The main focus during my Curious Artisan Tour with Skillstourism was fabric printing using traditional methods and wood blocks. I planned on spending four of my seven days on this activity, but through the skill and assistance of Ravitej who mixed colours, Khan who demonstrated the process and gave thoughtful advice on patterns, and Varsha who prepared delicious snacks and lunch on the first day, I actually finished a day early and chose to spend a rest day by the hotel pool.
I prepared for these workshops by purchasing and pre-washing fabrics in Australia, though I later found the Skilltourism personal shopping trips made fabric buying a delight. I also took two sewing patterns so I could print borders for specific dresses. This was an interesting process for Khan and Kanchana, who owned the studio space and operated a tailoring business nearby. It was a delight to discuss sewing with her, and I was fortunate to visit her workshops where traditional embroidery was being sewn on simple Singer machines, and watch the process of creating beautiful embroidered buttons being made.
Each day, I was met at my hotel by Catherine and our trusty auto-driver, Srinivas, at 9.30 to head toward the workshop. Sometimes we travelled directly, sometimes there were errands to run on the way and this added to my enjoyment of Mysore and the daily workings of this vibrant city. Arriving in an integrated suburb of Muslims and Hindus, we usually parked behind the painted pink police station and greeted locals who are often doing chores – sweeping and washing – on their doorsteps. The workshop itself was two large rooms, accessed up a set of narrow stairs. The Indian-style toilet was located downstairs, past a small room where Fairoz worked with dyes and bolts of fabric.
I shared my fabric printing experience with Karla, a fellow Australian, and Catherine was initially on hand to introduce us to our teachers and facilitate our understanding of the process and practice. This made the workshops fun as we discussed block choices and colours, each making selections for our first attempts at printing. Later in the week, I worked alone with Khan and Ravitej.
As a learning process, my teachers had varying levels of English, but made their instructions clear through demonstrations and simple phrases. Ravitej spoke English well, as did Kanchana and Varsha, but Khan made himself easily understood with words such as ‘push’, ‘here’ as he pointed and simple praises ‘good’ and expressions such as ‘ah’.
After mastering the basic technique of applying paint to a block and pressing, we moved onto the trick of printing around corners. It proved to be an easy method of printing over newspaper folded into a triangle.
We set about learning how to stretch and pin fabric onto the large padded table before printing on practice cloths, then moved to stamping tote bags and later decorated scarf length fabric – all supplied by Skilltourism. This means anyone attending even a one day workshop could complete and take home finished articles.
Next, I worked on a borders for a length of fabric to make into a simple princess line dress.
My next project was to trace patterns pieces onto stretched black cotton/linen fabric
For my final project, a reversible wrap-around dress, I spent an enjoyable afternoon searching for lining fabric. This gave me the colour pallet to compliment my navy cotton. With colours mixed to match, and after tracing the pattern pieces, I again printed borders using an upturned cup as a spacer.
Without realising, I had chosen leaf blocks to match the lining fabric that were ‘doubles’. This meant I could overprint the first colour with a contrast. This was, I thought, a next-level skill, but Khan assured me it was easy enough to master. I’m so pleased I took his advice! He also suggested the quicker method of transferring the pattern pieces by simply chalking a dashed line – quick and effective.
After drying, the fabrics were ready to fold neatly and pack away in my luggage. Back at home, it was a simple process to iron the printed fabrics, wash and re-iron to cut out each piece and sew my frocks.
I am very pleased with the finished garments, and have received many compliments. On my next trip, I plan to purchase locally produced khadi cotton fabric and create different outfits.