The Process of Kalamkari Explained

The Process of Kalamkari Explained

A destination for Kalahari textiles and designs throughout history, India's southeast coast contributed to the thriving maritime trade in the medieval Indian subcontinent. The two historical centers of Kalamkari, in which cotton fabrics are traditionally hand-painted with visual narratives using a bamboo pen, date palm, or tamarind stick, are Srikalahasti and Machilipatnam.

What Makes Kalamkari So Special?

Natural dyes and metallic salts known as mordants, which are used to fix the dye into the cotton fibers, are a must for this handicraft because it does not employ machinery or chemicals. This art includes a precise resist technique, a lengthy 23-step process that includes cloth treatment, sketching, dyeing, printing, numerous washing procedures, and even gold or silver brocade work. This handicraft is passed over generations in Srikalahasti, Machilipatnam, and other interior regions of Andhra Pradesh.

The Srikalahasti technique involves drawing and filling in intricate motifs of religious myths and epic stories with natural dyes. The borders and pallus on sarees in this style are distinctive. Technically speaking, the Machilipatnam work is not pure penwork. These designers use reusable hand-carved blocks to print the leading lines and contours of the designs.

Influences of Various Cultures on Kalamkari Over Centuries

Because of the Mughals' support and the Golconda Sultanate's proximity, the motifs are more Persian. This design incorporates interlacing floral patterns, a Tree of Life, and birds and other animals like peacocks. They also show scenes from the kingdom's daily existence. The cultural interaction influenced Kalamkari as it attempted to satisfy the escalating Iranian demand for this material and, consequently, the European markets. The skill expanded its use beyond temple and courtly hangings to everyday textiles like household furnishings and clothing. It also adopted a variety of patterns.

Kalamkari process in both Machilipatnam and Srikalahasti styles.


  • Kalam is a bamboo reed pen with a cotton cloth folded around it and entwined with cotton thread. One kalam is used for outlining, while the other is needed for coloring.
  • Gaada is the the traditional name for cotton fabric used for printing on fabrics.¬†
  • Buffalo milk to treat the fabric and prevent color bleed-through.¬†
  • To maintain the stability of colors during the dying process, alum is employed as a dye fixative.
  • Myrobalan bud and Myrobalan flower are two different handcrafted dyes used to intensify and make permanent the dyes.¬†
  • For the first sketches, tamarind stems are burned into charcoal and used as pencils.
  • Sugar Water

Equipment used in Kalamkari

  • Low wooden table with gunny sack cushions
  • Paste trays made of wood
  • Granite grinding stones, wooden mortar and pestles, and straightforward earthen pots to use as containers are the basic tools used in the production of black dye.

you can also read : Kalamkari: A Traditional Indian Art Form

Process in Srikalahasti

Cloth preparation

To remove impurities, a cotton cloth is steeped in water overnight and then dried in the sun. The cloth is then treated with the mixture and ground with myrobalan buds, flower paste, and buffalo milk. 4 liters of buffalo milk are used to make 10 meters of fabric. The cloth is removed from the milk solution after 5 to 10 minutes, squeezed to remove the excess solution, and then allowed to dry for two hours in the sun. The cloth is given a uniform off-white color and a silky texture by being washed three times in running water and then sun-dried.

Outlining and Sketching

Charcoal pencils created from burned tamarind branches are used for the initial sketching on the processed cloth. To trace the design, a pencil is used for detailing, and Kasim Kaaram is applied to the kalam. In order to create Kasim Kaaram, rusted iron filings, cane jaggery, and palm jaggery are combined. For fermentation, these substances are dissolved in water in a covered clay pot.

The iron filings are eliminated after filtering the solution for 21 days. When the artist softly squeezes the cotton ball of kalam, the dye color hits the fabric. When this black color reacts with fabric that has been myrobalan-treated, it becomes darker. By gently rubbing a delicate cloth against the design, extra outline color is eliminated. The cloth is cleaned once again.

Creation of the Red Color

Alum is used to mordant the fabric to give it the red color. The darker red tones needed for painting must be obtained with the Kasim Kaaram. Additionally, alum is used just once on lighter red colors. After two days of drying, the painted alum cloth is washed under running water.

Natural dyes, such as Suruduchakka (300 gm), chavalakodi tree root powders (1 kg), and 12 kg of alum added to boiling water, are used in the boiling process. The painted cloth is submerged in the solution and boiled at a high temperature for 30 minutes. Red colors come from these tree roots. When the cloth turns red, it is taken out of the boiling solution.

The fabric is now placed in the river and repeatedly washed for three days close to the river's bank until the material is totally bleached. The colored parts of the fabric stay the same during this procedure, while the rest of it becomes whiter. To prevent the color from fading, buffalo milk was previously applied to the colored cloth and left on for 10 minutes. The second treatment of buffalo milk is no longer used in modern society. 

Filling Colors

  • Red-colored fabric is now used in the procedure of color filling. previously, the required amounts were originally filled with the yellow color made from pomegranate skin.¬†
  • Next Green is produced by combining myrobalan flower, Kasim karma, and alum diluted with water.¬†
  • The indigo-leaf-based blue color is then filled. Using kalam with tapered edges, the color filling is carried out.

Process in Machilipatnam

The beginning steps of washing the fabric and sun drying it are the same for the Machilipatnam style as they are for the Srikalahasti style. The block printing technique, however, eliminates the need for linework because distinct blocks are utilized for each color.

Printing of Mordants

In the first subunit, craftsmen from the community of carpenters make little blocks from teak wood to create patterns. Stretched out on the table is the fabric that will be printed. During printing, the wet under surface stops the cloth from slipping. The mordant is then applied to a printing pad. The sponge layer is placed over the bamboo separators and is then covered with a gunny cloth.

A small amount of the mordant is absorbed by the sponge layer, and the gunny cloth serves as a blotter, allowing just the surface residue to contact the block. On the myrobalan-dipped cloth used to fill in the black and red colors, the designs' backgrounds are printed first, followed by their outlines. It is then washed again. Finally, more colors are included.

Degumming and Washing

The fabric is left to dry for two to three days after block printing. To remove the gum and any unwanted mordant and prevent the spread of the mordant's color to any undesirable areas, it is washed with running water. It is sun dried after washing for one hour.


The popularity of Kalamkari has recently increased as a result of its use of natural dyes to produce printed textiles. Prosperitymirra is your destination if you are looking out for Kalamkari Crafts. Kalamkari's elaborate and drawn-out method, together with the use of natural dyes and local instruments, not only identifies it as a unique craft but also secures its sustainability.


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