Monday, March 08, 2010

Fabric Puzzle

Like Carolyn, I have a well-aged fabric collection.  Stashes are shameful things.  My fabric collection was lovingly curated over the years--a source of creative joy, not shame.  Here is one example. 

I bought this fabric in the early 1990s.  I don't remember where I got it, but it wasn't very expensive; I was living on a grad student budget at the time.  I bought about 5 yards of this medium-weight, smooth cotton.

When I got it home and took a good look at it, I couldn't figure out how it was made.  It is clearly batik, because the white resist areas are the same on both sides.  But how did they dye it with two complementary colors (opposite each other on the color wheel) without making a brown mess of the whole thing?

I used the fabric in several quilts.  About halfway through with the yardage, I realized that I had to conserve it.  I have not seen such fabric in the stores since and I have to keep some in my collection.

Life is serendipitous.  I once sat on an airplane next to a gentlemen from Chennai (Madras), one of the great textile centers of the world.  He now lives in the US and makes his living importing fabric.  I described my fabric puzzle to him.  He knew what I was taking about immediately.

He said that the fabric was stamped with wax and then rolled upright between two dye spreaders.  The dye viscosity, speed at which the fabric moves and the fabric thickness had to be perfectly calibrated so that the dyes cover each side, but do not bleed though into one another.  He said that only a few manufacturers had the equipment and the know-how.

I asked him why I can't find that more fabric like it.

He said it was because it would be too expensive for the American market.

"How much is too expensive?" I asked.

"Oh, it would be 50 cents a yard wholesale in Chennai."  (This was in ~2000.)

Are you kidding!?!  How much would it cost to import and sell this magical fabric in the states?

I know Bangalore is not Chennai, but my neighbor from Chennai says that, anything you can buy in Chennai, you can also find in Bangalore.  (Of course, she doesn't sew so she doesn't know if this applies to fabric.)  Perhaps Eric and Celeste can show this picture to merchants in Bangalore to see if they can buy some.


  1. That's beautiful - I'd buy some in a heartbeat! Maybe Eric should be a fabric exporter from Bangalore in hi s psare time?

  2. oooooh, neat! I would buy some too--my stash, er, fabric collection, has some room left...I think. Let us know if you find a source for this!!

  3. I have some beautiful cloth I brought home from Malaysia, and some that my sister brought home from Africa (she was in the Peace Corps in Niger many years ago), so I guess I have a bit of a collection, too. The difference is that I don't sew, so mine just sits, waiting for me to figure out something to do with it....


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