Our Cloth House collection of Indian hand block printed fabrics is ever evolving and we recently welcomed a range of rich cinnamon reds, deep earthy browns and contrasting black and naturals to our collection. From bold damask prints and striking zigzags to delicate leaf motifs, it is incredible to imagine that each decorative mark made upon the fabric is printed by hand.
In collaboration with Selvedge Magazine’s “India Issue”, we answered some questions In a “House of Cloth” series of articles, to shine a light on Block Printing and build an understanding of how labour intensive and special this traditional method of production really is…
What is it?
A traditional method of printing whereby a design, usually floral or geometric, is meticulously hand carved into wooden blocks. The blocks are used to handprint the dye onto the hand woven cotton (Khadi). Each piece is completely unique and slight imperfections add personality and tell the story of the cloths production.
How is it made?
The design is drawn up and traced onto a wooden block called a ‘Bunta’. There is often more than one block needed for the overall design, as each block will represent a different colour of the design.
Craftsmen chip away at the wooden block, which will have been soaked in oil to soften it in preparation. Hard wood such as seasoned teak is preferred, as it gives a sharp finish to the design and it allows for intricate details to be chiseled and carved into the wood without it splitting.
The fabric is laid out on long tables and pinned down. The colour is applied to the block and the printer will work their way along the table. Usually they will begin with the more detailed block, as this is typically used for the darkest colour. They will leave it to dry in the sun, and then repeat the process, layering on the colours one by one. Natural dyes such as indigo, iron and vegetable dyes are often used.
What is it used for?
Hand block print fabric is typically used for clothing. Sometimes it is designed with a border around the entire edge, this would be used for a sari. In the west it is a very popular choice for lightweight summer shirts, dresses and scarves.
Working with it:
It is recommend to fix natural dyes with salt before washing and cutting the cloth. Just dissolve a handful of salt in warm water and hand – wash the fabric, then rinse until the water runs clear. Washing the fabric by hand and using a gentle detergent helps to preserve the colour of the natural dye. You can sew the fabric on the machine, but in some cases it is better to finish hems and edges by hand, especially if you are working with a finer cloth.
SHOP Our full collection of Indian Hand Block Printed Fabric HERE.
…And don’t forget to visit our Soho Store at 47 Berwick Street to get your copy of Selvedge Magazine and read our articles.