We're proud of the fabric that we're using to craft our first men's shirt. So proud that we made a couple of films about it. We thought that we'd take the time to explain the process in a little more detail below.
The first step of making a shirt is choosing the fabric used. We’re incredibly lucky to partner with Herbal Fab for our cotton sourcing.
Herbal Fab is a young business based in Ahmedabad, India. Concerned about the impact of conventional cotton farming, Herbal Fab trade exclusively in organic fabric. Consequently, the fabric used in our first shirts is GOTS certified.
Choosing the right weight of fabric was incredibly important to us. We’re looking to craft shirts that can we worn year round by customers in any climate. Additionally, it’s important that the fabric absorbs dye well to best showcase the work of our printing partner, Dheeraj Chhipa.
The fabric chosen is a medium weight organic cotton. This wicks moisture well in the heat as well as providing some warmth as a base layer in cooler months.
Fadat printing is a traditional hand printing process kept alive by only a handful of artisan families in North India.
The printing blocks used are much smaller and finer than regular printing blocks requiring a high level of skill and proficiency from the artisan.
The process is now so rare that when we pointed out the Fadat blocks in one potential suppliers workshop they told us that “no one can do that method anymore”.
Luckily, we found Dheeraj Chhipa. He’s the latest in a long line of printing artisans who keeps this method alive today.
Before printing can begin, the fabric must first be washed and then prepared with a base colouring. This is to allow the dye to take and the print to display clearly.
2. FIRST PRINT
The first print is the flower outline known locally as “bhuti”. This is hand printed onto the fabric using wooden blocks.
The printing blocks are hand carved. It can take as much as one day to carve a single printing block. The pattern is slowly built up as the printer works along the fabric length.
Printing has been carried out in this way in Bagru for hundreds of years. It requires patience, a steady hand and a keen eye.
As a handcrafted product, there are always slight imperfections in the end result. For us, this adds to the charm of hand printing.
3. DABU RESIST
Dabu resist printing is a method unique to the village of Bagru. A mixture of mud, lime and babul tree gum known as dabu paste is printed onto the fabric, again using hand-carved wooden blocks.
Next sawdust is sprinkled over the fabric sticking to the dabu printed areas. When the fabric is dyed, the dabu paste “resists” the dye leaving the area underneath clear.
4. DYE 1 - INDIGO
In times gone by, natural indigo dye was the only way to produce blue clothes. The Indigofera tinctoria plant has been cultivated in East Asia, Egypt ,India, Bangladesh and Peru since antiquity.
The word "indigo" comes from the Latin word indicum meaning "Indian", as the dye was originally exported to Europe from India. Famed explorer Marco Polo was the first European to report on the preparation of Indigo in India as far back as the 13th Century.
Today, traditional indigo dyeing has been largely replaced by the thousands of tonnes of synthetic dye that have flooded the market. Traditional indigo dyeing is now only practised by a handful of artisan families. They guard their indigo vats and the recipes that they use closely.
Working in this way brings many additional challenges. For us, the richness and depth of colour that comes from natural dyes is incomparable to synthetic alternatives.
Interestingly, when the fabric is first removed from the Indigo vat it displays a dark green colour. Oxidisation causes the final rich blue colour to develop.
5. DYE 2 - YELLOW + BLUE = GREEN
Next a yellow dye is created from pomegranate and turmeric. First, dried pomegranate is heated in water. The resulting liquid is added to a mixture of turmeric and oil to create a yellow dye.
When the indigo and yellow dyes combine they result in a deep shade of green.
The artisans of Bagru are firm believers in the medicinal properties of the dyes that they use. The inclusion of turmeric is said to be beneficial to the health of the skin.
Dyeing fabrics is treated with great reverence and care in Bagru. Interestingly, the only person who is allowed to dye fabric is Dheeraj’s father, Ram Babu Chhipa.
6. Final Wash and Dry
The final stage of the process is for the the Dabu print to be washed from the fabric. This reveals the finished pattern underneath.
After drying in the hot Rajasthan sun, the fabric is shipped to London, England for cut and sew.