Dabu: A Traditional Indian Technique of Using Mud To Decorate The Fabrics

Surprising it sounds if you have not heard of this before. Using mud to decorate the fabrics. Believed to be dating back to the 7th century, Dabu, a mud-resist printing technique travelled from China to Rajasthan. And even today there are some places where it is still practiced. It is used to create richly coloured textiles with motifs inspired from the nature.

The Process

Motifs on Dabu print fabric are picked from nature and its surrounding elements. These motifs are then crafted on wooden blocks. Typical nature inspired motifs include peacocks, mangoes, leaves, sunflower and animal figures. Wavy lines, dots and various geometric shapes are also used.

The fabric to be printed is washed thoroughly to remove starch and impurities and then dried.

Mud is obtained from the ponds. It is sieved and then mixed with lime, gum, either fenugreek or alum, and jaggery. This paste acts as a mud resist which means the area it covers will remain undyed when the entire fabric is dipped in dye vat.

The fabric is then treated with Myrobalan (popularly called ‘Harda’ in India) which acts as a mordant. The fabric is again allowed to dry before further processing.

The mud paste is then applied on the fabric with the blocks. The areas that are printed will remain undyed during dying process and hence the patterns and motifs will pop up.

Saw dust is then sprinkled manually on the wet Dabu print and left for few hours for drying. This is needed to prevent motifs from sticking to each other when folded.

Eventually the fabric undergoes dying. If Dabu process is followed meticulously, one would use only natural materials for dying. What we’ve shown here is indigo (neel) dye, but there are several other options like Casala, Haldi, Manjishtha, Nasphal etc.

For a rich and colorful look, fabrics can be dyed more than once. This creates a double and triple dabu look.

The Fabric

Things To Know

  • Earlier, Rajasthan was had many Dabu printing clusters; very few of them have survived. Some of them are Akola, Bagru, and some villages near Jodhpur.
  • The motifs used for embellishment are quire traditional and are inspired from nature. Some of the popular methods of Dabu printing are Kahma, Kantedar, Lal titri and Dholika.
  • The Dabu prints adorned the flowing Ghagras in the past. These were the favored clothing of the women, locally called ‘Fetiya’ in Rajasthan. This was usually coupled with a Bandhej Lugda (a long fabric draped over the head). 
  • Today Dabu print is hand blocked on apparel like sarees, suits and kurtas. Not limited to just apparel, Dabu is also used for home decor. Cotton remains the most widely used fabric for Dabu printing. However, it is also used on fabrics like silk, georgette and crepe as they hold colours quite well.
  • This craft almost died before independence due to the prevalent economical alternatives, but began to resurface in the 21st century.

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