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Hand-block printing

Hand-block printing

‘Creativity takes courage.’ Henri Matisse

The fabric in our first collection is being hand block printed. The technique of hand block printing is probably around two thousand years old but the oldest known example is Chinese, dating from the first century, in the world’s earliest complete and dated, printed book (the Diamond Sutra).

The art form of turning the beautiful patterns and colours of hand block printing into exquisite textiles has been practised in India since at least the 12th century. Skilled artisans carve the design into hardwood timber blocks. These blocks are dipped into a dye bath and stamped precisely onto the fabric. This process is repeated with mesmerising rhythm, building up the design, until a full length of fabric has been completed. The fabric is then laid out in the sun to dry before the next colour is applied. A separate block is used for each colour, meaning that intricate designs will have a family of as many as 20 blocks. The printing process requires extraordinary hand-eye coordination as well as concentration and is entirely free of mechanisation. Hence slight variations in tone and minor imperfections make each piece of fabric unique.

Indigo block printing employs a complementary technique known as Dabu printing. Dabu is a mud resist made through a special process to ensure exactly the right consistency. The mud resist is applied to the fabric with the carved block. The fabric is then sprinkled with sawdust to prevent bleeding and help bind the dabu, laid out in the sun to dry and then immersed into the indigo vat. This is a delicate dip-dye process where the fabric is left immersed for just the right length of time to achieve the desired depth of colour without jeopardising the adhesion of the mud resist to the fabric. The dyed fabric is laid out in the sun again and, once dry, the dabu is brushed off and the fabric is washed thoroughly, thereby revealing the emerging pattern. This process is repeated up to four times - with different blocks - to complete the design and develop different shades of indigo.

Our fabrics are being printed by a family enterprise close to a small village about an hour's drive from Jaipur, Rajasthan. The business provides valuable employment for the local villagers who are collected from their homes each morning and driven home to join their families again in the evening. Many of the workers are now the third and fourth generations of their family to work there. They are all paid a fair, living wage for their contribution and effort and earn many, many times what their less fortunate counterparts in Asia’s mechanised warehouse factories earn. Consequently, our fabric makes up around forty percent of our manufacturing cost. We passionately believe that this is a worthwhile investment as it is supporting the revival and endurance of an ancient tradition and providing meaningful, rewarding employment. Ultimately, it means we will be bringing our customers gorgeous fabrics too, fabrics which are the 'slow food' of the fashion world!

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