There are some traditions that are universal. Hand block printing is one of the earliest, simplest and slowest forms of textile printing. Some consider it the most artistic; the distressed look created by block printing can't be replicated by machine. The design is first carved out of a wooden block. The printer then covers the block with dye and presses it firmly onto the cloth striking it smartly on the back. Created using hand-carved wooden blocks, dipped in different colours and pressed onto fabric, it can take twenty people hours to create a single block printed fabric. The ancient tradition of Indian block printing has survived through the centuries because of the beauty, detail and colour of the handmade fabrics.
I have long admired the dying art of block printing; the slow process itself, the finished weathered fabric and the tools. I love the rougher, more rustic and less precise marks of block printing and also the irregularities of block printing. I find the little reminders that they have been printed by man and not machine so charming. Block prints are done by eye, and tell-tale signs of the human hand, even imperfections, are part of the ineffable humanity and beauty of the craft. But screen prints now have these mistakes designed into them: machines mimicking the imperfections of man. How, then, can craft survive in a world with so much stacked against it? Perhaps with the knowledge that it involves a culture built around a community, in which families and neighbours are working and living in tandem, often across religions, tribes and generations, from a shared history. It is not an easy life. But it is a necessary one. And finally, it may be that one doesn’t so much see craft, but actually, feels it.
Eco-friendly block prints dyed with natural colours have found a niche in the global fashion industry. Designers in India and other countries are using them for garments and accessories on the catwalk as well as on the high street. They have become part of the ‘slow clothes’ movement which values sustainable production and holds craftsmanship in high esteem.
These days, nearly everything we buy is mass produced and machine-made. It’s difficult to imagine the days when garments were sewn by hand and cloth was block printed. But in some small workshops and villages in India, there is a commitment to keeping the centuries old tradition of block printing alive.
A design, either traditional or modern, is drawn onto paper and then transferred to a perfectly smooth block of wood. The block can be sourced from many types of trees (many of our artisan partners choose to use readily available mango wood), but it always needs to be 2-3 inches thick to prevent warping. A separate block must be made for each colour incorporated into the design. After the fabric has been cut to size, the colours have been prepared, and the blocks are all ready, the artisans can start to print. They will lay the fabric out across a long table and draw a chalk reference line. They dip the block into the dye, press it firmly onto the fabric, and then hit it with a mallet. This process is repeated over and over again, by only the steadiest hands, until the pattern has completely covered the length of fabric. If there are multiple colours in the design, the artisan lets each colour dry before applying the next, each with a new stamp. It is extremely time consuming and requires precision so that there are no breaks in the motif. Once the printing is complete and the colour has set, the fabric is thoroughly washed and dried.
All my products are limited edition, vegan and fair trade. My garments are manufactured in India and Bali which means I source fabric, dye and block print, do pattern making, grading, fit samples and production in same place. My gift boxes and stationery are all made from recycled paper.
I am lucky enough to work with some truly amazing artisans, and I'm committed to helping preserve some of the ancient techniques that are still being used today.
Thank you for the support.
Owner and designer