What fascinated me about the subject of natural dyes is that not only are natural plant dyes important for the wellbeing of the planet and our water supply but also have a healing aspect that ultimately affects the wearer. Some designers are starting to incorporate the ancient Ayurvedic healing properties of plant dyes into their designs called Ayurvastra.
Ayurvastra is a branch of Ayurveda: the ancient 5,000-year-old Indian system of Vedic healthcare. Loosely translated, “ayur” is Sanskrit for health, “veda” means wisdom, and “vastra” is cloth or clothing. Ayurvastra clothing is made from organic cotton fabric that has been permeated with special herbs and oils that promote health through the blends of embedded herbs and oils. Ayurvastra cloth is used by Ayurveda health clinics in India in the treatment of a broad range of diseases such as diabetes, skin infections, eczema, psoriasis, hypertension and high blood pressure, asthma, arthritis, rheumatism, and even some forms of cancer. Ayurvastra clothing is believed to help restore balance within the body’s systems and strengthen the immune system. Ayurvastra cloth is completely free of synthetic chemicals, toxic irritants, along with being organic, sustainable and biodegradable.
Every step in the preparation of Ayurvastra cloth and clothing is carefully and precisely controlled. The process begins with 100% organic cotton that has been hand-loomed – no machine processing, no chemical additives to prepare the cotton fibres for spinning and weaving and no chemical finishes. The organic cotton yarn or fabric is then dyed in a carefully controlled mixture of herbal dyes depending upon the disease or ailment being treated. For diabetes, mimosa pudica (touch-me-not), cumon/cumin seeds, champa flower and shoe flower (hudahal) are combined in the herbal dye. The main herbs used in the herbal dye for arthritis are curry leaves and apocynaceae. For skin diseases, the herbs used are turmeric, neem and sandalwood.
Dyes for Ayurvastra cloth typically contain between 40 and 60 specifically blended and carefully prepared medicinal herbs, plants, flowers, roots and barks. The temperatures of the dyes, the duration and number of the dye soaks, the blend of herbs, and even the equipment used are carefully controlled. Chaitanya Arora of Penchant Traders, an Indian company promoting and exporting Ayurvastra cloth and clothing explains, “usage of the cloth is based on the principle of touch. By coming in contact with Ayurvastra, the body loses toxins and its metabolism is enhanced.” The most effective time to wear Ayurvastra clothing is when the body is most at rest such as during sleep or meditating because this is when the body is naturally healing and reestablishing balance. This is why Ayurvastra cloth is often used for sleepwear, bed sheets, towels, meditation clothes and coir mats.
The spread of Ayurvastra and Ayurveda into other cultures and regions of the world express the growing interest in more traditional and natural healthcare systems that are based upon restoring balance and health through natural methods rather than through Western medicines. So, if it works, how does it work? Conventional Western medicine and traditional Eastern medicine recognise the skin as being the body’s largest organ. The skin can act as a barrier but also as a conduit for outside substances to enter the body. Many environmental toxins and chemicals in conventional clothing are assimilated into the body through the skin. Ayurveda identifies seven unique layers comprising the skin. Each layer has a distinct function and supports the layers about it. Starting at the outermost layer, the seven layers defined by Ayurveda are Avabhasini, Lohita, Shweta, Tamra, Vedini, Rohini and Mamsadhara. The fourth layer, Tamra, supports the immune system and performs the function of acting as a barrier. According to Maharishi Ayurveda, “Skin infections reflect an imbalance in this layer.” If Ayurvastra cloth and clothing can improve the skin’s ability to act as a barrier to external and environmental toxins, the wearer’s health might be improved. Many scientists believe this is far more effective than taking medicine orally as oral medication passes through several organs before it reaches the bloodstream.The microcapsules are only triggered into releasing medicine by the heat and acidity of the skin. Because they do not release their herbal remedy when wet, the clothes can be washed and will last for months without losing any of their healing properties.
The fashion industry is always on the cutting edge of new creative ideas, and now in a revolutionary era of innovative textile making and biotechnology its no real surprise that the ways of old are circling back reminding us that the techniques that worked in the past need to be part of our future and a progressive and sustainable movement forward.