Anyone who has ever squished a carved potato into paint and stamped it on paper knows how deliciously tactile block printing can be.
It’s simply a matter of press, tap, and repeat.
Yet there’s a world of difference between the kindergarten arts and crafts staple and kalamkari (pronounced: KAH-luhm-KAH-ree) block printing, an ancient craft of printed and painted fabrics you’ll often find adorning many of our tablecloths. Derived from the words “kalam” meaning pen and “kari” meaning work, the eight-step process has evolved over 3,000 years in India and is passed down from one generation to the next.
But will that always be the case? Times are changing. And as many Indian artisans begin to prefer to see their children move away from the art and into a different career, some experts believe that finding block printers may become more difficult in the future. This, despite the fact that worldwide demand continues to grow.
Of course, we want all children to have access to formal education and fulfilling careers that help not only themselves, but also their families and communities. This societal shift, however, may come at a cost to traditional arts.
Fortunately there are fair trade organizations, such as Sasha and the Craft Resource Centre, which aim to make the artisan lifestyle more enticing by helping skilled block print carvers, washers and dying experts earn a living wage and enjoy a safer work environment. We’re proud to align with these partners.
So how exactly are traditional block print textiles created? Here’s a quick snapshot:
- Lengths of cotton are washed and whacked on stone slabs in the river to soften the fibres.
- The cotton is bleached under the hot sun.
- It is then soaked in a solution made from myrabalan flowers and milk, so dyes will better bond to the fibre.
- Forest gatherers collect bark, leaves, flowers and roots to make the dyes.
- A master carver painstakingly etches intricate designs into a piece of teak wood.
- Wood blocks are dipped in an alum and water solution and then pounded hard onto the cloth, leaving the design. The alum bonds to the dye when the cloth is sent for colour boiling.
- Each rich and vibrant colour is block printed separately and then washed, colour boiled and dried between printings.
- As a final step, artisans add design flourishes and colour highlights by hand using a kalam pen.
Discover the rich and complex block print art form for yourself. All tablecloths, including our exquisite block printed options, are 25% OFF until July 19!
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