Diy | Living


Apr 26, 2022 | Akshay Maharkhede

The art of hand-painted textile work is practised in many parts of the world. One of which very famous work styles has been practised in Isfahan, Iran & in India. Kalamkari is derived from 'Kalam' (pen) and 'Kari' (art), words taken from the Persian for hand-painted art by cell. The use of block printing is also there in kalamkari & the other one is yazma, practised in turkey.

Kalamkari was born out of ancient storytelling techniques, and people used to draw it on canvas while performing stories. There are different product categories of this art available in the market, Primarily sarees.


It is an ancient art of colouring the textile material. The textile is painted with a brush or the use of a freely carved wooden block; some countries like India & turkey are very famous for their traditional handpainted textile work.


Kalamkari is a complex natural dyed hand-painting technique, an intricate and time-consuming process including various styles and raw materials. Natural materials are components used in the process, and it takes patience & hardwork. Here are some naturally obtained materials used in the process of kalamkari.

  •  Myrobalan: Used to make the black colour permanent on fabric

  •  Buffalo milk: Avoids spreading of colours on fabric

  •  Alum: Used as a mordant

  •  Iron rust solution: Black colour is obtained by fermenting iron rust using jaggery

  • Charcoal pencil: For drawing

  • Alizarin: Used to obtain red colour

  • Manjistha: Used to obtain pale red colour

  •  Pomegranate peel: Used to obtain yellow colour
  •  Indigo: Used to obtain blue colour

Different dye sources are used to prepare dye; here is the list of the natural dyes & their heads. Click here

  • Kalamkari pen: The Kalamkari pen is made of a bamboo stick, sharpened at the end; the fabric is wrapped around a shaft with a particular pattern, and the thread is tied to a cotton cloth to protect the material in the required position. When soaked in dye, the cotton fabric acts as a filler and is used on fabric.

                                                This is the summary of the steps of doing kalamkari


This process involves 23 steps. We started by cleaning the Kalamkari cloth, moisturizing it, drying it in the sun, preparing natural dyes from different natural sources, drawing, drying the air, and washing. The whole process is complex and requires an eye for detail; we have made it easy to understand in a few steps.

Fabric Preparation: The fabric sourced is washed and soaked in plain water for two days to remove starch and dry. After drying the material, the material is soaked in a mix of Myrobalan fruit powder and buffalo milk. Myrobalan helps make the colour permanent on the fabric, whereas buffalo milk helps hold the colour in place. A material with a width of 45 inches and length of 6 meters will require 200 grams of Myrobalan powder mixed with 1.5- 2 litres of buffalo milk for treating the fabric. Kalamkari handmade paintings are created on various materials like Pure Cotton, Pure Silk, Chiffon, georgette and chanderi.

                                    Making fabric ready for drawing design after myrobalan treatment

Pigment preparation:

These colours are traditionally procured from natural sources like
fruits, seeds, leaves, and minerals. Natural dyes are extracted from plants and their different parts like bark, roots, fruits, flowers, and other parts of plants and some natural minerals. Natural dyeing is a traditional practice done by many artisanal communities in different countries, and it has a significant play in the sustainable textile industry.

                                                            Making colours ready for dyeing

Tracing & Drawing : 

Firstly the fabric is stretched & tied to the end of the table tightly. Now the actual drawing starts, in the drawing process very skilful & experienced artisans are required as it requires elegant & precise work.
                                Tracing & Drawing The Design On The Fabric With A Pencil

Tracing is done for very intricate & unfamiliar designs. First, artisans draw the design on butter paper & then make small holes on the outlines of the document following the technique. Then the butter paper is placed over the fabric & the black powder is sprinkled on the paper forming the design impression. The tracing sheet is then stored in a cloth, and black powder is sprayed on the edges of the design, creating an image impression on the fabric.

                                                                    Drawing border using kalamkari pen

Painting Preparation :

Making the kalam (pen): The kalamkari pen comprises a
bamboo stick that is sharpened on one end, wrapped with cotton
cloth rolled up near the sharpened end. Finally, the open is ready.

Painting : 

Maroon colour and alum are mixed to form a solution, alum is colourless & also acts as a bright colour in paint, and it is a natural acidic that makes the colour stick firmly to the fabric. The areas, which should be filled with red/maroon colour, are first painted and left to dry under sunlight for 1 to 2 days until the fabric absorbs the stain completely.
                                     This Stage includes coloring started with dark colours

Then the fabric is washed multiple times till the extra alum is removed. The fabric is dried in sunlight & boiled in water at boiling temperature. This fabric is again treated with milk dried. Here milk acts as resistance to resist the colour to penetrate while painting. Finally, the material is painted using a kalamkari pen with natural colours added with alum.
                                        One by one, colouring is done following the design

Finally, wet cotton is gently pressed into the coloured area to remove excess colour for finishing. The cloth is dipped in warm water to remove alum and extra colour, and then it is washed with running water to remove impurities and iron. And this is how your artwork is ready for packaging.

                                Finally, the fabric is washed in running water followed by warm water
                                                    Finally, the fabric is ready for ironing & packaging

If you are looking to buy great kalamkari products, you can check them out here

                                                                            Kalamkari Jackets on ETSY

Yazma- Turkish handpainted textile work

Very similar to kalamkari, the textile is painted with a brush called "kalam", or the use of a freely carved wooden mould. The major centers of this art during the Ottoman period were Amasra, Bartin, Diyarbakir, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Kastamonu, Tokat, Yozgat and Zile. Specimens from Istanbul came to prominence with their handpainted 'Kandilli' fabrics. 

  • Creating such handcrafted pieces of fabric begins with pre-painted designs on paper on a piece of cloth stretched over a wooden frame. 

  • The frames are first traced using a brush only, and the areas to be painted are then filled in precisely as if drawing. This type of printing is also known as 'hand printers'.

  • In the mixed method, the frames begin to print on the fabric with a wooden block, and the colours are then filled with the brush(kalam). In block printing, black paintings and coloured areas are applied to the fabric using the appropriate wooden block. If you want to learn this technique, check out this workshop. Click here

                                        Custom Hand Painted Vintage Levi's Jeans


  • Iron the fabric is chosen & place it on any wooden frame or painting stand such that it will not move, pin it if necessary. 

  • Draw your artwork on the fabric, and use trace paper to detail the work.

  • Get the best acrylic colour for fabric painting, and start painting gently.

  • Remember, it's the fabric we are painting, don't give much pressure as it can lead to penetrating the colour in an unwanted area.

  • Dry the fabric; also, you can iron it from the opposite side to get the best result.


You can use any of the 100% cotton or any other natural fabric with dense weaving for painting. You can do it on light fabrics too, but always remember, as thick as the material is better, the artwork/print will look. Canvas is a well-known example, but you can also paint jeans, upholstery, curtains, throw pillows, wall hangings etc.


Following modern-day textile painting, acrylic colours are best for painting any fabric like jeans or canvas or any other material with dense weaving.

Acrylic is fast-drying & easily forms layers on fabric to apply another colour.

If you want to learn naturally and paint, please read this blog in detail. 

Acrylic paints are best for painting any fabric. 

                                        Acrylic paints are best for painting any fabric 


Hand-painting textile is an ancient style of textile colouration technique; there are many countries traditionally practising it. Be it in turkey, Isfahan, Iran & India, it's been practised. Well, initially, this was done with only natural colours. Kalamkari was born out of ancient storytelling techniques, and people used to draw it on canvas while performing stories. The textile is painted with a brush or the use of a freely carved wooden block. But adopting fast fashion now days even simple acrylic colours are used for painting the fabric. Painting shoes & jeans is a running trend everywhere to customize your wardrobe. 

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