Postcards from India Issue 10 | Hand Block Printing

Postcards from India: Issue 10 Hand Block Printing A labour of Love

 Fashion has forever paved an aesthetic industry of inspiration and expression of humans’ innate nature to create. In many ways, fashion is a celebration of artistic ideas flowing from the heart and soul, transcending into physical designs. 

Since our beginning as a slow fashion label we have endeavoured to acknowledge the magic of creation by supporting traditional garment crafting methods, such as printmaking by hand. 

Assembled step-by-step with pride by artisans, our hand block printed designs can be seen as pieces of art to be treasured and honoured for their individual character. Each carrying its own distinctive qualities, they are reflections of our human nature ~ unique expressions of creative energy.

Rooh Mini in Pine

Roshni wears the soon to be launched Rooh Mini in Pine.

Block printing textiles have been renowned in India for thousands of years, particularly in the state of Rajasthan where all of our garments are crafted. Before computers could read designs and have machines print them onto fabric, textile printing was always done by hand, whether it was painted freely or with the use of stencils. 

This ancient technique uses hand carved wooden blocks to manually press the fabric with designs. A method that is truly mesmerising and requires a phenomenal level of skill, patience and precision. 

Here is a little insight into the step-by-step process of crafting our unique hand block printed designs.

Step One, hand carving the wood blocks

Indian rosewood, popularly known as Shisham is hand carved using small carving tools, sometimes with the aid of a hand drawn paper stencil. Depending on the intricacy of the design, the carving can take anywhere between 5 and 15 days. The blocks are then soaked in mustard oil so they can have a long shelf life. The wooden blocks called Bunta, are made in various shapes and sizes. The underside has the design and the top has a handle for the artisan to hold as they print. Two or three holes are drilled into the block as an air passage to allow release of excess dye while printing. An ingeniously engineered piece of equipment!

Hand carving wooden blocksMan hand carving wooden block for block printingStep two, printing the fabric

The finest quality cotton voile is sourced, and overseen for imperfections before it is hand washed and then dried in the sun. The fabric is then stretched over the printing table and tightly fastened with small pins in preparation. After the eco-friendly dyes are mixed to resemble the desired colour, the artisans place the paint tray on a wooden trolley with wheels for easy movement as the artisans work alongside the table. The printing starts from left to right and involves the blocks being very carefully aligned, one after the other, to create an infinite design. Most designs require the printing of multiple blocks. By the time the first layer is printed, they can begin with the next block that provides the second layer of the design over the first, and so on. Our Kyra and Sahana designs use two blocks, for example, one for the base and one for the outline. Our Jasmine design, on the other hand, requires six different block designs for completion.

A women block printing a long piece of materialLeft, a close up of hands block printing. Right, buckets filled with paint used to block print

Our artisans hand print the fabric during daylight hours, utilising the light of the sun as well as working in fair trade approved timeframes (the same standard working week as ours here in Australia). Hand block printing is a significantly more sustainable method of fabric printing as it eliminates the possibility of mass production, works with nature's rhythms and cycles and celebrates the artistic nature of creation.

A two block design on our Kyra Olive colour wayStep Three, Washing, drying and checking

After the printed fabric is hand washed and dried, it is checked over for any printing errors. These sections are removed and the remaining yards of fabric are passed onto the next phase. If you’ve ever noticed a small blotch of excess dye or slight misprint of design, please know our artisans have found beauty in these imperfections after close observation.

Left, hand block printed material hangs to dry. Right, a women checks the fabric once it is dry.

Women checking and folding material from the Sahana Gown in Sky

Step four, cutting and sizing the fabric

The yards of fabric are cut into various pieces of the garment using block templates depending on what size the final garment will be. To avoid colour variation on the final garment, (as one dress may be made out of separate block printed yards of fabric) the artisans carefully mark each cut section with a number so the stitching department knows what sections to piece together.

Step Five, stitchingThe makers stitch together your beautiful garments with care and precision. Cotton voile is a light fabric, which is what makes our designs so flowy and breathable. Due to the lightness of this material, stitching the garment requires a great deal of caution so as to avoid needle holes. Depending on where the stitch is, some parts are very delicate with only a single stitch! This is why the garments require utmost care when dancing on your adventures.

Left, women sewing material. Right, women standing next to mannequin holding finished Zuri Wrap Dress in Autumn.

Step six, quality check and dispatch

After the stitching each garment undergoes a 6 step quality checking procedure before being dispatched to our warehouse in Australia. These are:

  1. Cut loose threads, observe edge trims and label placement
  2. Measurement check
  3. Oversee printing, stitching and design placement
  4. Hand wash and sun dry the completed garment to remove any dust particles 
  5. As garment hang dries, observe garment as a whole with focus on colour variation
  6. Final check whilst steaming the garment for packing and dispatch

Women checking final garments

Every step of the way, our hand block printed garments are crafted by real artisans, some who have been practising the art for over 40 years! Although modern techniques of the fashion industry provide great resources for perfecting patterns, hand block printing involves the labour of love to imperfectly perfect the designs. It’s this natural beauty of the process - complete with flaws and all - that we so truly adore. 

Just like us, no single print, nor handmade garment, is one and the same. 

With love,

Daughters of India x

(Words by Ella Josephine Archer)