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Kalamkari, a craft, a tradition

Sometimes you find inspirations in the most unexpected places, like I did for this post. I was clearing up my old greeting cards (yes, I am a hoarder), and I came across a beautiful yellow card with floral prints in the Kalamkari style! Well, this card was from 1998, the year my sister got married, hence extremely significant. So,  when I saw this, I knew it was a sign :).

Kalamakari – a craft

Kalamkari is an exquisite ancient craft of painted and printed fabrics. It derives it’s name from ‘Kalam’ meaning Pen, and ‘Kari’ meaning work, literally ‘Pen-work’. The fabrics are either hand painted or block printed with vegetable dyes. Kalamkari was first noticed by the Portuguese who called it `Pintado’, then the Dutch called it `sitz’ and ultimately the English called it `Chintz’. So, where does Kalamkari come from? The South-east coast of India, also known as the ‘coromandel coast’ is known to be the centre of Kalamkari with two different styles – one from Srikalahasti and the other from Masulipatnam. While the styles are different, the technique is very similar. There is a third school of Kalamkari too called Karrupur developed under the Marathas of Tanjore but more about this dying craft in another post.

Different kinds of Kalamkari

We sometimes don’t appreciate the effort that goes in to making these beautiful works of art, but knowing more about the craft and the process certainly amazed me! The kalamkari from Masulipatnam involves 12 steps and the one from Srikalahasti involves 17! The motifs from the two styles are starkly different, so you can easily identify where your kalamkari piece is coming from. If the themes are from the Hindu mythology, epics (Ramayana, Mahabharata), images of Gods and heroes then it is coming from Srikalahasti and has been directly painted on with the pen made from bamboo sticks with cotton wrapped to it! If you see floral patterns, with influence from Persian motifs and designs, then it is from Masulipatnam where the fabric has been block printed!

making-kalamkari
The ‘Kalam’ spinning it’s magic via
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Wooden blocks that are used for making the Masulipatnam style Kalamkari fabric via

If you like to more about the history, the process and other trivia, click here. I found this article very interesting!

Most of us have probably worn a kalamkari sari, dupatta, scarf , salwar suit or dress at some point.  Here’s a glimpse of Kalamkari in the world of apparel!

Finest mulmul with a Kalamkari print ... via
Finest mulmul with a Kalamkari print … via
Stunning summer dress with a Kalamkari print ... via
Stunning summer dress with a Kalamkari print … via
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This chic outfit is from Asmita Marwa’s Kalamkari collectionvia
Vishwanath Reddy's creation; could have taken up to 9 days to make! ... via
Vishwanath Reddy’s creation; could have taken up to 9 days to make! … via

I love this style so much, that I have probably gone overboard with sharing style inspirations using kalamkari. Infact, a lot of designers and stylists seem to love it too…how else do you think we have such a collection!

There is so much more you can do with Kalamkari, well, in your home! Here are some ideas – take square kalamkari fabric/ scarves or even paper and frame a few of them together to create a stunning effect in your room!  You could also do up a wall with Kalamkari wall paper, or just add a colourful border to your bamboo blinds for a subtle touch and add a few photo frames/ mirrors with this craft. Upholster one chair in your living or study in vibrant kalamkari print to act as a focal point! There is a lot you can do – just get creative…as we say – your home, your rules!

Kalamkari theme? Maybe a pair of curtains of a subtle touch with just some cushions ... via
Chintz in your decor? Maybe a pair of curtains of a subtle touch with just some cushions … via
kalamkari-framed-wall-art
Create interest in the room by framing Kalamkari paper or fabric squares in the same colour on a bright wall via
What a stunning use of this art in your home...via
What a stunning use of this art in your home...via
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Colourful Kalamkari cushions via

There are so many more things you could use to add a touch of kalamkari in your home. I urge you to go ahead and explore the wonderful world of Kalamkari!

Appreciate the beautiful craft, Kalamkari…Be Notjustashopper!

XO, Nupur

Cover: via

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  1. I am quite keen on the Kalamkari cushions in your article. Could you kindly tell me where I can get them from!