Fabric of India: Block Printing

Fabric of India: Block Printing

One of the most popular Instagram posts I ever posted was a video of an artisan pressing a wooden block mould down on fabric to create a repeat print of a floral motif.  A slow press of the wooden block mould in one hand and then a swift slap down of the other to properly transfer the ink on to the fabric.  Basically a deft pair of hands perfecting a skill over and over again.  And that had people transfixed.  That was basically my faith in an audience re-affirmed.

My two day trip to India back in February concluded with a visit to Amer, just outside of Jaipur, where textiles designer Brigitte Singh has a wonderful haven of a studio and production facility.  The French-born Singh originally came to Jaipur as a fine art student, fascinated by the influence of Indian chintzes on 17th century French Provencal prints.  One of main aspects raised in tracking the history of Indian textiles in The Fabric of India exhibition at the V&A is about the bi-directional trade between Europe and India, whereby luxury mushiness and chintzes designed with tastes to suit Europeans, flooded the West in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Eventually, this trade flow reversed when the Industrial Revolution prompted manufacturers in Britain to start exporting their own imitation Indian-inspired textiles back to India.  And so the West-East flow of exposure of craft continues as Singh set up her studio in 1984 in a bid to create fabrics using traditional block printing and forgotten Indian motifs.

Everything slows right down in Singh’s haveli.  The pace is leisurely whether you’re seeing the methodical and assured printing itself,  the block carvers that etch out the tiny motifs as a relief on to wooden blocks or the mainly female finishers and seamstresses, who turn lengths of printed fabric into soft furnishings and lifestyle garments.  Singh’s ethos towards the well being of her craftsmen (and women) extends to the sustainability of her water supply as a water purification unit is set up in the gardens to recycle the water used in the washing/printing process feeds the lush gardens.

Singh’s choice of motifs are largely inspired by those favoured by Mughal courts in the 18th century, which can be seen in spectacular displays like a royal tent belonging to Tipu Sultan.  The red floral motifs on this tent correlate with Singh’s most popular designs as seen in a poppy design that we saw being printed on to cotton.  Her colour choices mark her designs out as unique, going beyond the natural inks that would have been used in block printing tradition and instead turning to specially composed synthetic colours to evolve the craft beyond its original context.

A rifle through her on-site store elicited squeals from our group of journalists and curators from the V&A.  It’s easy to see why Singh’s textiles have become renowned internationally and create misty-eyed enthusiasm amongst interior textiles nuts.  This final portion of the India trip incidentally completed my own experience of printing techniques – having seen silk screen printing with Hermès, hand screen printing in London and digital printing processes.  It’s the slowest process in terms of output of pattern and print but perhaps the most rewarding to see. That’s probably why those Insta likes racked up. 










































The Fabric of India, supported by Good Earth India, with thanks to Experion and Nirav Modi, is at the V&A until the 10th January 2016


Leave a comment
  1. howomen

    2015-11-15 at 6:32 PM

    Wow, that is a really interesting post. Thank you for sharing <3


  2. JokeValerie

    2015-11-15 at 9:06 PM

    I find hand made prints so much more beautiful than ones made digitally! I feel like each block print maker leaves a bit of themselves/ their personality in the fabric which makes it all the more special x


  3. rekhdatta

    2015-11-16 at 9:55 AM

    Blockprinting is one of the most sustainable methods of printing textiles. It takes a skillful printer and sunshine to dry the material. At Rekh&Datta we blockprint in India but the designs of the patterns are modern, created by Rebecca Layton.

  4. Carine

    2015-11-16 at 10:22 AM

    Hand-made prints are true pieces of art and these pictures perfectly encapsulate the work of the artists behind each piece of clothing!

  5. Katie

    2015-11-17 at 4:41 AM

    Love this! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Heather

    2015-11-17 at 12:34 PM

    Wonderful pics! I’ve been to Brigitte Singh’s studio three times, and have always been forbidden to take any images, so lucky, lucky you!

    If you ever get the opportunity, look up the Ritchie Ace Camps Block Printing Tour in Jaipur. I taught pattern generation and lino block printing on it this year and last, and next year I think it’s Lotta Jansdottir who will be teaching. We also got to do our own mud resist, indigo dye and vegetable dye block printing. Truly, an awesome experience, and one that needs booking far in advance, as it’s super popular!

    Thanks for the lovely pics. Brings back memories.

    • susie

      2015-11-20 at 11:44 AM

      The benefits of doing a press trip!
      I hope to go back to India for a big trip next year so will definitely work this into my itinerary…thank you

  7. Present Girl

    2015-11-17 at 1:52 PM

    Those pictures are amazing. I will visit India because there is a lot of beautiful stuff like printing tables. Thank you for your note 🙂

  8. Houda

    2015-11-21 at 9:49 AM

    This is amazing how you can find some similar artisanal hand-made works between two very differents countries. In my country, Morocco, my grandmother explained to me that they used to use wooden printed blocks called (Marcham) to create beautiful prints, then they sewed on those prints with colored thread. This whole operation could take months and months and at the end, it was made for rich brides as a part of the “trousseau”

  9. FanjaMag

    2015-11-30 at 7:49 PM

    Thank you Suzy for all this wonderful pics. I love block printing!!♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

  10. Gift Berg

    2015-12-08 at 4:36 PM

    The pictures are just wonderful! I have always wanted to visit India and by the pictures I can get the spirit of it! Who would have thought it take so much work to do all of these. I truly enjoy the colours 🙂

  11. Putri Maharani

    2016-08-05 at 1:29 AM

    This is ahmazing!
    I always wanted to visit india.
    Thankyou for share. Love it.

    Putri | shecalledfashion.blogspot.com

  12. Miriam Gillham

    2016-08-10 at 9:50 PM

    Thank you for being such as generous and sharing person. Just so grateful. This was truly amazing. I too, would love to visit India. You have been blessed, artisanal work like this is really special, a national treasure, India seems a remarkable place, so vibrant. I would love to learn these techniques.

  13. Designer and You

    2016-09-12 at 12:45 PM

    You are Lucky Guy to see process of our traditional block printing techniques.

  14. m godil

    2016-10-13 at 5:19 PM

    Block printing is the perfect combination of art and patience. The images truly demonstrate the true beauty of a fabric made with block printing.

  15. Lubna

    2016-10-20 at 1:34 PM

    Hi, Thanks for sharing such a beautiful and detailed information of hand made block prints. I just love the post.

  16. Fashionist World

    2016-10-25 at 12:21 PM

    Wonderful images and this is interesting post.
    Truly a great hand made print.
    Thanks for sharing this amazing pictures.

  17. Indigenous Industries

    2016-11-30 at 11:36 AM

    Its an absolutely lovely post with amazing pictures! Thanks for sharing. We love it when light is shed on artisans and what they do..

    “Her colour choices mark her designs out as unique, going beyond the natural inks that would have been used in block printing tradition and instead turning to specially composed synthetic colours to evolve the craft beyond its original context.”

    We’re going the other way around! Back to natural dyes, without any chemical or synthetic components. It takes a lot of time and energy to figure out modern, creative, uses of natural inks but it provides a safe working environments for our artisans, a safe living environments for the families around our dyeing unit and cleaner air, soil and water for all of us!

  18. Shilpa Sharma

    2017-04-20 at 10:47 AM

    Absolutely brilliant write-up and lovely pictures! I am currently doing a post on handblock printing and will give a link back to this post of yours. People who love this form of printing will enjoy your post.

    Also, I have been asking a lot of people, why hand block printing is so popular the world over? Any ideas? I know it’s eco-friendly, kind to the environment, looks pretty but then so many art forms are but they haven’t got this popular!!I love hand block printing too and hence feel the need to know why it’s the best thing since sliced bread in the textile world!

    Many thanks,

  19. Fabrics

    2017-04-21 at 10:38 AM

    Wow! great and interesting pictures.
    Thanks for sharing pictures.
    Now you can prepare with our fabrics.
    For all types of fabrics visit our official website.


  20. Ruchi

    2017-07-22 at 10:54 AM

    Wonderful post with beautiful pictures.Was in Jaipur last week.Wish i had seen this article earlier. Trying to set up a store of handcrafted products by Indian Artisans.

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