Kalamkari, literally translated to Pen Craft, is an age old way of fabric decoration. Persian in its origin, this gorgeous craft was made by hand painting, using the eponymous qalam – or using blocks. Today, it is largely made by block printing or screen printing. Many traditional Kalamkari designs are also recreated by digital printing – but this lacks the charm of the original art.
Kalamkari has been practiced largely in Southern India, and its two main styles have developed there only. They are Srikalahasti and Machilipatnam style. While the latter is more influenced by influences from Iran, Hyderabad, Mughal dynasty and Persian arts, the former is the indigenous one with inspirations from flora, fauna and Indian epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata and VedPuranas.
Original Kalamkari uses only vegetable dyes – hence the limitation of a certain color palette and texture. With changing times, new techniques and raw materials have been incorporated. Technically, Kalamkari is a time consuming, meticulous process, involving 17 stages – from preparing the fabric base to applying wax, dyeing, painting and color fixing.
While Kalamkari has been traditionally used for garments as well as home/ bed linen, it is the Kalamkari Saree that wins the race in popularity. Sadly, this beautiful art had been fading at a rapid pace, until recently, when designers as well as women across the country decided to revive this losing craft. You can now routinely see many socialites and Bollywood celebrities flaunting their Kalamkari sarees. Even women going to office and the ones who wear saris on a regular basis can now be seen wearing these hand painted or block printed drapes.
Most of these sarees don’t have painted or block printed patterns all over the saree. Many plain sarees have gorgeous Kalamkari borders and pallus, and they look absolutely stunning as well as very elegant. Silk sarees with Kalamkari prints are also quite popular these days.
For the ones, who do not wish to invest in a Kalamkari saree, there is always the option of getting a lovely Kalamkari blouse. Thankfully, these days, there is no dearth of cotton fabrics with popular Kalamkari patterns of faces, hand gestures or mudras, God faces and flowers. You can get these in beautiful colors and bases, which go with many sarees.
Readymade designer blouses in Kalamkari patterns are also available in the market and online these days. You can pair them with many saris and even your skirts and lehengas. These are quite chic and stylish and can be designed in umpteen ways.
Dresses, gowns, ethnic and fusion Indo Western garments and even Salwar Suits are also made in Kalamkari patterns and prints.
Pair your plain suits and kurtas with Kalamkari dupattas and stoles for that special ethnic edge. This looks very pretty and graceful.
If you don’t wish to wear any dresses or saris with Kalamkari prints, you can still incorporate this ancient craft in your look – by getting purses, clutches, juttis or other footwear and even wraps and stoles in Kalamkari prints and patterns.