. It is also supposed to be the place of origin for Dabu block printing. Ancient techniques have been passed down here, from one generation to another. This has happened for centuries.
Earlier, this technique was primarily used to create vibrant designs on the ghagra cholis and dupattas worn by women in Rajasthan. Today, however, designers with a penchant for traditional Indian techniques are increasingly highlighting the beauty and vibrancy of Dabu designs. This is why Dabu print fabric is now produced in many more places, including urban centers. It is also utilized to make all types of garments including sarees, salwar kameez, kurtis, kurtas, tunics, stoles, scarves etc.
While block printing is a technique used across India to create vibrant hand prints on fabrics, mud resist block printing is unique to the Dabu fabrics of Akola. There are many charming stories that surround the origin of Dabu techniques, but the actual details are lost in the mists of time. Most likely, this method was developed simply as a matter of convenience; the raw materials required to create Dabu designs are freely available in and around Akola.
First, a mixture of black mud, limestone water (calcium carbonate) and naturally occurring adhesive materials (typically, wheat flour derivatives and gum) are mixed together to make the mud resist. It is then applied on to the fabric using wooden blocks. These wooden blocks are carved with some kind of design. Depending on the aesthetic vision of the carver, it can be intricate or simple, artistic or subtle. Pressed down, it is hard to impress the fabric with the mud resist because of the gum that is mixed in. Saw dust is scattered over the freshly printed mud designs to dry them quickly, and the fabric is then dried in the sun.
In the next stage, the dried cloth is dipped in a vat of dye. The whole point of the mud resist is to prevent the areas imprinted with it from being colored during this step. The mud resist protects the fabric, though cracks in the resist often cause veins of color to seep into the uncolored areas. This actually creates a very beautiful kaleidoscopic effect and is part of the aesthetic beauty of this fabric. What is more, for many experts, these little lines of leaked color are the hallmark of authentic hand-done Dabu print designs.
The fabric is then dried and thoroughly washed to remove the mud resist and reveal the uncolored area beneath. The whole process is often repeated not just once, but twice, thrice or even four times, to achieve the multi-colored effect and to get a greater depth of design in the fabric.
The printers, who carve the blocks, create the mud resist, press it on to the cloth, dye it, wash it and then repeat the process. They are usually highly skilled workers. Only with experience and expertise can the designs be properly pressed on and perfectly executed. There is always a pre-conceived design, which the printers execute by varying the block print designs and colors used in the process.
The colors can range from the traditional blue, orange and green (achieved with indigo and vegetable dyes) and brighter shades of pink and purple (achieved with artificial dyes). The motifs used by the village artisans are usually nature inspired symbols like flowers, leaves, trees, birds, animals and so on.
With the advent of online shopping, the demand for such traditional techniques has exponentially increased. People across the world can get their hands on traditional Dabu dupattas and stylish Dabu print sarees online. This is one of the reasons the village artisans producing such fabrics are increasingly experimenting with a wider range of designs, which includes western motifs and modern patterns.
Techniques of Dabu Printing
Dabu fabrics have risen to prominence with the ethnic revival trend spanning for the last ten years or so. There is a lot of interest in such unique and interesting rural techniques, especially those that have been perfected by artisans over many centuries. However, though the original techniques have become more widely used, the kinds of designs created vary a lot. That is why people will find plenty of Dabu print sarees with gorgeous western symbols and motifs. One of the trendiest ensembles amongst the literati is pairing comfortable ethnic garments like Dabu printed cotton sarees, with wooden jewelry, beaded necklaces, terracotta sets and other such distinctive ethnic accessories.