It is a cold winter morning. At 7 AM, the Pramanik household is just stirring. They live in a tidy bungalow in Phulia with cows in the backyard and fruit trees all around. Sanjoy Pramanik, 28, is using all these fruit trees to create his natural dyes. Sanjoy works with Bai Lou India, the renowned textile brand that has been working with Bengal cottons for the last twenty years.
In the shed in the back are bubbling pots, each containing different compounds. There is red madder root in one. It will give the yarn an earthy red hue. There is crushed banana in another, green henna in a third. The base is a sodium chloride solution (common salt) which is first boiled, then mixed with crushed fruits, leafs, vegetables or roots and allowed to simmer for hours till the colour gets absorbed in the liquid and reduces in quantity. Then the yarn is added and simmered. And so it goes.
If you would like to make your own natural dye for clothes, read about it here.
Several pots contain indigo. Sanjoy and his brother have tied the yarn in a tie-dye fashion before dipping them into the dissolved solution. And there it will stay for a few hours, overnight, or even days. The steaming, bubbling pot of dye will hold the yarn like a child in the womb.
It will take a few iterations before the dye “catches” and suffuses the yarn with colour. But then, dyeing is patient work. You have to watch and wait. You have to coax the colour to catch in a certain way. You have to pray that the colour will be consistent.
There are many things that are skilled dyer can do, but in the end, it is the combined magic of his hands, his dyes, his technique, and a little bit of luck, that will cause the yarn to come alive in colours that we all wear in our sarees.
Natural dyes are catching on in Phulia. Sanjoy is just one of the weavers who has turned to roots, shoots, leaves and flowers as the base for saree colours.
It is healthier for the planet and softer on the skin. In fact, there is a case to be made that natural dyes are beneficial for the human body.
Economically, customers are willing to pay more for natural dyes which incentivises young weavers to take them up as a challenge. They are harder to do and take more time to create than store-bought chemical yarns.
But for Sanjoy, the process of dyeing his yarn is relaxing and meditative. It has a rhythm that seems aligned with life and the state of being human.