Kalamkari-Wearable Art
Fashion, Leisya, Textiles

India’s rich textile heritage, lends itself to different interpretations in fashion and design, and Kalamkari with its current revival, takes center stage.

Kalamkari print on cotton silk.

Kalamkari is such a fascinating art form, it is almost wearable art. Available in rich earthy colors, sourced from the earth and plants, Kalamkari has become a must buy fashion statement. India’s rich textile heritage, lends itself to different interpretations in fashion and design, and Kalamkari with its current revival, takes center stage. With its origins in mythology and the Mughal patronage, traditional Kalamkari is a labour of love. Each stage of its creation, involves time consuming pre-preparation of dyes, and fabrics.

A handmade painting at a kalamkari exhibition

Kalamkari Painting
Photo by Anuradha Sengupta License cc by 2.0

The name originates from the Persian word for pen which is “Qalam” and “Kari” meaning craftsmanship. Traditional Kalamkari is either painted or printed on to fabrics using ecofriendly dyes and materials.

A kalamkari artist creating kalamkari outlines using bamboo pen.
Image source: By Anilbhardwajnoida (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

To source the original Kalamkari textiles, one has to travel to either Srikalahasti in Chittoor District or Machilipatnam in Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh. While in Srikalahasti the designs are mostly hand drawn using bamboo and tamarind sticks. In Machilipatnam, the designs are printed using blocks. Stylistically, the designs from Srikalahasti have mythological origin and features stories from Hindu mythology. The designs from Machilipatnam have geometric shapes, nature inspired prints and animals and human prints.The elaborate process required to create these works of art, can be seen in this short film created for World Craft Council by Haripriya Krishnamurthy.

The making of Kalamkari textiles

Be it a saree, a blouse, dress, modern jacket or a cushion cover, Kalamakri has shown its versatality in the multiple ways it can be used. Modern Kalamkari in sartorial sense has evolved into printed versions and adaptations of the original form. Kalamkari work is appliqued onto sarees or blouses, used as yokes or cut up and used as part of garments. It is also being combined with other types of embellishments like embroidery.

Kalamkari combined with aari work
By Niti mia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

With Kalamkari finding a permanent place in the fashionista’s wardrobe, this wearable art is now a collectors item. An art and textile to treasure and pass down to generations.

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