How to Make a Channapatna Toy

Discover how a chain of artisans in Channapatna create delightful wooden toys

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Channapatna Toys: Wooden lacquered toys (11-03-18) by Noor Salma and companyDastkari Haat Samiti

Channapatna toys are made from soft ivory wood or hale mara and then coated with lacquer which is made from vegetable dyes. These dyes are used in the colouring process to ensure that the toys and dolls are non-toxic and safe for use by children. The real charm of Channapatna is that the craft is not practiced in large-scale industries and factories, but within the confines of small homes and workshops which extend to villages nearby. 

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Each piece is done by hand with just a few tools or the lathe to assist the artisan. Some still continue working with a hand-operated lathe but since the advent of better electricity services, most have turned to using the mechanical lathe before applying the lacquer and going through other finishing processes by hand. 

Channapatna Toys: Wood cutting process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The process starts with procuring of hale wood or ivory wood from local wood suppliers. It is seasoned for 1-3 months depending on the size of the planks. Though the government supplier sells seasoned wood, artisans at times prefer to buy the wood locally and season it at home. Wooden logs lie plentifully by the roadside indicating the regular demand for wood by artisans of the town.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The woodcutter cuts blocks to size depending on the nature of the item. These are stored with him or the craftsperson for future use.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Wooden shavings and dust fly about, coating the room, as the woodworkers cut the wood to required sizes for Channapatna’s toy makers.

Channapatna Toys: Wood cutting process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Wooden pieces cut on the lathe according to a prescribed size indicates a large order for a specific item.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A Channapatna craftsman cutting a block of wood into even smaller pieces.

Channapatna Toys: Shaping the toys (2018-03-12)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The craftsman cuts off a round discs off the lathe turned wooden piece. These may be used as wheels of a moving toy.

Channapatna Toys: Processing lac (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Colour making process

Chips of lac, a natural resin acquired from forests, are bought locally to make the colour with which the wooden pieces are coated. 

Channapatna Toys: Processing lac (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

First, a coal fire is lit in a small bowl for the lac chips to be heated.

Channapatna Toys: Processing lac (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The lac chips are stuck to the end of a wooden stick and held over the fire to melt to the required consistency.

Natural coloured dyes are used to tint the lac. Sometimes, turmeric is used for the colour yellow, indigo powder for blue, and deep red cosmetic powder, locally known as kum kum, for orange and red.

Channapatna Toys: Processing lac (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Turmeric powder is being used here to make a yellow paste to mix with the resin chips in order to tint the substance yellow. Dyestuffs could be natural or industrial. The latter is less popular now as the world now prefers eco-friendly materials.

Channapatna Toys: Processing lac (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The lac, or resin paste, becomes more malleable, like sticky toffee, as it heats up.
The paste turns uniformly yellow over the fire. It will eventually be used to colour the wooden item yellow.

Channapatna Toys: Processing lac (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

For green colour, industrial colouring is added to the resin.

Channapatna Toys: Processing lac (11-03-18) by Mohammad AbdulDastkari Haat Samiti

The process of preparing the resin needs dexterity, which comes from the transferred experience of generations of artisans practicing wood craft in Channapatna.

Channapatna Toys: Processing lac (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Once the lump of melted chips is pulled to its maximum thickness, the coloured lac stick is divided into shorter lengths.

Channapatna Toys: Processing lac (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Lac sticks in a variety of hues are kept ready to use to colour the surface of Channapatna wooden toys.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Usually, handcrafted objects are made by a single person or a small group sitting next to each other. Interestingly, Channapatna toy-making follows a different system of production. Similar to an assembly line production in industrial units, every part of the process is done by a different person, often at different locations. The nature of the final product is ultimately known only when all the pieces and processes are complete. Almost like a closely held secret, it is only the head or the designer of the unit who knows what the end piece will look like. 

Channapatna Toys: Wood cutting process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Basic uncomplicated instruments are used by Channapatna’s wooden toy makers to shape and decorate the surface of toys as they spin on the still or turning lathe.

Most are made at home or by local ironsmiths.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Once the wood is turned into its desired shape, the lacquer stick is held against the wooden piece while it is still on the lathe. The lac melts with the heat produced by friction and transfers the colour to the surface of the wood.

In the image on the left, the knob at the end of the wooden stick is being coloured with red lac, while being turned on the lathe.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The lacquer is spread uniformly over the surface with the help of a dried palm leaf. This also gives shine and lustre to the object.

Channapatna Toys: Shaping the toys (2018-03-11)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Watch how a craftswoman shapes, colours and shines a beautiful little red knob, which would eventually become a part of another delightful Channapatna wooden toy.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Some artisans in Channapatna, particularly women, still work with hand and foot operated lathes to make smaller items.

Channapatna Toys: Shaping the toys (2018-03-13)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Watch how this Channapatna craftswoman uses her hands and feet to control the functioning of the lathe as she fashions tiny, colourful, wooden beads.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A cluster of evenly sized beads, both plain and coloured, emerge from a hand- operated lathe.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Finally, the artisans use small sharp tools to hand engrave decorative elements on to the surface of lacquered toys.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A wooden toy workshop space is decorated by male artisans with images cut out of magazines of popular celebrities from the film world and other paper fancies normally used at children’s parties.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A solitary wooden toy maker brightens his workshop with paper cut outs all over the ceiling like prayer flags.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Some delightful pieces made in Channapatna

The non-electrically operated lathe is used by women artisans to make small items like beads, which they then fashion into keyrings, chignon pins, earrings and necklaces.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden bead jewellery (11-03-18) by Noor Salma and companyDastkari Haat Samiti

A few wooden beads are all that is needed to make costume jewellery for young girls.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden products (11-03-18) by Noor Salma and companyDastkari Haat Samiti

A small green wooden parrot and a few beads are linked together to make an attractive key ring from Channapatna.

Channapatna Toys: Jewellery making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A woman artisan in Channapatna arranges her materials in an orderly manner around her to make a bead necklace. The cut pieces of wood stacked behind her are for larger items made in her work space.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden bead jewellery (11-03-18) by Noor Salma and companyDastkari Haat Samiti

This Channapatna wooden bead necklace was fashioned by women who often plan their own designs at the workplace.

Channapatna Toys: Product innovation by Varnam (12-03-18) by Varnam CraftsDastkari Haat Samiti

Credits: Story

Text: Jaya Jaitly
Photography: Chirodeep Chaudhuri
Artisans: Noor Salma, Varnam Crafts
Ground Facilitator: Ankit Kumar Singh
Documentary Video: Chirodeep Chaudhuri
Curation: Aradhana Nagpal

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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