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The Beautiful Art of Block Printing Textiles in India

Traditional Crafts Jul 28, 2017

If there’s one place that’s on my bucket list, it’s India. But you guys know that because I talk about it all the time. More than anything the colour and energy of the place inspire me, and nothing more than the incredible art of block printing that has been used for centuries to make beautiful designs by hand.

Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with the two founders of Block Shop – a textile company that uses the traditional Indian hand block printing process to create stunning scarves, pillows, rugs and quilts.  Sisters Hopie and Lily work directly with a community of master printers, dyers and weavers in the desert state of Rajasthan, India to create their designs, and they were kind enough to talk me through this incredible  traditional process.

 

Block Shop’s textile production use the centuries-old Indian technique of hand block printing.  Their textiles are printed by hand with carved wooden blocks in Bagru, Rajasthan, using vegetable and mineral dyes whenever possible. This is such a labor intensive and design focused process, and I just had to share it with you – the colours and patterns are to die for.

The Process

1. Design

The sisters work out of their downtown LA studio where they do most of their designs,usually inspired by a combination the architectural motifs in our urban surroundings –Los Angeles and Jaipur. They then design by hand with watercolors, and bring dozens of sketches with them to India. On arriving in Rajasthan, they we sit down over chai with their master printers, dyers and carvers, and talk about how to bring the designs to life. After lots of good-natured arguing, they agree on the colorway, shapes, and scale of each pattern.

2. Carving

After finalizing the design they draw each isolated shape that make up the pattern onto graph paper. Their main block carver Raju then stencils the design onto a flat, 3-inch thick slab of sisam wood. The pattern is then carved into the wood using a hammer and series of specialized chisels.

 

3. Dyeing

Before dyeing, the fabric is scoured, which eliminates all starches and impurities from the manufacturing process. Then it soaks in a bath of harda, a natural mordant extracted from the myrobalan nut, Terminalia chebula, which binds our natural dyes to the fibers of the fabric. The distinctive color palette comes primarily from traditional plant and mineral dyestuffs: true indigo, Indigofera tinctoria, for our blues; begar for pinks, reds, and oranges; alum for greys; fermented syahi for black. Some dyes are boosted with non-toxic chemical dyes for brighter, more colorfast hues, such as the rich salmon shade of the Soleri scarf. The fabric is dyed and dried.

 

4. Printing

For regular hand block printing, a master printer dips the wooden printing block in a dye tray, then stamps the block on the fabric with a hard pound of the fist at the center of the block, ensuring even printing. He or she will repeat this from left to right, aligning the blocks perfectly by eye from years of experience.

 

 

5. Drying

Textiles are spread out in the communal drying field and hung from roofs and left to fix in the sun for up to three days. They are then boiled in a large copper pot in a bath of alum and dried flowers for softness and colorfastness.

 

Et voila!

These gorgeous pieces are so stunning, and I just love to see such inspiring traditional techniques used to make modern designs. Brb just booking my flight to Rajasthan!

If you’re interested in a few other traditional crafts, why not check out Panana Hat Making in Ecuador, Espadrille Making in Spain or Basket Making in Thailand.

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