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Rajashree Soneji shared her journey of exploring natural dyes and her experience about a workshop which she attended in the spring. “I never wanted to do an eight hour job when I completed my college”, says Rajashree. So she started searching for alternatives in the textile field. Her mother introduced her to natural dyes. There. was no going back after that.

Shades of natural dyes
Shades of natural dyes

Fascinated by the Process

Rajashree stepped into the world of fabrics and natural dyes. The process was fascinating. To learn more, she visited  Magan Khadi and Gram Sewa Mandal, in Wardha. Dedication of craftsmen to thier place of work and their craftsmanship impressed her. She discovered a variety of craft traditions, passed on from one generation to another.

Inspired the beauty of the process and overall cheerful vibe at the place, she began learning and practicing natural dyeing and meeting new people. When people shared their anecdotes, it was an overwhelming experience for her.

The Legacy of Natural Dyes

Since time immemorial, natural dyeing has been more than an art. For many, it has been a source of livelihood. The climate in India makes the process easier and favourable for the artisans. As does the availability of raw materials such as indigo, madder, pomegranate peel, and marigold flowers. The tone of the dye produced depends on the quantity of water, base material mordant and dye concentrations. With time, the colour fades, but that is a sign of exuberance.

Natural dyeing process
Natural dyeing process

To further her knowldedge about natural dyes, Rajashree attended a workshop at Bhasha Research and Publication Center in southern Gujarat in the spring of 2021. She learnt about the processes involved in natural dyeing. Scouring gave her an opportunity to experiment with a variety of natural materials. Rajashree worked with flowers, barks, roots. And with lac, a resin like secretion of lac insects. These insects are bred on trees.

“It’s quite interesting as every artisan has his/her own technique to follow. The shades which we collected had a wide range from bright to dark”, she added.

Natural Dyes and the Joy of Discovery

She also tried innovative methods such as shibori techniques and eco printing. Working with natural dyes on actual fabrics, she discovered that many of the dyes give good intensity of color to the fabric while some don’t.

 Author's favourite Indigo
Author’s favourite natural black colour made with iron, jaggery and water

Rajashree specially mentioned her experience with indigo. Last year, Rajashree grew Indigo on her own farm, so she aspired to learn the vat-making process. Learning the process from the experts was quite a thrill for her. Finally, their hard work paid off together they made three indigo vats. Each time anybody dipped their hands in the vat, it would leave a deep and beautiful stain. She personally preferred not wearing gloves as indigo gave her a sense of familiarity and belongingness. Rajashree and team  documented these experiments. This was necessary as in natural dyeing hues and colors change significantly even if there is a slight change in process.

Joy of Accomplicing

The joy of accomplishing was on surge for her when the end results were beautifully dyed and vibrantly shining fibers.

Apart from the workshop, living in small quarters with the other group members was a rare and wonderful experience. Delicious meals, long walks through hidden caves engraved with tribal paintings, exploring tribal museums, visiting indigo fields and endless discussions added to the experience.

Rajashree had an amazing time at natural fabric/yarn dyeing workshop. She expresses an immense gratitude towards people who were directly or indirectly involved in it.

Shades of happiness and fabrics
Shades of happiness and fabrics/yarns

Rajashree has always had an inclinaion towards organic food, organic farming, and wearing naturally dyed Khadi clothes. Lifestyle choices which have changed her perspective towards life and made it more meaningful.

Concluding her narrative, Rajashree remarked, “Life’s journey is all about learning from every spirit of nature.”

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As Narrated to Swapnaja Dalvi

Blog Editor: Vaishnavi Kench

Photo Credit: Rajashree Soneji