AI5_14_2017_10_48_12_PM_athangudi_dishant_newmainimage.jpg
Athangudi Tiles

Metal Stencil used to cast the tiles.

Athangudi Tiles being Cast

Craftsmen and Craftswomen cast the Athangudi tiles by hand one tile at a time (courtesy Colour Journey, Asian Paints)

Athangudi Tiles

Courtesy Colour Journey, Asian Paints

Athangudi Tiles

As seen in the magnanimous Bangalore Palace, Karnataka which is adorned with some of the most beautiful Athangudi tiles seen in India.

Minton Encaustic Tiles

It is tricky to differentiate between Athangudi & Minton except mostly by location. Whil Athangudi Tiles populated in the South of India, Mintons predated them and were perhaps the inspiration for some similar patterns in Athangudi.

Encaustic Tiles

Born in the early 19th century, the glazed patterns of these encaustic tiles caught the interests of many elites and thus made its way to many government buildings

Minton Encaustic Tiles

Material Used for Minton Tiles: ‘Plastic’ clay/wet clay, coarse clay, fine clay, colours. Thickness could be as thick as 3 cm. Coarse clay - 1 cm, Two layers of Fine clay - 3 mm each

Cement Tile: Tiles Stacked in a row

(Photo courtesy Bharat Floorings & Tiles)

Cement Tile: Metal Stencil
Cement Tile: Details

Material Used: White cement, pigment, filler Backing Grey cement, Stone Grit/Dust - Top 10 mm, Backing 13 mm.

Cement Tiles

DashDashDot pattern by Tania Khosla and Sandeep Khosla at a private residence.

Cement Tiles

Raitan Building at Worli by Alice von Baum.

AI5_14_2017_10_48_12_PM_athangudi_dishant_newmainimage.jpg
Workspace 03 May 2017

What it takes to make a good floor: Athangudi, Minton and Cement tiles

Tile manufacturing is a tedious, industrious process almost equivalent of an art when the final products are as beautiful as Athangudi tiles, Minton clay tiles or other vintage-appeal cement tiles. What makes one different from another? Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences among the processes of giving birth to the three tiles, in the concluding part of this series on Tiles.

Images Credit: Nikita Kamboj, Dishant Bhatia, Anusha Narayanan, Kirthana Devdas (Colour Journey) and Bharat Floorings and Tiles

The floor is the first thing we ‘occupy’ when we start inhabiting a building. We give an identity to the occupied floor by covering it with beautiful flooring patterns and materials. There are a numbers of different ways to style a floor, and thanks to social media, these days we have started noticing what’s beneath our feet.

Of the various attractive flooring options available, a few types of tiles have made their mark, thanks to their heritage appeal and a warmth that makes us strangely familiar. Encaustic tiles (Minton Clay tiles), Athangudi and cement tiles (for instance: Bharat Flooring) are the most celebrated. Athangudi is the intricately detailed, handmade, indigenous product that we have featured in the past as well. What we wouldn’t know though is that not every intricate, colourful tile found in the south is Athangudi.

All three tiles mentioned here usually bear a stark resemblance to each other. What makes them different? On one hand, Athangudi is a special product from a small village in southern India, whereas Minton clay tiles were produced in a totally different manner in England and then, with time and advancement in the manufacturing process, came the cement tiles. Let’s take a closer look at their material and manufacturing process that details an elaborate explanation.  

Athangudi Tiles

These tiles have been glorifying the beauty of Indian palaces for quite long. Famous for its intricate detailing and colourful patterns, its manufacturing process is a craft in itself. In our story on Karaikudi, as part of the expeditions of Season 03 of Colour Journey we covered some stunning images of Athangudi craftsmen at work. This gives us a more detialed insight.

Athangudi Tiles

Metal Stencil used to cast the tiles.

Athangudi Tiles being Cast

Craftsmen and Craftswomen cast the Athangudi tiles by hand one tile at a time (courtesy Colour Journey, Asian Paints)

Process

To start with, a metal stencil of a desired design (floral or geometric pattern) is prepared within a metal frame with handles and placed on a glass plate of the same size as the tile. A mix of cement and coloured oxide in a liquid slurry state is individually poured into patterned moulds upon a glass piece. A thin layer of local sand is then laid and the tile is filled with three-fourth inch thickness of cement, sand and small stone aggregates.

Athangudi Tiles

Courtesy Colour Journey, Asian Paints

 

Sand, white cement, fine clay, and oxides are premixed and churned for 20 minutes for a fine dry mix. Water is added to achieve a smooth consistency. Each tile is individually cast on a glass to ensure silky smoothness. After a few minutes of setting, the frame is whisked out, leaving the colourful pattern on the glass. Onto this layer, which will eventually be the tile top, a dry mix of sand and cement is applied and kept aside.

These tiles are stacked and kept in a bath of water for 8 to 12 days. They are then removed from water baths and allowed to dry for 24 hours so that the tiles become compact. After this the tile slips away from the glass naturally. Finished tiles are dried out by laying husk over them to soak the excess moisture. The innate oils from the husk impart a lovely sheen.

Materials

Oxide paints, Sand, white cement, fine clay. Oxide layer - 3-4 mm, Cement sand layer - 3-4 mm, Cement mortar base - 10 mm

Minton Tiles

Born in the early 19th century, the glazed patterns of these encaustic tiles caught the interests of many elites and thus made its way to many government buildings. Its distinct manufacturing process made it durable and long-lasting. While many of these buildings are found all over the British colonies as far as Penang as well as old building in the USA, closer to home, one can find them in many public buildings built in the British Raj era in Mumbai.

Athangudi Tiles

As seen in the magnanimous Bangalore Palace, Karnataka which is adorned with some of the most beautiful Athangudi tiles seen in India.

Minton Encaustic Tiles

It is tricky to differentiate between Athangudi & Minton except mostly by location. Whil Athangudi Tiles populated in the South of India, Mintons predated them and were perhaps the inspiration for some similar patterns in Athangudi.

Process

A layer of course, cheap clay about one centimeter thick was sandwiched between two layers of matching fine clay, each about 3mm thick, the top layer containing the imprinted, or ‘encaustic’ design. (Dictionary defines encaustic as “using pigments mixed with hot wax that are burned in as an inlay.”) Encaustic pattern making remained essentially a handcrafted operation where patterns were impressed into the wet clay through the use of machine presses, but pouring the colour ‘slip’ (slip is the term given to wet clay mixed to the consistency of cream) into the impressions was a hand skilled job, which after two or three days of drying, would be scraped flat by hand, revealing the pattern with sharp clear edges.

Encaustic Tiles

Born in the early 19th century, the glazed patterns of these encaustic tiles caught the interests of many elites and thus made its way to many government buildings

Minton Encaustic Tiles

Material Used for Minton Tiles: ‘Plastic’ clay/wet clay, coarse clay, fine clay, colours. Thickness could be as thick as 3 cm. Coarse clay - 1 cm, Two layers of Fine clay - 3 mm each

The tile was then left to dry slowly, as speeding up the drying time could result in warping. Drying time for plastic clay lasts up to three weeks before firing.After the drying period, tiles were fired once only to fuse the clay together and produce a good standard of vitrification.

This process was discontinued in early 20th century. Later, the dust-pressing technique was taken up considering ecological concerns.

Materials

‘Plastic’ clay/wet clay, coarse clay, fine clay, colours. Thickness could be as thick as 3 cm. Coarse clay - 1 cm, Two layers of Fine clay - 3 mm each

Cement Tiles (BFT)

With advancement in manufacturing processes and an increase in demand of customised designs, these tiles are an improvised and modern version continuing to provide similar quality and feel over the period of time. They are also at times used in heritage restoration projects in India.

Cement Tile: Tiles Stacked in a row

(Photo courtesy Bharat Floorings & Tiles)

Cement Tile: Metal Stencil

Process:

The finest quality colours are procured, blended and milled for some time. Metal stencils are created by hand by well-qualified artisans. Colours are poured into the metal framework so as to obtain the desired pattern.

Cement Tile: Details

Material Used: White cement, pigment, filler Backing Grey cement, Stone Grit/Dust - Top 10 mm, Backing 13 mm.

Then a Cap is layered on top and the tile is ready for pressing. The pressure tactics make the tile solid. The tile is made to rest and hardens into concrete after hydrolysis.

Material:

White cement, pigment, filler Backing Grey cement, Stone Grit/Dust - Top 10 mm, Backing 13 mm.

In a nutshell, the manufacturing of encaustic tiles started way back, around 1820-1830s as an experiment in clay, supported by very less technological advancements at the time. Whereas, Athangudi, came into being only a 130-odd years ago and focused on the hand-crafted nature of the process. After centuries, encaustic clay tiles have withstood wear and tear and still enhance the floors of pristine colonial buildings (found in Mumbai and across the globe especially in the Commonwealth), whereas some might say that Athangudi is trying to fight the challenges of changing times and regain its place as a local favourites.

Cement Tiles

DashDashDot pattern by Tania Khosla and Sandeep Khosla at a private residence.

Cement Tiles

Raitan Building at Worli by Alice von Baum.

On the other hand, cement tiles which emulate heritage patterns are an effort to keep the traditional aesthetics alive using improvised modern means of production. They have also gained much popularity among architects in contemporary India. So, the next time you’re standing on a floor that adds a blast of colour and intricate patterns to your day, do spare a moment to think of  the craftsmanship of tile-making, and the subtle differences and the tedious processes.

We have covered other facts about a place of origin of Athangudi tiles in Colour Journey here. This article is the last in the 3-part series on Tiles. More on Minton tiles in our piece on Tiling Bombay and Bharat Floor Tiles in the first 2 parts of this series.

Popular on CQ