Text by Katerina Knight
Holi, the festival that carries the spirit of spring with a promise of brighter days to come. Beneath the warmth of the sun, celebrations are joyous and showered in floral colour.
For it is not only Holi; In India whether it be a celebration of life, birth, death or renewal, with its rich tones and sweet aroma, flora is forever present. As flower sellers align the streets and crowds descend to purchase handmade garlands of threaded petals. Fresh blooms of marigold, rose and jasmine take pride of place in homes and temples.
Though Hindu customs state that these floral offerings presented as a gift to God and blessed with holy spirit must not be discarded but rather, returned to the water. Whilst with the purest of intentions, this sacramental act results in flooded waterways, posing a threat to India’s ecosystem.
But in moments of crisis, slow craft can often be a great saviour. And through the gentle art of eco-printing Nila House has found a sustainable solution for these sacred petals.
Located in Jaipur in Rajasthan Nila House was established as a non-profit initiative in 2016 by the Lady Bamford Foundation. Guided by the words ‘Gather, Share, Nurture’ their endeavour- to preserve Indias rich artisanal legacy and improve livelihood opportunities for women through craft.
The translation of Nila to Indigo in Hindi epitomises their intimate connection to organic colour, working hand in hand with expert artisans from natural dye communities.
But in 2021, as part of their ongoing commitment to enrich and evolve their knowledge, they discovered eco printing. Traveling to Mumbai to visit Adiv Pure Nature, this women-run enterprise founded by Rupa Trivedi initiated the ‘Temple Dye Project’. Gathering flowers from local temples they are recycled as textile materials to create naturally dyed and printed fabrics. And as a water-based technique, printing is apt in ensuring religious ritual is sustained.
This process has such pleasing, delicate results but yet, by admission, is modest and simple. Floral petals are delicately placed across natural fabrics, bundled and wrapped securely. Through gentle steaming, the natural colour transitions to textile and reveals intricate impressions of each petal on the cloth.
After mastering the art, Nila embedded this craft within their daily practices in Jaipur. Leaving baskets outside their entrance they invite the community to donate their flowers following festivities and celebrations within their homes.
Unlike other hand-craft techniques Nila employs, those with complex weaving patterns or intricate threads. Eco-printing adopts an alternative, relaxed set of rituals. Celebrating the unexpected wonders an organic palette brings. Allowing freedom of individual expression and experimentation.
Harnessing its accessible nature, Nila gathers women from rural communities together at their studio workshop for specialist training classes. Sharing skills and enriching women’s lives with this craft a new wave of established eco-printers has flourished. Presenting natural floral fabrics to clients in India and beyond.
And for those petals which remain, Nila collects, stores and conserves them for later use- from dyeing to printing their possibilities are endless. A truly cyclical and ceremonial craft.
Images courtesy of Nila House.
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Text by Katerina Knight