These days everything we buy is massed produced and machine-made. It's quite sad in a way which is why I am drawn to the ancient art of Indian Block Print.
Indian block printing is known to have been used since the 12th century and is incredibly beautiful. Ohh the colours of India!
Our beautiful block printed fabrics are created in and around the village of Bagru, not far from Jaipur, in Rajasthan. It was fabulous to see first hand these artisans plying their ancient trade.
And it's a fascinating process.
Once the design has been set, the pattern is carved in to wooden blocks that will repeat the pattern over the length of the fabric (up to about 7 metres long).
Raw fabric is first washed to remove starch and then bleached in a gentle solution. Once bleached it is hung up on tall bamboo frames to dry in the hot sun, or on the ground where the odd sacred cow walks all over it.
The blocks are made from trained craftsmen using a hammer and a chisel. Each block is made with a wooden handle and several small holes to release air and excess dye. It is soaked in oil for 10-15 days before use to soften the grains of the timber. Phew! Colours are mixed in a separate room from the printing they are the kept on a tray which the printer drags along as he works.
In preparation for printing the cotton fabric is stretched tightly over the printing tables and fastened with pins to avoid wrinkles and movement.
When printing begins, artisans print the outline of the design which kicks off the whole process. It is very precise. The colours are then filled in using various blocks. It was amazing to watch the printer give one or two swift hits on the block to distribute the dye. This is repeated over and over again - it's truly amazing to watch.
After the printing is complete, the fabric is left to dry for 2-3 days before it is again washed. Once the fabric is thoroughly dried, it is boiled in a large copper pot with a mixture of natural ingredients, including alum and various flowers. After boiling the fabric is once again washed to remove any excess dyes or dirt, and then dried again in the sun.
Then it's ready to roll!
I would urge any of you who are travelling to India to go to Bagru to see this amazing process. I was incredibly pleased to notice how well the staff were treated and that in my factory 80% of the workers were women.
I hope when you look at one of my Bagru print GlamSwags and BedHead cushions that you know they were made by hand and with love!
If you wanted to go on one of the best organised trips to Jaipur, check out Megan Morton - The School. She does wonderful trips to Jaipur where you get to learn how block print is done, along with many other wonderful things that you may not see if you went on your own. www.theschool.com.au