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Naheem block printing

The Artisan Craft of Hand Block Printing

By Kate

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So what’s so special about hand block printing?

Well, we think a lot! If you have been following Cinnamon Junction from the beginning (can you believe it is nearly a year!), then you will know a little bit about the art of wooden block printing by hand, a skill that we have been championing from the beginning. Although the process of printing designs on fabric started in China over 4,000 years ago, it is India that has adopted this process as its own, from at least the 12th century. Sadly, many block printing workshops have fallen silent in recent years, due in part to technological advances and better job opportunities in India’s Metro cities, and this is a demise that we want to prevent. As we have learnt to our detriment in the West, once an industry dies, it can be lost forever.

 

Meet Naheem, a block printing legend!

Naheem here is one of our artisan craftsmen. Originally from Uttar Pradesh, he has made Jaipur his home. In his 70’s (he is not too sure of his actual age), he is married with 9 children, with several of his offspring having followed him into block printing. He comes from a long line of master block printers, a skill that has been passed down through the generations, from father to son in his family.

Who better than to illustrate the beautiful process than the block printing legend himself …..

 

 

 

 

 

 

artisan craftsman carving a design into a wooden block

Beauty in carving

After the design for the fabric has been decided, the wooden blocks are carved. Not by the block printers themselves, but by skilled block carvers, who, like Naheem, have spent a lifetime perfecting their art. All the carving is done by hand. Along with the outline of the design, every colour within the design requires a different block, so one design may require 3, 4 or more blocks. Sheesham (otherwise known as Indian Rosewood) or Teak are the wood of choice. Once carved, the blocks are soaked in oil for a couple of weeks, to prevent the wood from cracking, and then sent off to the workshop.

Naheem ironing fabric on the printing table

Meanwhile, back at the workshop ……

Naheem stretches and pins the fabric to the printing table, and irons out any creases, in preparation for printing. His skill allows him to block print up to 30 metres of fabric a day. Take it from me, who has tried her hand at block printing, that is no easy feat!

 

 

 

 

Naheem pouring the dye into the trayAll the the colours are mixed by a Colour Master, who is able to match any Pantone shade without use of a machine or computer. That done, Naheem prepares his dye tray. An absorbant pad is placed in a wooden tray, into which the outline dye is poured. The tray sits on a wooden trolley on wheels, so that it can move down the table with Naheem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let the magic begin!

First, the outline of the design is printed across the whole length of the fabric, followed by each individual colour. Moving from left to right, Naheem skilfully aligns each block to the outline as he stamps, with the little irregularities and overlaps making each design unique, and adding to the beauty of the finished fabric. Remember, every one of our block printed tunics, kimono dressing gowns and bed linen, is totally unique, with no two the same.

Every craftsman involved in the process, from block carving to colour mixing and block printing have spent their working lives honing their skills, whilst generously passing on their knowledge to the next generation. At Cinnamon Junction, we are firm believers in slow fashion, a movement away from the fast fashion on the high street, towards clothing with provenance and a story. Not a story of low wages, poor conditions and exploitation, but one of preserving livelihoods, crafts, communities and respect, and that’s a story we are proud to tell.

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