Tied up in Knots - Bandhani, Gujarat | Silk Road Gallery

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The secret of Bandhani fabric

Driving across Gujarat in January I find the simple answer to a question that's puzzled me for years - how do you create the distinctive tie-dye pattern?

These vibrant Bandhani silk scarves are for sale at the Silk Road Gallery.

Silk Bandhani Scarves at the Silk Road Gallery

Bandhani is an intricate technique that produces spectacular textiles characterised by patterns of different coloured or undyed dots. These Bandhani scarves were hanging outside a shop in Wadhwan, Gujarat.

Bandhani scarves in Wadhwan

The undyed dots are produced by a form of tie dyeing - tufts of the silk are gathered up and cotton threads are wrapped tightly around the tufts. When the cloth is dyed the tufts aren’t exposed to the dye and remain white.

What’s always baffled me is how you know where to tie the tufts to create the intricate pattern. I came across the answer in the delightful town of Wadhwan where we saw different stages of the process being carried out in several houses by different families. The pile of fabric in the background with yellow marks has been through the first stage of the process.

Preparing to Create the Pattern for Bandhani Tie Dye

The first stage of the Bandhani process is the key to the pattern making and ridiculously simple - use a template! 
A plastic sheet with perforated holes is placed over the cloth and a pale dye applied with a squeegee to make coloured markers that are the pattern for the next stage. The pale dye is washed out before the dyeing stage.

Creating the Pattern for Bandhani Tie Dye

Hey presto! We have the Pattern.

Then take the cloth across town to the next person who deftly ties the threads in the right place. We came across this group of women sitting around together on the street front. They have dextrous fingers, the technique is learnt at an early age and they work at an incredible speed. This lady, the head of the family, seemed to be the most experienced and the quickest. A happy laughing family, like everyone in Wadhwan they seemed to be delighted to show us how they do their work. 

Across the street her husband was making brass water pots - but that's another blog.

The Ladies Who Tie the Knots

The Knot Ladies of Wadhwan

The Champion Knot Lady of Wadhwan

Then dye the cloth. For multicoloured results the process is repeated with several rounds of tying and dyeing.

Bandhani Scarves in Red Tones

Blue and Green Silk Bandhani Scarves

Wadhwan itself is a friendly old fortified town that doesn’t see many visitors but is renowned for metalwork, Bandhani work and a couple of very fine Stepwells. The old houses are painted with beautiful colours and the narrow lanes resound with the hammering of the metal workers making water pots.

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  • Anthony Burton on

    I made a TV series about cotton for BBC some years ago – including 4 weeks in India. My son is a fan of your photos and I’ve just been looking at the website – great stuff. I have a long term project for a book on silk and I’d love to talk to you some time about the processes you describe in Gujarat. My eldest son lives in Sheffield, so perhaps when the book details are finalised I could call in.

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