Itajime, literally meaning "board-clamping" in Japanese, is one technique of shibori which uses pieces of wood clamped together around sections of folded fabric to resist the dye in particular shapes.
Traditionally, the cloth was clamped between 2 wooden blocks intricately carved with the negative of the design one wanted to achieve. In modern times, more simple shaped blocks are used to resist the dye.
Our artisan partners
Perched on the far western edge of India, squeezed between the Arabian Sea and the Pakistani border, and spanning the Thar Desert and the Great Rann of Kutch, sits the desert region of Kutch, located in the state of Gujarat.
This region, as well as Sindh across the border in Pakistan, is a rich, cultural melting pot and, in our opinion, a textile Mecca. Despite historical challenges, such as division and migration at the time of partition and reoccurring earthquakes, and an extreme climate, a vast number of unique and beautiful textile traditions local to this region thrive here. This is thanks to the dedication of it's Master Artisans and a handful of local organisations.
These Master Artisans are art/craft ambassadors for ancient textile traditions, and are celebrated by textile aficionados worldwide for bringing Kutch's textile heritage successfully into the 21st century.
This success has been based on marrying the traditional with the contemporary, on promoting the highest quality of craftsmanship, and on widely sharing their rich stories through collaborating with designers around the world.
By successfully promoting their heritage, thousands of village-based artisans in the region are able to earn an income through spinning, weaving, dyeing, embroidery, bandhani and ajrakh.
Two of these Ambassadors-cum-Master Artisans are the Brothers Khatri: Abdullah and Jabbar, who live and work in Bhuj, the district capital.
The Khatri caste originally came from Punjab. They migrated to Sindh, where they converted to Islam, and then moved into the Kutch region of today’s Gujarat. Khatri artisanal families settled in areas where they had access to resources like fresh, running water.
Since the 17th century, the brother’s ancestors were practicing the local and ancient art of bandhani tie-dye. When Abdullah was 17 years old he began learning bandhani from relatives and took it up to earn some pocket money. This grew into a business with his brother.
Today they work with 200 rural women on bandhani and are known far and wide for their innovation and exceptional work. Jabbar developed his innovations in bandhani to such a level that he was awarded the prestigious UNESCO Seal of Excellence in both 2006 and 2007.
Clamp dye (itajime), on the other hand, is a relatively new technique. According to Abdullah, a very simple version of clamp dye has been in practice for some 40 years in this region. In 2004, a US-based designer visited the Khatris. Together they experimented to create the elaborate clamp dye that the Khatri brothers practice today.
To create the itajime cloth, Abdullah and Jabbar work with a team of 10 men in their workshop in Bhuj. The brothers do all the folding and clamping, while their team assist in dyeing and additional tasks.
The first step is planning and preparation.
Shibori can be a complex process of folding and tieing, dying, unfolding then repeating for several more rounds of colour discharge and dyeing.
Fabric selection is also important - it should be light enough to fold several times and still allow the dye to penetrate the inner-most folds, and cut to size. We work with sections of 2.7-3m.
Next comes folding and clamping - the soul of the itajime technique.
The fabric is first dyed if a base colour other than white is desired. Then the folding is done; this can be done in an unlimited number of ways. The only limit is the imagination and skill of the artisan.
The result is a small, tight, and neatly folded bundle of fabric that now needs securing. In other shibori techniques, the securing is done using other tools, such as string or stitching. In itajime, wooden shaped blocks are clamped onto the fabric. The shape and positioning of the blocks determines the final pattern on the fabric.
FOLD | CLAMP | DYE | REPEAT
The Master Artisans fold and clamp each and every piece of fabric by hand - one piece of fabric is used for one item of clothing. Therefore, slight variations will always exist between each piece - this represents the vast amount of time and effort that goes into hand crafting the fabric.
Differently shaped blocks and the position they're placed in will result in vastly different patterns.
We also experiment with alternative tools for securing the fabric, like butterfly clips.
The fabric is now ready for dying. Perfecting the colour and shade of the dye bath to meet our colour story requires skill and a keen eye. We use AZO free chemical dyes and dye the fabrics in small batches.
The clamped bundle is immersed for up to 20 minutes in the steaming vat, allowing the colour to seep into the inner-most folds of the fabric.
One of the common characteristics of folded shibori is that the inner fabric will often be a lighter shade than the outer fold. The areas covered by the wooden blocks will resist the dye altogether and retain the original colour.
The fabric is washed and left to dry in the hot Bhuj sun.
This process is repeated as necessary, along with discharge baths which will remove the colour from the areas not covered by blocks.
And now the magic! For me, as a novice, I often find the opening of the fabric to be a joyous surprise. The final design which emerges as the fabric is unfolded - the interplay of patterns and colours - is always unexpected.
All that is required is drying and ironing. We sell the finished cloth as scarves, or bring it back to our stitching unit in Delhi to create one-of-a-kind itajime clothing of unsurpassed beauty!