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Common Texture Journal

Read the latest articles on the Common Texture blog.

The Ancient Art of Hand Block Printing

Common Texture

During our stay in India we were surrounded by the most amazing textile arts, from weaving to silk painting and everything in between. The technique we really fell in love with was the traditional art of block print.
 

 Traditional block print technique

Traditional block print technique

There was a lot of opportunity to participate in courses and workshops all over India, after we had a few under our belt, we were bitten by the bug. We toured block printing studios all over the country during the early stages of Common Texture. Block Print is a technique steeped in history that dates back to 12th Century India. It all starts with a piece of wood called a Bunta, the blocks are carved from seasoned teak by highly trained craftsmen. They etch a pattern on to the wood for the woodcarver to create a stamp.

 Woodcarver creating a stamp from a piece of teak wood

Woodcarver creating a stamp from a piece of teak wood

 Block printer placing the outline

Block printer placing the outline

The Bunta is given to the Block Printer, a Master in his own right. The stamp is dipped into a natural dye pigment set on a large ink pad that floats on a trolley to follow them around the fabric. The outline printer is usually an expert as he is the one who leads the process.

Some patterns will use 3 or 4 different blocks. Each carved for a specific color since the colors need to dovetail to create a 3 or 4 layered pattern. Different regions in India have perfected their own unique style with all the inherited skills from their ancestors.

Some studios we have been to have amassed whole libraries of beautiful Bunta blocks, images used for sarees, borders, table cloths, bedding, upholstery, tents, paper and clothes. Some blocks we found that were still in use are over 80-100 years old. Just beautiful objects in general, each one cleaned by hand after each color and soaked in oil to preserve the wood. Some block print designs can look very busy and layered with many floral motifs a lot like Persian carpets, it gives the fabric a very ethnic aesthetic.

 Cypress pillowslips on the studio table

Cypress pillowslips on the studio table

cypress block print close up.jpg

We preferred the deconstructed look stripping back the layers so that there is just an outline. Then we discovered the geometric patterns enlarged had so much impact in their simplicity. We loved the idea of pairing this with a placement print, just to add detail but give the solid colored fabric some texture and focal point.

 Common Texture's geometric circle and cypress hand block print designs

Common Texture's geometric circle and cypress hand block print designs

We work closely with the team of colorists first, they mix the natural pigments and resins together to create our base color and we test this on the fabric. Then we do a block test to see how the patterns best fit our end products like our pillow cases.

 Block testing - one of our favorite parts of the design process

Block testing - one of our favorite parts of the design process

When all the details are finalized we go into production, each print handmade one piece at a time. The fabric is then cured with steam this sets the color permanently to the fabric.

 Cypress pillow slips in production

Cypress pillow slips in production

Our time spent at the block print studio can best be described as peaceful inspiration, with the constant rhythm of the blocks being thumped by the back of the hand.  It’s mostly outdoors under the trees.

It is so lovely to see our fabric hanging on the drying lines at the studio and even better once its all stitched up into our completed collection.

Our pure linen bedding collection has been specifically designed with a complimentary color palette so that everything can be easily mixed and matched. Enjoy combining our colors and prints in your home.