Get down, dirty and creative


The experience tour at Creative Bee Natural Dye Farm in Hyderabad encourages visitors to learn a craft, or two

The late January sun beats down on us, the morning chill giving way to warmer hours. Ikat weaver Subba Rao shows me how to tightly wind and tie pieces of latex bands on the yarn on the wooden frame. When the yarn is dyed later, these wound segments will resist the dye while other areas will take on a deep blue hue.

Fact file

  • Creative Bee Natural Dye Farm is at Ghatkesar, in the suburbs of Hyderabad, about an hour’s drive from Secunderabad.
  • The experience visit includes craft/textile technique demonstrations and hands-on experience in block printing, batik, shibori, ikat or pottery.
  • A one-day visit costs ₹1500 plus taxes per person, children below 10 can accompany for free.
  • Call 9063804035 to book a visit.

He urges me to try. It looks easy, but as I wind the strips thrice over the yarn, he says it needs to be tighter, lest the dye seeps through the gaps. A few trials later, he nods in approval.

Ikat weaving is a complex process once the weft and warp yarns are taken to the loom; I get a taste of the labour-intensive process at the Creative Bee Natural Dye Farm at Ghatkesar in the suburbs of Hyderabad.

The Creative Bee store at Banjara Hills is well known among handloom connoisseurs of the city and beyond. Their production unit at this farm, which was established 18 years ago, has so far been out of bounds for visitors, except for international textile students who enrol for short courses to learn the know-how of natural dyes, block printing and weaving. At the farm’s production unit, artisans work on handloom textiles for domestic and export orders, mostly to Japan, Indonesia and Thailand.

Try a craft

Batik tracing

“The pandemic has been stressful for the textile sector. In an effort to sustain our artisans and weavers, we decided to open the farm to visitors. Anyone eager to know about printing or dyeing can book a trip and visit us in small groups of at least five people. Get hands-on experience at any of the crafts and take back a piece of your work with you — a pot you created on the wheel, a shibori dyed stole or a batik stole you printed,” says Bina Rao, who founded Creative Bee along with her husband Keshav Rao.

Ikat weaver Subba Rao

The Raos are alumni of National Institute of Design at Ahmedabad, with nearly three decades of experience in handloom. They have worked on United Nations projects and served as consultants for handlooms at the State and National levels. The farm in Hyderabad doubles up as their research and development centre.

One block at a time

One of the blocks at the block printing unit

At the block printing unit, there is a range of blocks — thinner ones for the borders and bigger blocks for elaborate motifs. Some of the paisleys and florals here have been custom-developed referencing 18th Century prints that are rarely used in textiles today. Flipping through a design book, Bina shows us the ‘Sarsa’ print blocks developed from 18th-Century designs.

A printer demonstrates the steps — first on paper and then on fabric. Place the chosen block on ink and then on to paper or fabric, applying just the right amount of force to transfer the design. Smudges and overlapping are common for first-timers, but it is all part of the joy of designing fabric.

Shibori dyed stoles

The shibori tie and dye is the easiest to try, says Keshav, “because even if you go wrong, you end up creating a new abstract pattern.” Fold the fabric into triangles or squares, and then use clamps or stitches before dyeing and see the plain fabric transform into a vibrant tie and dye stole. Once dyed, the stole is left to dry in the sun.

If you want to challenge yourself further, try the batik technique by tracing a design on to the fabric and use the batik pen to wax outline the pattern before dyeing.

Block printed stole

Keshav also gives us an introduction to different raw materials for natural dyes — from the common marigold flowers to the lesser-known crimson red pods from the Achiote or lipstick tree, a native to South America. Wet your fingers and crush the seeds to release the deep red ‘annatto’ pigment and you have a quick lip colour!

At the wheel

For those who are not into textiles, there is always the potter’s wheel to get your hands dirty.

Jahnavi, a participant, trying her hand at pottery

Adjacent to the farm, in Kondapuram village (not to be confused with Kondapur in the cyber suburb of Hyderabad), there are several potter families. Two artisans who have come in for the day demonstrate the manual and the mechanised wheel. At first, untrained hands end up crumpling the clay on the wheel but gradually objects take shape — lamps, mugs, jugs…

We pause for a refreshing citron lemonade or lemongrass and ginger tea. Lunch is features organic produce from the three-acre farm, which has a fruit orchard and an organic vegetable garden, apart from a small patch of indigo plants.

The children in the group enjoy the wooden swings under a canopy of trees. “There was not a single tree in this area when we came in,” Bina says with a proud smile. “Keshav transformed this place into an orchard.”

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