A wide range of plants is used for dyeing cloth in South Asia. The development of synthetic dyes in the late 19th century led to a decrease in the use of natural dyes. Synthetic dyes are easy to obtain, and sometimes, have brighter and longer lasting colours. However, the traditional use of natural dyes has survived, and there is now increasing interest in their use.
Painting of a printer/dyer with his fabrics and equipment. He is block printing fabric at the top of the image, while the bottom shows the initial dying process.
There are three main techniques of colouring cloth with dye. In block-printing or painting, the dye is applied to the surface of the cloth. This is not possible with indigo, but other plant dyes such as turmeric are used. In block-printing, the bottom of a large wooden block is carved into the required pattern. The pattern is in relief, so picks up the link and prints the pattern onto the cloth. Dyes can also be painted onto fabric. In the art of kalamkari, the cloth is given a firm surface by soaking it in buffalo milk and drying. Some colours - mainly dark ones - are then painted onto the cloth.
In resist-dyeing, a pattern is made on the cloth with wax or a cloth. When the cloth is dipped in a dye, the covered parts of the cloth will not be dyed.
In tie-dyeing, parts of the fabric are tied up, resulting in uneven take-up of dye. This can be used to create very complex patterns.
These techniques were very often combined to produce the required effect.