Pedana, a small town near Machilipatnam in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh is known for their traditional method of hand block printing using natural dyes. This craft is also popularly known as Pedana kalamkari.
Though this craft originated as religious tapestry and sacred cloth, it was a secular craft under various ethnic rulers. It became a popular world over, when Persians, around the 16th century discovered a rich hand weaving and hand block printing cluster around 'Maesolia' region now known as Machilipatnam. Back then this craft was called "Addakam" meaning printed fabric. These printed fabrics had finer details painted with 'kalam' meaning pen/fine brush.
Apart from the local relevance and consumption, the Persians patronized block prints using natural dyes for their prayer mats, quilts, patkas (waist belts) and tents while the Europeans used them for their clothing and bedspreads which were famously called as 'palampores' originated from the term 'palang posh' meaning bedcover.
Because of the aesthetic influence of Dutch, Europeans, Persians, and Japanese, the design required a more repetitive pattern and hence it is believed that the block printing method of kalamkari became popular. The designs of Machilipatanam were more Persian as it was under the Golconda Sultanate.
One of the main reasons for this craft to flourish at that time was also because of the ability to customize the design for the countries they were exported to. The motifs were cross-cultural and hardly had any religious restraints. The English called it chintz, the Dutch called it sitz, and the Portuguese pintado.
Now, we call it as Pedana kalamkari.
This GI tagged, hand-block printing method using mordants and natural dyes is highly skillful and a complex process. I have tried explaining the process below in a simple format and to the best of my understanding.
* The cora fabric is soaked in water for 3 days to remove the starch, then rinsed and dried. It is then treated with myrobalan (karakkaya in telugu) and buffalo milk, rinsed, dried and ready for the 1st stage of printing. The 'tannin' in myrobalan plays an important role in the fastness of colors.
* The first round of printing called as mordant printing consists of three colors, namely, kasimkar (rusted iron + jaggery), alum (karam in telugu) and gabbu (alum + kasim). Generally, kasimkar is used for printing outline and the alum as a filler. As liquid alum is colorless, edible colors are mixed enabling the print to be seen. Once printed, the fabrics are dried and washed in the river/canal. Usually, the fabrics are tied/held on one end, allowing the flowing water to gently wash off the excess color. The intensity of the sunshine and the mineral composition of the water plays an important role in getting the desired depth of colors.
* The next stage involves the fabrics being boiled in the dye bath. Copper vessels are used for this crucial process, rice husk and wood chip is used as fuel. A certain kind of forest leaf called 'jajaku' is mixed while boiling the water which helps fix the color. The fabrics are boiled in various dyes like anar, alizarin, khatta, madigapoo (locally available flower) and many more...these dyes in combination with printed alum gives various colors. After the dye bath, the fabrics are rinsed and dried for the next step of printing.
* Natural dye paste is used at this stage of printing. Like, indigo, halda, alizarine, khatta and many more...Once printed, the fabrics are washed thoroughly and dried. Now the fabric is completely ready.
This traditional method of printing in combination with dyeing is slow and ecologically sustainable, requires local skill, employs many crafts-people which transcends gender, economic background, and caste barriers.