September 2021

BEHIND THE DESIGN: The art of block printing

To say block printing’s beauty and craftsmanship are enduring is an understatement. While the technique flourished in the 14th century, some examples of antique prints are thought to date back to the 3rd century BCE.

Block printing is a traditional fabric-printing process, which uses carved wooden blocks dipped in dye to recreate its graphic patterns that play with color and scale. It’s done completely by hand, from the sketching of patterns to the intricate carving on the blocks hand-dipped in dye and stamped onto the fabric.

Most of our wood-block designs are crafted in Western India where the art form has been handed down from artisan to artisan in families for over 300 years. The process requires steady movement and careful hand-eye coordination, resulting in simply stunning designs.

1. Carving the block

The pattern is carved by hand into a wooden block that’s used to transfer the design onto fabric. Creating the blocks is an art form of its own, requiring intricate detailing and overall vision for the completed look.

2. Prepping to print

Once the block is carved, the artisans are ready to start the printing process. The fabric is spread out flat to take the dye.

3. Applying the color

The colors are carefully selected and mixed for continuity throughout the printing. The dye is placed in a tray and applied to the wooden block with the help of a “sieve.” The artisan applies the dye in sections to create the repeat within the pattern.

4. Requiring a steady hand

Hand-block printing requires skill and practice in order to create uniformity and clarity within the patterning. Many of the skilled block-printers we work with have over 25 years of experience.

5. The art of imperfection

Even the most experienced master block-printers will have slight variations in their work. We love to see these in the design because they echo the handcrafted nature of this process and give each piece its unique, homespun charm.

6. Close inspection 

Once a pattern is printed, the fabric is closely inspected and smoothed out to meet our standards.

7. The final product

  The graphic fabrics created are used in imaginative ways in everything from women’s fashion to pieced quilts and table linens. Take a closer look and shop now!

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