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Indian Block-Printed Textiles in Egypt: The Newberry Collection in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

A catalogue of Newberry's block-printed textiles by Ruth Barnes (published Oxford, 1997).

Indian Block-Printed Textiles in Egypt: The Newberry Collection in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Resist- and mordant-dyeing

Different opinions have been voiced about the terminology to be used for block-printed textiles. Bühler groups all of them under the heading of ‘resist-dyed’ (1972; see below). Irwin and Hall (1971: 4) distinguish between block-printed and resist-dyed textiles; apparently the two are meant to refer to a positive design image (block-printed) and a negative one (resist-printed), respectively. As it is presented, however, the differentiation is confusing. Quite often the block-printed textiles are treated as part of the comprehensive discussion of ‘chintz’ production, chintz referring generally to mordant- and resist-painted or stamped textiles. Particularly relevant in this respect is Irwin and Brett’s study on the origin of chintz (1970), which not only has a descrip­tion of the technical process, but also includes the publication of several eighteenth-century eye-witness accounts of the production [1]. While these descriptions are interesting for their accurate detail, they only have a limited application to the Indo-Egyptian material, much of which pre­dates the eighteenth century. The textile decoration observed in these documents was mainly applied by hand, rather than by block. Furthermore, the colour scale available for eighteenth-century chintz was much wider than the one used in the earlier fragments; the use of yellows and greens, in particular, calls for very different treatment than the mainly blue and red tones in our collection [2]. A large, comprehensive study of the use of natural dyes in Indian textile history was undertaken by Mohanty, Chandramouli, and Naik (1987).

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (1990) decided not to use the term ‘block-printed’ because one of the fragments from Quseir al-Qadim showed no evidence of having been stamped with a block (Quseir cat. no. 1), and she believed that it was ‘hand painted’ (1990: 1, 34). The Newberry Collection has an identical, but much larger fragment [EA1990.1123], which confirms her view that no block was used for the design. Instead of ‘block-printed’ or ‘stamped resist’, which she mentions as an alternative term, she uses the more general term ‘resist’. This was done to accom­modate also a single silk textile found at Quseir al-Qadim which has a genuine bandhani pattern, a form of tie-dye common to north-western India. While ‘resist-dyed’ is likely to be entirely appropriate for the Quseir al-Qadim fabrics, it cannot be applied generally. There are certain problems with using ‘resist’ as a term covering the full range of our type of textile [3].

Resist-dyeing: a problem of definition

The term ‘resist-dyeing’ can refer to several methods of applying a pattern to a fabric. The literature on the techniques and ingredients of resist-dyeing is extensive; Seiler-Baldinger has at least 500-600 separate bibliographical entries in her updated Systematik der textilen Techniken (1991). The standard work that discusses all types of resist techniques is the three-volume study Ikat Batik Plangi, by the textile scholar and ethnologist Alfred Bühler (1972) [4]. The thoroughness of his scholarship and his comprehensive knowledge of the literature must make this study the basis for any further comments, arguments for definition, and references for terminology [5].

Bühler defines as resist-dyeing all those methods of textile patterning where the fabric, or the yarn to become the fabric, is partly protected against the dye (1972: i. 2). Once dyeing has been completed, the resist is removed, and the pattern thus created stands out against the dyed background. The title of Bühler’s study uses the Malay-Indonesian words for three types of resist techniques; the reason for that must be twofold. At least two of the three terms, batik and ikat, have become commonly used in Western languages since Indonesian arts and crafts were introduced to a wider public early in the twentieth century. Secondly, each of the Malay terms is very specifically referring to a particular technique, unlike the general English word ‘tie-dye’, which can be used for both ikat and plangi, i.e. for a tie-dye technique that is carried out either before or after weaving the warp and weft threads together.

Bühler distinguished two basic forms of resist-dyeing. The first, ikat (from Malay and Indonesian for ‘tying, binding’), refers to a patterning technique where the designs are tied into the warp, weft, or both, prior to weaving. The threads are set up on a frame, motifs are tied off with knots that will resist the dye, and the skeins are then immersed in the dye bath. The process may be repeated if more than one colour is required. The design of the fabric is therefore created before the fabric itself is woven, and it is the weaving that facilitates the viewing of the pattern. In this case, the relationship of warp to weft is crucial for the effective appearance of the motifs. For warp ikat (where the design is tied into the warp), the weave has to be warp-faced, and the weft threads should be visually insignificant [6]. Weft ikat needs a weave that allows the weft to be most prominent; technically this requires a loom that uses the reed. The reed serves as a warp spacer and allows the fabric to be weft-faced. For the most complicated form of ikat, where both warp and weft are tied and combined to give the image (double ikat), the weave needs to be balanced. The finest examples of double ikat in India are the patola of Gujarat (Bühler and Fischer 1979).

The second form of resist-dyeing is done on the woven fabric. There are several techniques of applying a resist to the fabric prior to dyeing; Bühler lists the following (1972: i. 2-3, 130 ff.):

1. folding the textile and fixing it between two boards;

2. folding the textile and inserting a sewing thread, which tightly binds parts of the fabric (tritik);

3. wrapping parts of the textile;

4. tying the textile partly with knots (plangi);

5. placing stencils on the textile [7];

6. covering the textile partly with a pliable paste or wax (batik);

7. leaving parts of the textile untreated when a mordant is applied, so that the fabric will not  accept the dye on the areas not covered with the mordant.

The techniques are all discussed separately by Bühler in the first volume of his study; the introduction includes a set of schematic drawings showing the effect of each technique (1972: i. 4-5).

While methods 1 to 6 are relatively easy to identify as resist-dye techniques, the last method is fundamentally different. It does not actually use a resist; by Bühler’s definition the ‘resist’ in this case is the unprepared part of the fabric, which will not react to the dye, hence will remain the original colour. In my opinion this method of dye application should not be defined as a resist-dye technique. The problem of confusion is particularly unavoidable when writing in English, where the term ‘resist-dye’ has become the accepted technical term. Bühler, writing in German, uses the appropriate term ‘Reservemusterung’ which—like the English literal equivalent of ‘reserve patterning’—has a slightly wider meaning than ‘resist’. It can refer to the actual application of a resist on to the fabric, to keep the dye from penetrating the resisted area; however, it could also describe the exclusion of parts of the surface from an application, as happens when the mordant is applied only to some areas, while others remain reserved from it. However, if we were now to call for replacing the term ‘resist’ with a German-inspired ‘reserve technique’, new problems may result. The English term is exceptionally useful for its precision of meaning. I propose that it is kept as the correct term for textiles where a resist is actually applied to the cloth. Where a mordant is used instead of, or in addition to, the resist, this should be indicated. This particular way of defining the technique is already adopted in Mattiebelle Gittinger’s chapter on Indo-Egyptian textiles (1982: 30-57). She uses it in her illustration captions, although she does not discuss problems of terminology in any detail.

Visually, the fabrics of the entire collection can be divided into three main groups, most of them likely to be of Indian origin; as has been mentioned in Chapter 1, one of these groups is subdivided into two parts. In addition there are textiles that share certain technical aspects with the main body of the collection, but also display distinct differences, in particular in design and fibre used. The most obvious indicator for the division is colour. The first group is dyed blue, the second adds various shades of red to the natural white of the cotton. This requires the preparation of the cloth with a mordant before it is dyed. In this category, we find the subdivision: the catalogue generally distinguishes between textiles which show the use of only one mordant, and a more elaborate use of mordant-dyeing that produced very subtle variations of all tones of red, from pale pink to dark purple. The third group combines both red and blue. The fragments that deviate in one way or another usually follow towards the end of each group. They tend not to be Indian; but I decided not to separate them from the appropriate colour group and create a fourth category.

Textiles dyed blue

The first group is made up entirely of textiles that have been dyed blue over the natural colour of the cotton fabric. Prior to dyeing a resist was applied to cover parts of the fabric. The resist preserves the colour it covers, so that in this case the effect is blue and white. The process is commonly known by its Malay and Indonesian term, batik, as the technique is highly developed on Java. There are 267 fragments in the collection that are dyed blue only, of which 3 are probably not of Indian origin [8].

As technically the stages of production are more straightforward for these textiles than for those needing mordant application, they are discussed first, both here and in the catalogue. They are true resist-dyed textiles. In almost all cases the resist was applied by block. The patterns are generally created by the resist, so that the design appears white against a blue background. Large-scale patterns have at least white outlines, although parts of the design may be represented as blue against a white background (e.g. [EA1990.211] and [EA1990.218]). The blocks, therefore, usually would have had the patterns raised, rather than retracted into the surface. This applies specifically to the blue and white textiles, but not necessarily to the cloth dyed red.

The size of the blocks used can sometimes be measured from an inaccurate match of design or the repetition of a fault. Most commonly, rectangular blocks were used, with a typical size of approximately 14 cm. x 8 cm. Square blocks also were employed; these were usually smaller in size, e.g. 6 cm. x 6 cm [9]. [EA1990.140] is an example of a block with irregular, though parallel sides used to print the resist of the main design. For most of the blue and white textiles, sets of single blocks were sufficient, with different ones for borders and alterations in patterns. Exceptions are, for example, [EA1990.220, EA1990.221, and EA1990.250] where parts of the design were covered with resist after the first dye-bath, when the blue was still light. In these examples a second block was used to achieve the effect, which in parts matched the first, so that the different shades of colour could be built up. In some other instances the patches to remain light blue were hand-drawn with resist, as in [EA1990.215, EA1990.216, and EA1990.217].

Bühler believed that many of the Indo-Egyptian textiles were printed with resist from both sides (1972: i. 163). This is present-day practice for producing a particular type of ajrakh called bi-puri in Sindh (Bilgrami 1990: 69). It is also customary in the best quality block-printing done in Gujarat. However, the less expensive and also more commonly exported textiles are printed on the surface only, as can be confirmed from current Indian imports as well as from the overwhelming evidence from the collections of historical Indo-Egyptian textiles. I have closely inspected the collection in Basel with which Bühler was most familiar, and I disagree with his opinion that it was common to print the textiles on both sides. One side of the fabric almost always shows more dye saturation than the other, and on the same side often appear hairline cracks, where some of the dye has seeped into the fabric. This is characteristic of Javanese batik, as well, if only one side of the fabric has been waxed. Some cracks also appear on the surface, although to a lesser degree.

It is possible that a wax resist was used for many of the fragments, as numerous hairline cracks are characteristic of the material. Present-day block-printing more commonly uses starch-based or mud pastes, but the use of wax is also reported (Sreenivasam 1989: 31). It was certainly used in the chintz production of south-eastern India (Schwartz, in Irwin and Schwartz 1966: 87-8).

It is virtually certain that the source of blue was a species of the Indigofera plant. In most of Asia, indigo was used as the main source for blue, but it is impossible to identify the species from which the dye came, as the chemical substance indoxyl is common to all, as well as to other plants that produce blue dye, such as the woad plant (Isatis tinctoria). In the seventeenth century Indian textiles dyed with a high-quality blue were seen as a serious threat to the trade of Europe. The indigenous European source of blue, woad, was a major economic factor in northern Germany, as well as southern France, not only as a source of dye, but by extension as a tax base (Vetterli 1951: 3068). For that reason, the import and use of indigo were seen as rivalling an important local industry, with economically detrimental effects (Gittinger 1982: 23). However, it is known that dye stuff for producing blue was exported from India to the Mediterranean at an early date, and this is likely to have been indigo. In fact the name ‘indigo’ derives from the Greek indikón, that is, a substance from India (Balfour-Paul 1992: 99). The first-century CE Periplus of the Erythrian Sea also refers to indigo (Casson 1989: 75). Although indigo production was widely distributed, there were areas that were particularly well known for the quality of dye. Apart from north-western India, the Yemen was, until recently, a famous source of indigo. In the Arab world, other important cultivation areas were formerly the Jordan valley, the oases of Upper Egypt, the Fayyum, and the Nile Delta (Balfour-Paul 1992: 99).

The production of indigo dye requires that the dye agent indican, which is found in the leaves of the plant, be transformed into indoxyl. This happens when the leaves are soaked in water. Once it ferments, the liquid is strongly beaten and stirred, to introduce oxygen. This converts the indoxyl to indigotin, the actual dye stuff. A blue precipitate eventually settles on the bottom of the vat. For the commercial manufacture of indigo this blue sludge is dried into hard, easily transportable cakes of indigo dye. It was in this form that the dye was widely traded [10]. The indigo cakes can be dissolved in water; by adding an alkaline solution, in the form of lime chalk, the proper dye liquid is produced. Either threads or fabrics can now be dyed in the vat. The true depth of blue will not be visible on them until the items are taken out of the dye vat: it only appears through oxydation, as the yarn or fabric is lifted out of the vat.

It has been generally assumed that until the eighteenth century it was not possible to apply indigo blue directly to the surface of a fabric, but that one had to use an immersion method (Irwin and Hall 1971: 5). In the eighteenth century the orpiment vat method was invented in Europe, which allowed the blue to be applied to the surface. All signs indicating the surface application of indigo blue have therefore been used as evidence for a later date, and for having been produced with the technical knowledge of the European invention. However, Mattiebelle Gittinger has suggested that there may have been an independent invention in India, which allowed for the application of indigo blue directly on to the surface. As evidence she refers to textile hangings from south India which definitely predate the European invention by as much as 100 years (Gittinger 1989: 7, 10).

Indigo can be the source of all shades of blue, from very pale to almost black. It can also be com­bined with other dyes, to produce green or purple. The evidence from the collection suggests that a deep, strong blue was most desirable, as the textiles that show a certain degree of care in the block-printing are also usually dyed a strong, clear blue that has remained surprisingly vivid. There also are examples, as noted above, of different shades of blue within one textile, which was the result of adding further resist to some parts of the textile before the full depth of blue was achieved.

Textiles dyed red

The second group of textiles was dyed with the help of a mordant, a technique that is prerequisite to achieving any shade of pink, red, purple, or brown. Some dyes, such as indigo and the murex that produces purple, result in fast colours without requiring additional treatment. Most vegetable dyes connected with a red colour effect, though, require the use of a mordant to merge permanently with the fibre. The mordant is a chemical that combines with the dye and attaches the colorant to the fibre.

The red dye itself can be extracted from several plants, but for it to ‘take’ on cotton fibre, the fibre needs to be prepared with a mordant in all cases. There is no evidence for the use of insect dyes, such as kermes or lac, on the cotton fragments. The mordants used in India were (and are) alum and iron, as well as tannin. Alum (aluminium) produces all shades of pink to red. Iron, in the form of old nails or horse-shoe shavings, may be put into an acidic substance (such as palmwine gone sour) and, when combined with tannin, can be used as the mordant to create dark to black tones. Using alum and iron together may result in purple. Additional ingredients, such as pomegranate seeds or rind, can vary the shades achieved.

Dye was extracted from the roots of the madder plant or the morinda shrub. The major source for red in north-western India was madder, Rubia tinctorum, which produces an alizarine dye. Madder was grown in India, but it was also imported from Persia and Armenia. The second important dye plant producing red was morinda (Morinda citrifolia), a small tree that grows in India and South-East Asia. It is commonly used as a dye plant in north-western India, as well as in Indonesia, where it is in particular associated with cotton warp ikat [11]. The root, and sometimes the bark, of the tree is finely pounded, so that the dye, morindone, can be released. A third dye plant used for red in India is called chay (Oldenlandia umbellata), but this was more common on the Coromandel Coast. The dye analysis carried out on 30 textiles with red showed that 20 had been dyed with madder, 9 with morinda, and only 1 [EA1990.1165] could have used either chay or a synthetic alizarine [12].

The mordant liquid in present-day production is usually mixed with a wheat or rice flour paste to make it suitable for printing. The printed mordant does not always soak through completely to the reverse of the fabric, so that, unless the reverse is also printed, the design is clear and precise in outline on the surface, but only partly visible on the reverse. Many examples of this can be found among the mordant-dyed textiles of the collection [EA1990.718]. However it is also common for the reverse to show considerably more dye saturation than the surface. Where this is the case, it would suggest that the fabric was first printed with a resist, and the mordant was then applied in liquid form, either by brushing it on to the fabric, or by dipping it in a solution that contained the mordant.

Where the resist covered the surface, no mordant could be absorbed. Then the textile could be put into the dye-bath that contained the red colorant. It is important to realize that the mordant itself does not colour the fabric: it merely makes it possible for the fibre to respond to the dye. Where the fabric has been treated with the mordant, it retains the colorant, while untreated parts will not keep the dye when the fabric is rinsed. It is possible, therefore, to apply a resist to the surface, immerse the cloth in a mordant-containing solution, and then immerse it again in the dye-bath. Furthermore, by varying the ingredients of the mordant mixture for different areas of the fabric, different colour results can be achieved with a single dye-bath.

Theoretically, the resist-treated fabric could be placed into a solution that contained both the mordant and the alizarine or morindone dye. This method of combining the dye with the mordant is commonly used in eastern Indonesia, but there it is done for the dyeing of ikat-tied thread, as well as for skeins that have no resist applied, and different criteria apply [13]. For our Indian textiles this method probably could not be used.

It is possible that the combination of resist and mordant application was the earlier one, as all the fragments found at Quseir al-Qadim that show evidence for the use of mordant display this particular technique, and all with one exception have more dye saturation on the reverse of the textile than on the surface. The one exception consists of four fragments, almost certainly originally of one fabric (Vogelsang-Eastwood 1990: cat. nos. 22, 23, 41). Their pattern is made up of small squares with a stepped diamond inside, alternating with eight-petalled rosettes, both red on the natural ground of the cotton. Superficially one may assume that the design was made by stamping a mordant on to the fabric. However, after extensive inspection it seemed most likely that each motif was resist-printed and then brushed over with a liquid mordant solution [14]. The dye saturation is virtually identical on both sides. Very slight, accidental red brush strokes reveal that the mordant was actually not printed, but was applied over the resist. We have here, therefore, a textile design that visually moves towards a mordant-printed effect, but technically does not achieve it. It might in fact be evidence for a technical change on its way.

There also are many textiles in the collection that show signs of both mordant-printing and mordant-immersion; the fine, purple outlines of designs are almost inevitably printed, while the red background may show signs of immersion in a mordant-containing liquid. The collection has a total of 627 that have been dyed with the aid of mordants alone, usually resulting in designs of various shades of red or brown.

Briefly again, the question of definition brought up earlier in this chapter ought to be considered. We now can say that, for the textiles dyed red, there is evidence that many of them received a block-printed resist prior to the application of the mordant (or, in some cases, mordants). The description of the catalogue identifies these as ‘block-printed resist, mordant applied, dyed [red]’. These textiles can all be correctly defined as resist-dyed. However, there also is a large group of textiles that shows that the mordant was mixed with a printable substance and stamped directly on to the fabric, as is commonly done today in Gujarat and Rajasthan (Ill. 13). It is possible that this technique was historically a later development, as the brief discussion of the technical peculiarities of the Quseir al-Qadim textiles suggests. Printing the mordant would have simplified the cloth production process. The removal of the resist was thereby eliminated, which meant of course a reduction in labour. It also meant that different mordants, for variations in colour effect, could be applied with far greater precision and speed: they could be block-printed rather than laboriously applied by hand. This change in technology, however, in my opinion also definitely implies a move away from resist-dyeing. It is important to identify the differences, although they evolved out of related fields. Both resist- and mordant-printing were usually done with blocks in our textiles. This distinguishes the Indo-Egyptian textiles from the artistically far more complex brush-painted chintzes. However, as far as technical terminology is concerned, what the two have in common is that they combine the two methods, using both resist- and mordant-application prior to dyeing. The chintzes and the predominantly block-printed textiles of north-western India are, in general, not related to easel painting, where a pigment is applied directly to the surface.

Textiles dyed red and blue

Finally, a third group of 253 fragments shows evidence of both blue and red dyeing [15]. With the exception of one textile [EA1990.983], all seem to have been mordant-dyed first, and then dyed blue. This means that the textile was either prepared with a resist first, then applied with mordant and dyed with alizarine and/or morindone, or a mordant paste was prepared and the textile was stamped with it before immersing it in the dye solution. The second dye process would have been the indigo application over an additional resist, so that all parts that were to remain red (or any related colour, from pink to deep purple and black) were covered. In the majority of fragments, the indigo was clearly applied over a resist, i.e. by vat immersion. There are a few textiles, though, where the blue may have been applied without the use of resist, i.e. as a direct surface application. The instances of this method come, in particular, from this third, polychrome group of textiles; examples are [EA1990.973] and [EA1990.1018]. As was discussed above, this by itself is not necessarily proof of a relatively late date.

There is no technical reason, however, for not reversing the sequence and completing the indigo-dyeing prior to the mordant-dyeing. Bilgrami mentions one possible sequence for a type of ajrakh where the outlines of patterns are printed with either a resist or the mordant paste (depending on the desired colour of the outlines: whether they were to be white, or any tone of red or dark purple to black); in addition the large areas to be dyed red have to be covered with a resist. Then the fabric can be dyed with indigo. As a next step, the larger red areas are dyed, which require the removal of some resist first. Finally, a further indigo bath is used. This, of course, describes contemporary production in the Sindh, and over the centuries the practices may have changed.

One of the textiles from Quseir al-Qadim which have both red and blue colours combined, shows a very complex and accomplished use of dye techniques (Ill. 6) [16]. While Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood had only several very fragmentary pieces available to base her analysis on, the find has an exact counterpart in the Newberry Collection [EA1990.1123]. As the Newberry textile is considerably larger, it is possible to make definite observations about the technical construction of the piece, and these confirm Vogelsang-Eastwood’s comments. There is a discrepancy in the thread-count of the two textiles, though. The Newberry textile has a count of 20 x 20 per cm2, while Vogelsang- Eastwood published 9 x 20 cm2 for the Quseir al-Qadim fragment. This suggests the dominance of one thread system over the other, which I do not recall from seeing the actual textile, and which also does not translate into the detail photograph (Vogelsang-Eastwood 1990: 117). I suspect that when the count was done it was not carried out on a representative part of the fabric. The Newberry fragment shows a continuous design of white and blue stylized plants against a pink background; the background is completely covered with white tendrils and little bunches of fruit. Over the entire fragment, which measures 35 cm x 13.5 cm, there is no indication of the regular repeat of patterns that one finds in block-printed textiles. Furthermore, the design of the background tendrils, in particular, is freely drawn. This makes it virtually certain that the textile was not block-printed, but hand-applied with resist. That a resist was used, rather than a paste containing the mordant, becomes clear if one inspects the reverse of the textile. It shows more dye penetration than the surface, as occurs when a resist is applied to one side only (the surface). The sequence of resist and dye application apparently was as follows. First a resist was drawn on to the fabric; this was followed by the application of a liquid mordant and the immersion in the alizarine bath. After the usual drying, removal, and reapplication of resist, the cloth was dyed blue. Again it is certain from the outlines of the blue areas that the second resist application was also done by hand. The close parallels between the Quseir fragment and the Newberry textile are particularly interesting as this design is one in a sequence that shows great variety in elaboration (see Chapter 7).

Non-Indian printed textiles

As mentioned above, there are clearly some that are not of Indian origin. In addition there are certain textiles that may or may not be Indian, but are not specific enough to be given a provenance. Similar material appears in most collections of so-called ‘Fustat textiles’. As most of the important collections were brought together before the Indian origin of many of the fragments was finally established by Pfister (1938), it is possible that the criteria for selection were based on the technique of decoration, i.e. printing, and on the assumption that the fragments were possibly of some historical interest.

Many of the non-Indian textile fragments stand apart because of their designs. Some, however, also show in addition certain technical peculiarities. One group in particular, made up of 32 fragments, is of a light to dark grey colour [17]. Three of these were included in the dye analysis [18]. There was no trace of either alizarine or morindone, nor was indigotin present. However, tannin was found, which must have produced the grey colour. In all textiles, the colour was probably produced by printing an iron-based substance on to the surface and then immersing the cloth in a liquid containing tannin, rather than by using a resist and immersion method. Seven of the fragments in the group are not cotton, but flax, 5 of them woven from a z-spun thread, 2 with s-twist [19]. One textile [EA1990.465] is of s-spun cotton. Unlike the cotton cloth of Gujarat, all examples of which are z-spun, in Egypt both s-and z-spin occur. The spin direction found in fibres, whether it be s, z, or an apparently indiscriminate use of both, seems to be culturally determined, as was discussed in the previous chapter.

Visually, the entire group is quite different from the majority of the Indian designs. This aspect will be discussed in the section on provenance. If one adds the technical peculiarities, it is certain that these textiles do not have an Indian origin. There are 58 textiles that have additional colours, many of them probably from synthetic dyes [20]. These may or may not be of Indian origin; many of them could even be European prints. One very large textile, evidently a sampler of designs, is cer­tainly Indian, but of nineteenth-century date [21].


[1] There are three accounts: the frequently referred to report written by de Beaulieu in c.1734, Father Coeurdoux's letters of 1742 and 1747, and the 1795 Roxburgh account of Indian cotton-painting. All three reports were edited and commented on by P. R. Schwartz, originally for publication in the Journal of Indian Textile History (vols. 2-4).

[2] Exceptions can be found in textiles of a later, probably 19th century date. These comments here are about the main body of the collection.

[3] See J. Herald's review of Vogelsang-Eastwood's catalogue (Herald 1993).

[4] Alfred Bühler had a lifelong interest in the technique and historical distribution of different forms of resist-dyed textiles. As curator at the Museum für Völkerkunde in Basel, Switzerland, he brought together a superb collection of textiles, and his own work and that of his students have done much to further our understanding of the history and production of fabrics. The culmination of his own research was the publication of The Patola of Gujarat (Bühler and Fischer 1979). Collaborative work with his students resulted in, for example, Bühler, Fischer, and Nabholz (1980). His influence on his students' research is clearly evident in Seiler-Baldinger (1973; rev. edn. 1991) and Nabholz-Kartaschoff (1969; 1986).

[5] The second volume of the study, which contains all bibliographical information, gives 618 titles. Not all of them directly refer to resist-dye techniques, but many of them are relevant to this field.

[6] This is easily achieved on a backstrap loom without a reed, as used commonly in the weaving of Indonesian warp ikat textiles (Barnes 1989).

[7] In the detailed discussion he expands this category to include clamp resist-dyeing, where the cloth is pressed between two boards (1972: i. 139-56; cf. Bühler and Fischer 1974).

[8] The relevant catalogue numbers are [EA1990.9] to [EA1990.276], with [EA1990.268, EA1990.269, and EA1990.270] as the three exceptions.

[9] [EA1990.134] is an example for the use of a square block, sized 5.5 cm x 5.5 cm. Rectangular blocks can be made out in [EA1990.43] (14.5 cm x 8.5 cm) [EA1990.54] (14 cm x 8.5 cm)[EA1990.56] (12.5 cm x 9 cm). The length of one block side is visible in [EA1990.107] and [EA1990.108], where in both cases the length is 14.5 cm.

[10] Indigo cakes from India remained in demand in Islamic textile-producing centres until recently. J. Balfour-Paul has shown me a piece of Indian indigo she was given in Aleppo in the 1980s, with the information that it had been imported earlier this century. Synthetic indigo has now virtually replaced the plant product.

[11] At present synthetic dyes are used predominantly. However, there is currently a growing interest in India in reviving the use of plant dyes.

[12] If it was a synthetic alizarine the textile would have to date from after 1870. Stylistically this is quite possible.

[13] I have myself observed this procedure (Barnes 1989: 29).

[14] This was pointed out to me by Deryn O'Connor, who has had many years of practical experience with mordant dyeing.

[15] The relevant numbers are [EA1990.904] to [EA1990.1154], as well as [EA1990.1233]. Several textiles towards the end of the catalogue also include blue but are not included in this group, because they seem stylistically different in design and probably were not made in India. Even where they are Indian, they are not immediately relevant to the discussion of the early historical textiles.

[16] There were apparently only 3 fragments found at the site that are both blue and red in colour (Vogelsang-Eastwood 1990: cat. nos. 1, 2, 30).

[17] The sequence of catalogue numbers referred to here is [EA1990.437] to [EA1990.468].

[18] [EA1990.437], [EA1990.441], and [EA1990.461]

[19] The fragments are [EA1990.440], [EA1990.441], [EA1990.444], [EA1990.456], [EA1990.468] (all z-spun), and [EA1990.450] and [EA1990.453] (s-spun).

[20] The relevant catalogue numbers are [EA1990.1166] to [EA1990.1189], [EA1990.1195], and [EA1990.1197] to [EA1990.1231].

[21] This is [EA1990.1196]. It seems that the various shades of red and purple in the cloth were created by mordant manipulation alone, without any use of indigotin.


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