Textile Dyeing In Pakistan


Few people know that I dappled into fabric dyeing a few years ago, particularly Shibori. Dyeing is the process of adding color to fabric, fibers, and yarns. It is normally done in a special solution containing dyes and particular chemical materials. After dyeing, dye molecules have uncut chemical bonds with fiber molecules. The temperature and time controlling are two key factors in dyeing. There are mainly two classes of dye, natural and man-made.


The primary source of dye, historically, has generally been nature, with the dyes being extracted from animals or plants. Since the mid-19th century, however, humans have produced artificial dyes to achieve a broader range of colors and to render the dyes more stable to resist washing and general use. Different classes of dyes are used for different types of fiber and at different stages of the textile production process, from loose fibers such as yarn to cloth such as complete garments.

Acrylic fibers are dyed with basic dyes; while nylon and protein fibers such as wool and silk are dyed with acid dyes, and polyester yarn is dyed with disperse dyes. Cotton is dyed with a range of dye types, including vat dyes, and modern synthetic reactive and direct dyes.

The earliest dyed fibers have been found in a prehistoric cave in the Republic of Georgia and date back to 34,000 BC. More evidence of dyeing dates back to the Neolithic period at the large Neolithic settlement at Catalhoyuk in southern Anatolia, where traces of red dyes, possibly from ocher, an iron oxide pigment derived from clay, were found.  In China, dyeing with plants, barks, and insects has been traced back more than 5,000 years.  Early evidence of dyeing comes from Sindh province in Pakistan, where a piece of cotton dyed with a vegetable dye was recovered from the archaeological site at Mohenjo-Daro (3rd millennium BCE). The dye used in this case was madder, which, along with other dyes such as indigo, was introduced to other regions through trade. Natural insect dyes such as Cochineal and kermes and plant-based dyes such as woad, indigo and madder were important elements of the economies of Asia and Europe until the discovery of man-made synthetic dyes in the mid-19th century.

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Today, I want to focus on some dyeing techniques of the Sub-Continent, particular Pakistan.

Block Printing

Block printing is practiced all over Pakistan particular in the provinces of Punjab, Sindh and NWFP. Block printing uses specially carved blocks of wood sequentially dipped in dyes and stamped on cloth. Bed sheets, table covers, wall hangings, shoulder cloths and wraps of all sizes are printed in a variety of patterns and colors. The reproduction of patterns and motifs-floral, geometric, and sculptural evolved from the Mughal period and continues as an intense competition in searching for new patterns. This technique is used on garments and furnishings.

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Ajrak Printing

The ajrak tradition of Sindh can boast this block print tradition that has survived through centuries. The Sindhi employ the most ancient technique to block print their fabric. Instead of printing the colors directly, as in later techniques of block printing, a mordant and a resist are stamped on to the cloth which is then dipped into a series of dye baths. The pattern printed with a resist remains white. When a mordant is used the dye only adheres to the print. Traditional color combinations are blue and red; red, white, blue; and/or blue and black (sometimes black and white).

The ajrak remains a popular Sindhi fashion and is used in clothing such as turbans, shawls, scarves and is sometimes converted into a hammock for a child, slung from the trees. Since it is made out of cotton, it is very comfortable to wear in hot Pakistan weather. Ajrak is also available in yardage for making table clothes, napkins, cushions and pillow covers.

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Silk Screen Printing and Digital Printing

Silk printing is a stencil method of print making in which a design is imposed on a screen of polyester or other fine materials such as silk with blank areas coated with an impermeable substance. Ink is forced into the mesh openings by the fill blade or squeegee and by wetting the substrate, transferred onto the printing surface during the squeegee stroke. As the screen rebounds away from the substrate the ink remains on the substrate. It is also known as silk-screenscreenserigraphy, and serigraph printing. One color is printed at a time, so several screens can be used to produce a multicolored image or design.

Digital printing refers to methods of printing from a digital based image directly to fabric It usually refers to professional printing where small-run jobs from desktop publishing and other digital sources are printed using large-format and/or high-volume laser or inkjet printers (the actual printers for fabrics are much larger). It allows for on-demand printing, short turnaround time, and even a modification of the image used for each impression. The savings in labor and the ever-increasing capability of digital presses means that digital printing is reaching the point where it can match or supersede offset printing technology’s ability to produce larger print runs of several thousand sheets at a low price.

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Roghan (Wax-painted cloth)

Practiced in Peshawar, this technique involves the cotton or silk cloth being decorated by applying a soft wax-like substance (roghan) produced from the oil of the safflower seed. Pigments such as red lead are added and the substance is manipulated on to the surface of the cloth with a metal stylus. The craftsman begins his work by putting a small portion of the paste on his hand. He pulls out fine filaments of the substance with a stylus, attaches it to one point on the cloth and then stretches it to sketch a design. This technique that contains motifs such as animal figures and landscapes are great for wall hangings and furnishings.

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Bandhani is a style of patterning cloth by tying or knotting specific areas to protect them from the dye. The cloth is prepared with soap and treated with oil and an alum mixture before it is tied with wax strings and dipped in dye. Think of it like tie-dying. Bandhani patterns vary in intricacy from a single dot to a combination of borders and medallions. This technique is very popular in Sindh, and Gujrat (India).

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Among the resist dying methods practiced in Pakistan is the embellishing of fabrics with the batik technique. In this method, the area not to be dyed in a particular stage or to be dyed lightly is covered with wax. When the piece is dipped in dye solution the area not covered with wax is dyed. Also, the hot baths melt some of the wax causing some of the dye to flow on to the area not meant to be dyed. The effect in this area is a lighter color.

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During wedding festivities in villages, many brides purchase garments made from these techniques for their trousseau. Even grooms wear these fabrics on their special days. Those living in the cities think of these beautiful pieces of art as a link to their cultural past and wear them to compliment a modern outfit. Hope this gives you some information and ideas.

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