These tiny spirals of brightly dyed cotton thread lie on the ground outside many a bandhani fabric shop in India. Bandhani (derived from the Sanskrit word banda, meaning ‘to tie’) is a very old tie-dye textile technique used to produce patterned fabric in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Punjab in northern India and in Tamil Nadu in the south. In order to create bandhani fabric, tiny sections of the fabric are plucked up by the fingers and bound tightly with cotton thread. When the fabric is dyed, the portions of fabric bound by thread is left untouched and so a contrasting colour is left behind. The tying, often done by highly-skilled women, creates patterns of dots that is detailed and intricate. I just love it.
When you buy bandhani fabric, it’s presented to you still scrunched up from the tying and dying process, to show that it’s authentic bandhani and not a printed version. To remove the cotton thread, often many metres worth, pull the fabric apart. Many of the tiny cotton bundles will spring off by themselves while the others need to be picked off by hand. The fabric then needs to be ironed flat before being sewn into a garment.
Earlier this year I bought three pieces of bandhani fabric from Hathipole Market in Udaipur, ready (except for the previously mentioned thread removal process) to be made into a lovely salwar kameez (the beautiful trouser and tunic combination worn with a long scarf by so many people in the Indian subcontinent) by a tailor. The original fabric was white when it was tied and then dyed red with a portion of it dipped in black, so the resulting fabric is red and black with a pattern of white dots. I wore my new salwar kameez with its accompanying dupatta (long scarf) to a performance of Indian music in my city of Melbourne and two young Indian women told me that I looked beautiful! I was absolutely thrilled!
Hathipole Market, Udaipur, Rajasthan