Deep dive into Common Texture’s artisan world – hand block printing in India

crafts hand block printing india

Female artisans Tharangini
Female artisans at Tharangini - From left: Shobha, Yashodara, Banu,
Susheela, Padmini


It’s Fashion Revolution Week and for those of you not familiar, it’s a yearly campaign advocating for a clean, safe, fair, transparent and accountable fashion industry. We have been involved with this campaign since we started in 2017 as we believe in a global fashion industry that conserves and restores the environment and values people over growth and profit. For us every day is Fashion Revolution.

At Common Texture the people and artisan communities we work with are at the core of our business. We carefully select each and every one, making sure they practice ethical standards by treating their employees fairly and implementing eco-friendly measures in their production process. We're proud to share their story and the important work that they are doing. So let’s deep dive in the talented and unique individuals that make up Common Texture’s artisan world.
 
We’ll start off in South India where the majority of our artisans reside. One of our favorite partners there is Tharangini Studios in Bangalore. This small lakeside heritage block printing studio has been home to expert master artisans specialized in hand block printing since 1977. The studio is woman-run by Padmini Govind who took over from her mother. We asked Padmini a few questions about the studio and her lovely team of skilled artisans.

 

Common Texture hand block printing

Common Texture linen cushions, hand printed one block at a time


Hand block printing

What is hand block printing exactly and why is it an artisan technique?
Padmini explains, "In hand block printing, patterns are hand-carved into teak wood blocks. They are then used to create surface patterns on fabrics, literally one block at a time. Both wood carving and block printing are artisan techniques that take many years to master."

Block printing is believed to be more than 2000 years old and likely originated in China. It was used for printing on textiles and paper. This technique, an art in itself, has been used in India since the 12th century. Our co-founders discovered the studio back in 2015 and fell in love with the artisans working there and the ethical way it was run.

At Common Texture we turned to hand block printing as a more natural way to create a unique product. Many of our designs, such as our linen cushions, linen robes and cotton towels have been printed at the studio using this traditional artisan technique. For more details read the earlier blog post about our hand block printing process at the studio.


Ethical and eco-friendly

Can you tell us about your studio and how it implements ethical and eco-friendly practices?

"We were established in 1977 to sustain fine hand block printing and from the start we have always focused on ethical, organic practices. First of all; we are a fair wage studio with profit sharing plans for all our artisans. Secondly, all the dyes we use are organic certified and we ensure low-waste practices. Additionally we donate our extra dyes to autism centers that we support," says Padmini.

Tharangini’s outreach program aids several autism centers in Bangalore. Block printing provides vocational training and art therapy for the participants. During the current COVID-19 lockdown in India, all Tharangini’s staff remains safe at home with full pay and medical expenses covered. What a great example of an ethical company where they take care of the people who make it happen day after day. In good times and in bad.

During our time in India, we loved visiting the studio. Not only for the steaming cup of chai and a little chat with the ladies, but the whole studio just had a sense of calm while at the same time being incredibly inspiring with the constant rhythm of the wood blocks being thumped and the beautiful prints on all the worktables.


The artisans

We'd love our audience to get to know the artisans who work at Tharangini Studios, can you share a bit about them and their background?

"Each of our artisans is special in every way! I would like to share Banu's story, she is our lead color mixer and has been with us for 3 decades. While Banu has little formal schooling, she definitely has a PhD in mixing natural and organic dyes. Banu was trained by my late mother and she is very resourceful and always strategic. She often helps with business decisions as well and I would confidently say she’s like a COO," Padmini replied. 


Fabric and wood block prints

What's your favorite fabric to print on? Do you have a favorite color and print?

"Silk of course; there is something timeless and beautiful about pure silk. I am partial to our old, vintage prints. Some of the wood blocks are 60-70 years old but still going strong!"

Tharangini owns more than 4000 blocks collected over several decades, consisting of traditional and contemporary designs. The walls of the studio are aligned with shelves full of wood blocks arranged by size and type. Expert wood carvers can also create customized blocks for clients. More about how wood blocks are created.


Common Texture hand block printing
 One of Common Texture's customized wood blocks

Ethical brands - a new way forward

COVID-19 left many workers and employees without support and income. In times like these it becomes very clear which companies are standing up for their employees and which truly care about the people who have helped them grow their businesses.

At Common Texture we want to keep working for a better and fair planet by creating ethical home decor and eco-friendly accessories and we’re proud to choose partners who put a fair treatment of their employees at the core of their businesses.

It’s important to design a world where we all care for each other and our planet. By supporting ethical businesses like Tharangini we can work towards a better world and use fashion as a force for good. Will you join us on our journey towards a new way forward?

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Common Texture created the following collections at Tharangini: Linen Sofa & Bed Cushions, Linen Robes and Woven Towels and Throws. Read more about Common Texture's other crafts and artisans.

Visit Tharangini Studios for more information. Found out more about Fashion Revolution.


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