Their family has fostered the traditions of tie-dye and block printing in India for generations. Now, that’s being passed on to ME to WE travellers.
By Megan Harris
Zakira learned the art of tie-dye and block printing from her parents. They learned it from her grandparents, who learned it from her great-grandparents. It’s an art that’s been passed on in Zakira’s family in Rajasthan, India for 700 years.
Now, it’s being shared with travellers from across the world.
It’s mid-morning at Araveli Cottages and Tented Camp—the ME to WE oasis in the foothills of the Aravalli Mountains in India’s royal state. Zakira, her father Yunus, her brother and cousin have travelled two hours from their home in Udaipur to teach ME to WE groups how to turn white fabric into colourful masterpieces. It’s just one of many highlights awaiting the group of travellers who have gathered, sitting side-by-side on mats laid out on the grass. They’re here on a ME to WE Trip—immersive experiences for youth, families and companies to visit WE’s international projects and connect with local culture.
“It was the month of August, the rainy season here,” Yunus explains to the group. “The Queen at the time saw a rainbow in the sky, and she said, ‘I need something like this to wear.’ That’s how this art was invented—so someone could wear these colours on their clothes.”
Under Zakira’s guidance, travellers begin to create their own royal wear. White fabric is tied with string, tightly wound knots. Each fold is precise. When the fabric is ready, it’s passed to Yunus, who sits at the ready with pots of vibrant. His outfit is pure-white, yet he doesn’t spill a drop of dye on himself.
Working quickly and expertly, Yunus dips each scarf into the owner’s favourite colours. Each dye is naturally sourced and made: yellow from turmeric, pink from beetroot powder, indigo from the leaves of a tree. Yunus’ favourite dye is pink, because it’s the brightest of all the shades.
“We love to share our art with visitors,” says Zakira.
Over at the next table, the eager art students take wooden stamps featuring various carvings like elephants, flowers, and camels, dipping them into trays of dye. Years ago, Yunus explains, ancient artists used metal blocks instead of wood, stamping designs onto clothing that would take a full day to dry. To make a piece of clothing by block-printing and tie-dye (Yunus points to a colourful stack of scarves, shirts, pants and other textiles that his family has brought to sell) is an intricate process, as each piece is made by hand.
“This is something we own,” Yunus says of his handicraft. “We like to educate people about our art—people should know that this type of art exists, that our family has been doing it for hundreds of years.”
Rebecca Wilson is a contemporary photographer who joined this ME to WE Trip to India. “The whole experience deepened my appreciation of traditional Indian art forms,” she said. “It inspired me to incorporate the ancient technique into my own art practices at home.”
Soon, the grass surrounding the outdoor classroom is filled with bright scarves drying in the sunlight, laid out alongside the block print creations. The artwork is a tangible reminder for Rebecca and her group to take home. But it’s more than a souvenir. It’s a way of carrying on traditions, a piece of Zakira and Yunus’ heritage, that they’ll pass on to their own families—art passed through generations, and now, across borders.