Cotton Tale

Over the past 10 years, India’s rapid growth aka Progress has offered hope of a better life for many, but not everyone, especially India’s living treasures, it’s rural Artisans and Craftspeople, who now are crying out for their government’s intervention to help save their traditional cultures and trades from dying out in the faceoff against massive industrialization. Blatant profiteering by fellow country folk and other corporate nationals plays like a good over evil battle with global outsourcing and mergers at the epicenter combined with a real lack of any national environmental concern or guidance. Some of the real issues at the forefront of the planet’s Spiritual Motherland highlight multiple tiers of hazard and hardship and perhaps are best symbolized by the pesticide ingesting suicides of over 200,000 destitute cotton farmers whose crop failure can often be traced to the planting of expensive genetically modified breeds of cotton in tandem with the chemicals required to maintain them. Slowly farmers are waking up from the placebo effect initiated by false prophets of toxic farming. The movement back to less expensive, lower-risk organic farming methods offers a bona fide solution for the entire cotton-growing crisis in India but without a sea change in world demand, agriculture policy and practices, thousands of Indian farmers and artisans are destined for a downward spiral.

July 2012 Preparing THE ORGANIC FIELD for sowing - photo by Kshitish Das/Odisha
Our re:Evolution began during the summer monsoon of 2012 on 4 acres of land with the planting of non GMO cotton variety Organic seeds in coordination with tribal farmers and a local weavers society in the most neglected region of India. AtelierOM commits wholeheartedly to support this transition toward certification as “Organic” and will encourage a radial expansion of farming to consumer projects across borders with the intention to grow and market superior and sustainable regional textiles that ultimately benefit partners and their communities.

Odisha Tribal Farmers - photo by Kshitish Das
All in all the textiles and production mission of AtelierOM is to encourage the healthful shift toward organic farming, away from pesticides and other harmful practices involved with use of synthetic dyes and to simultaneously encourage solutions in the over usage of energy and water all along textile processes. 
villagers preparing Organic Variety seeds for sowing photo by Kshitish Das
All of these efforts built upon the foundation of FAIR TRADE - equal opportunity, benefits and compulsory standards for every worker and artisan alike. 
two by two sowing seeds - photo by Kshitish Das
With a “Slow Fashion” revolution, it is our goal to become one of the most ethical and environmentally concerned vertical sources for Indian materials and products made collaboratively with traditional Artisans, young local Designers and Village Farmers.Due diligence is our mantra - with every supplier initiated into an inner circle of our collective as an eco conscious partners.

what you RESIST, persists...

BATIK means wax writing.
Atelier OM sample  2012
Batik is best known as a cloth that is traditionally made using manual wax - resist dyeing techniques. 

It is a method of textile decoration executed by partially coating the cloth in designs of wax and then dyeing the cloth with color, often repeated multiple times. The waxed areas keep the original underlying color and dye takes everywhere else. When the wax is removed by washing, the contrast between the dyed and undyed areas makes patterns. 
To create intricate unique designs, an artist may employ etching, discharge dyeing, stencils and use a variety of different tools for waxing and dyeing. There are even various wax recipes with different resist values. 
beeswax + paraffin
Artisans may work with silk, cotton, wool, leather, paper, or even wood and ceramics with cold dyes in natural or synthetic colors. Some of the best effects in batik are often achieved by chance.
Discoveries show batik already existed as an ancient art form in in 4th century BCE Egypt where it was used to wrap mummies - linen was soaked in wax and fine designs were made by the use of a sharp tool. In Africa, it was originally practised by the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria, Soninke and Wolof in Senegal.In Asia, the technique was practiced and perfected in China during the T'ang dynasty (618-907 CE), in Japan during the Nara period (645-794 CE. While Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are known for their block printing (tjab) method to create batik on a large scale, batik is still predominately made by hand in Sri Lanka and India.

The history of Indian batik can be traced back 2000 years. Indians were conversant with the resist method of printing designs on cotton fabrics long before any other nation had even tried it. Rice starch and wax were initially used for printing on fabrics. The revival of batik in India began in the 20th century when it was introduced as a subject at the famous university  started by Rabindranath Tagore at Shantiniketan near Calcutta, West Bengal.

Sushumna, a Bengali dye master watches over a cauldron
All images are from our partner's fair trade rural Artisan  project that uplifts local Bengali women by training them in this art of wax resist and dying and supporting them to manage and market batik products from their village studio. They make sarees, stoles and meters of fabrics. They work on commissions and their own designs.
coal for boiling up dyes
mud stove

boil myrobolum for black dye
cold dye baths ready
drying dyes in sun

Some examples of AtelierOM batik designs for 2012:
for scarves + meters
for stoles + meters
for stoles + meters
for stoles 
for stoles + meters

All inquiries please contact
All images are copyright Atelier OM. 


All about Natural Dyes
Shades on Cotton:

Shades on Wool:

Shades on Silk:

Indians have been considered forerunners in the art of natural dyeing. Natural dyes find use in the colouring of textiles, drugs, cosmetics, etc. Owing to their non- toxic effects, they are also used for colouring various food products. In India, there are more than 450 plants that can yield dyes. In addition to their dye-yielding characteristics, some of these plants also possess medicinal value. Though there is a large plant resource base, little has been exploited so far. Due to lack of availability of precise technical knowledge on the extracting and dyeing technique, it has not commercially succeeded like the synthetic dyes.

Although indigenous knowledge system has been practised over the years, the use of natural dyes has diminished over generations due to lack of documentation. Also there is not much information available on databases of either dye-yielding plants or their products

Natural dyes, dyestuff and dyeing are as old as textiles themselves. Man has always been interested in colours; the art of dyeing has a long past and many of the dyes go back into prehistory. It was practised during the Bronze Age in Europe. The earliest written record of the use of natural dyes was found in China dated 2600 BC. Dyeing was known as early as in the Indus Valley period (2500 BC); this knowledge has been substantiated by findings of coloured garments of cloth and traces of madder dye in the ruins of the Indus Valley Civilization at Mohenjodaro and Harappa (3500 BC). Natural matter was used to stain hides, decorate shells and feathers, and in cave paintings. Scientists have been able to date the black, white, yellow and reddish pigments made from ochre used by primitive man in cave paintings. In Egypt, mummies have been found wrapped in dyed cloth

Natural dyes can be sorted into three categories: 
  • natural dyes obtained from plants, animals and minerals. Although some fabrics such as silk and wool can be coloured simply by being dipped in the dye, others such as cotton require a mordant.

Dyes do not interact directly with the materials they are intended to colour. Natural dyes are substantive and require a mordant to fix to the fabric, and prevent the colour from either fading with exposure to light or washing out. These compounds bind the natural dyes to the fabrics. A mordant is an element which aids the chemical reaction that takes place between the dye and the fibre, so that the dye is ab- sorbed. Containers used for dying must be non-reactive (enamel, stainless steel). Brass, copper or iron pots will do their own mordanting.

Not all dyes need mordants to help them adhere to fabric. If they need no mordants, such as lichens and walnut hulls, they are called substantive dyes. If they need a mordant, they are called adjective dyes. Common mordants are alum (usually used with cream of tartar, which helps evenness and brightens slightly); iron (or copper) (which saddens or darken colours, bringing out green shades); tin (usually used with cream of tartar, which blooms or brightens colours, especially reds, oranges and yellows), and blue vitriol (which saddens colours and brings out greens shades).There are three types of mordant: 
  • Metallic mordants: Metal salts of aluminium, chromium, iron, copper and tin are used. 
  • Tannins: Myrobalan and sumach are commonly used in the textile industry. 
  • Oil mordants: These are mainly used in dyeing turkey red colour from madder. The main function of the oil mordant is to form a complex with alum used as the main mordent.
The increasing market demand for dyes and the dwindling number of dye-yielding plants forced the emergence of synthetic dyes like aniline and coal-tar, which threatened total replacement of natural dyes.  There are also several factors which influence the content of the dye in each dye-yielding plant. In some cases, the dye content has not been thoroughly studied so far. 

Natural dyes obtained from plants:
Many natural dyestuff and stains were obtained mainly from plants and dominated as sources of natural dyes, producing different colours like red, yellow, blue, black, brown and a combination of these (Table 1). Almost all parts of the plants like root, bark, leaf, fruit, wood, seed, flower, etc. produce dyes. It is interesting to note that over 2000 pigments are synthesized by various parts of plants, of which only about 150 have been commercially exploited. Nearly 450 taxa are known to yield dyes in India alone, of which 50 are considered to be the most important; ten of these are from roots, four from barks, five from leaves, seven from flowers, seven from fruits, three from seeds, eight from wood and three from gums and resins.

Natural dyes are less toxic, less polluting, less health hazardous, non-carcinogenic and nonpoisonous. Added to this, they are harmonizing colours, gentle, soft and subtle, and create a restful effect. Above all, they are environment friendly and can be recycled after use.

Although natural dyes have several advantages, there are some limitations as well. Tedious extraction of colouring component from the raw material, low colour value and longer time make the cost of dyeing with natural dyes considerably higher than with synthetic dyes. Some of the natural dyes are fugitive and need a mordant for enhancement of their fastness properties. Some of the metallic mordents are hazardous(copper). Also there are problems like difficulty in the collection of plants, lack of standardization, lack of availability of precise technical knowledge of extracting and dyeing technique and species availability. 

Medicinal properties of natural dyes: 
Many of the plants used for dye extraction are classified as medicinal, and some of these have recently been shown to possess antimicrobial activityPunica granatum L. and many other common natural dyes are reported as potent antimicrobial agents owing to the presence of a large amount of tannins. Several other sources of plant dyes rich in naphthoquinones such as lawsone from Lawsonia inermis L.(henna), juglone from walnut and lapachol from alkannet are reported to exhibit antibacterial and antifungal activity. Singh et al. studied the antimicrobial activity of some natural dyes. Optimized natural dye powders of Acacia catechu (L.f.) Willd, Kerria laccaRubia cordifolia L. and Rumex maritimus were obtained from commercial industries and they showed antimicrobial activities. This is clear evidence that some natural dyes by themselves have medicinal properties. 

Ocher is a dye obtained from an impure earthy ore of iron or ferruginous clay, usually red (hematite) or yellow (limo- nite). In addition to being the principal ore of iron, hematite is a constituent of a number of abrasives and pigments.

However, it is a matter of concern that the indigenous knowledge of extraction, processing and practice of using of natural dyes has diminished to a great extent among the new generation of ethnic people due to easy availability of cheap synthetic dyes. It has been observed that the traditional knowledge of dye-making is now confined only among the surviving older people and few practitioners in the tribal communities of Arunachal Pradesh & Orissa. Unfortunately, no serious attempts have been made to document and preserve this immense treasure of traditional knowledge of natural dyemaking associated with the indigenous people. Lack of a focused conservation strategy could also cause a depletion of this valuable resource.It is time that steps are taken towards documenting these treasures of indigenous knowledge systems. Otherwise, we are bound to lose vital information on the utilization of natural resources around us.

To conclude, there is an urgent need for proper collection, documentation, assessment and characterization of dye-yielding plants and their dyes, as well as research to overcome the limitation of natural dyes.

for complete article see: