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REDTREE TEXTILES

reDTree Handpainted Textiles is Renuka Reddy’s undertaking where she works with Chintz, an almost extinct Indian textile craft.

historic piece

Chintz fragment: 18th century, India. Cooper Hewitt Museum, New York.

REPRODUC TIONS OF HISTORIC CHINTZ AT REDTREE

Renuka gets under the skin of theory, research and much more not only to recreate 18th century quality chintz but also reinvent techniques used in handpainted Chintz.

WORK IN PROGRESS - WAX RESIST TECHNIQUE

Wax lines on fabric that will resist dye to create fine white lines.

SHEEP DUNG SOAK

The desired result required ‘non –mordanted’ areas to turn white while the mordanted areas retained the colourfulness of the dyed fabric. An important step in creating Chintz is to bleach the fabric by soaking it in dung at night and then exposing it to sunlight for days until the background turned white.

BEFORE AND AFTER BLEACHING

Above - Before bleaching. Below- After Bleaching.

ALMOST THERE

Summarising the last 8 years, she says “. It’s been an incredible journey so far. I am halfway there with research and many more mysteries await.”

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Lab 23 Oct 2018

Renuka Reddy of reDTree, on the challenging and fulfilling endeavour of reviving Chintz

reDTree Handpainted Textiles is Renuka Reddy’s undertaking wherein she works with Chintz, an almost extinct Indian textile craft. Being over a thousand years old, the craft has diminished into a print and paint technique with little resemblance to the original. Renuka’s work gets under the skin of theory, and research and much more to recreate not only the prints and textiles but also reinvent techniques and science of dyeing.

“Everything touched and seen in Chintz is science,” says Renuka Reddy, summarising the exhaustive scale of her endeavour. Chintz is a handpainted, mordant and resist dyed, cotton fabric. With a Bachelor's in clothing & textiles and a Master's in apparel, textiles and merchandising, Renuka was pursuing automotive textiles in the United States before her return to India. At the time of her return in 2010, Renuka stumbled upon a book, Chintz: Indian textiles for the West, published by the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Inspired to make textiles as magnificent as the ones in the color-plates, Renuka forayed into redeveloping the almost-lost art.

REDTREE TEXTILES

reDTree Handpainted Textiles is Renuka Reddy’s undertaking where she works with Chintz, an almost extinct Indian textile craft.

Kalamkari and Chintz

Historically, chintz and Kalamkari referred to the same craft in India. While the word chintz came from Westerners, Kalamkari came from Persians, referring to work done by a ‘kalam’ or pen. Current day Kalamkari differs from historic pieces in many ways; the color palette, predominant use of chemical dyes, to the absence of wax-resist technique. Kalamkari fabric today is often ‘painted’ with chemical dyes.

Historically, the fabric was first painted with mordants and then dyed in madder-type dye to achieve a myriad of colors from the same dye bath. Prior to mordant application, wax was painted on the cloth to obtain fine white lines. Large areas which were not intended to be blue were also covered in wax before indigo dyeing.

historic piece

Chintz fragment: 18th century, India. Cooper Hewitt Museum, New York.

In the past, Kalamkari or chintz textiles were exported around the world in a wide variety of customized designs, all using the same technique - painted, mordant, and resist-dyed. Handpainted Kalamkari today is identified largely by pattern than by technique. One often sees block, screen and digitally printed textiles using traditional Kalamkari motifs.

Historically, chintz and Kalamkari referred to the same craft in India. While the word chintz came from Westerners, Kalamkari came from Persians, referring to work done by a ‘kalam’ or pen. 

Sorting the needles in a haystack

Renuka first visited Indian craftsmen who were practising the craft or some variant. She visited Machilipatnam and Srikalahasti in Andhra Pradesh but discovered that while commonalities between current and historic practices exist today, textiles were nowhere close to historic pieces as the techniques had changed significantly. 

REPRODUC TIONS OF HISTORIC CHINTZ AT REDTREE

Renuka gets under the skin of theory, research and much more not only to recreate 18th century quality chintz but also reinvent techniques used in handpainted Chintz.

With her educational and professional background in textiles, she decided to work hands-on, experimenting with cotton, dyes, mordants, dung, wax and many other materials. One of her first challenges was the wax-resist technique that produced delicate white lines so characteristic of chintz.  “If I couldn’t figure that out, there was no point proceeding” she recalls. Her experiments took her to Indonesia where Batik is prevalent and here she researched wax, natural gums, etc.

Handpainted Kalamkari today is identified largely by pattern than by technique. One often sees block, screen and digitally printed textiles using traditional Kalamkari motifs.

Next came bleaching the dyed fabric with dung and sunlight for days. The desired result required the ‘non-mordanted’ areas to turn white while the mordanted areas retained the colourfulness of the dyed fabric. Historic chintz’s white backgrounds beautifully contrast with the brilliant dyed colors. In Renuka’s initial experiments, dyed colors would fade in the sun during bleaching. “It took much experimentation with dye, mordant concentration and the fabric to achieve a pristine white background with bright dyed colors,”

REPRODUC TIONS OF HISTORIC CHINTZ AT REDTREE

Renuka gets under the skin of theory, research and much more not only to recreate 18th century quality chintz but also reinvent techniques used in handpainted Chintz.

WORK IN PROGRESS - WAX RESIST TECHNIQUE

Wax lines on fabric that will resist dye to create fine white lines.

SHEEP DUNG SOAK

The desired result required ‘non –mordanted’ areas to turn white while the mordanted areas retained the colourfulness of the dyed fabric. An important step in creating Chintz is to bleach the fabric by soaking it in dung at night and then exposing it to sunlight for days until the background turned white.

8 years and counting

Summarising the last 8 years, she says “It’s been an incredible journey so far. I am halfway there with research and many more mysteries await.” She is currently working with Indigo dyeing.

One source of inspiration that drives Renuka is the imagery of historic artisans who produced Chintz. “It was never a one-man show. Someone drew, another painted, a third person dyed. The fact that a piece of cloth exchanged so many hands and came through as beautifully is something that inspires me till today.”

BEFORE AND AFTER BLEACHING

Above - Before bleaching. Below- After Bleaching.

Check out Renuka’s work here.