Artisan techniques: Hand block printing & Kantha work embroidery

We’re often (try always!) being told that ethical and sustainable clothing is too expensive. It IS  expensive, but only compared with certain high street brands. If an item costs practically nothing, you can guarantee it’s costing the Earth, environment and the quality of life of the producer. Not the seller, not the high street, which is making profits, literally on the back of someone else and the environment.

We are choosing to source garments that pay a sustainable wage to workers and that use ethical work practices, such as breaks and medical care. Even without that aspect of a decent wage, the techniques used themselves  are painstaking.

Hand-block Printing

As the name suggests, this is done by…hand! All aspects of it!

It has been practiced in Rajasthan for around 500 years and was originally introduced by the Chhipa Community, now famous for its vegetable dyes and mud resist block prints. The tradition is passed down through generations, with the ‘recipes’ for the traditional dyes kept within families. Colours depend on the plants, water and the experience of the printing masters.

The process begins with the design, drawn first on paper and then carved into wood blocks, which are around 18-25cm across. These are done meticulously by hand.

 

These blocks are then stamped across the fabric. Each colour in the design in carved on a separate block. The outline block is usually the most elaborate and intricate and is stamped first. Then this is filled in with possibly the ground colour block. The carving itself requires years of apprenticeship . Once these are carved, the dyes are prepared, which are poured into wooden trays and the blocks are stamped into the colour each time; then stamped across the fabric in a repeat pattern, with the printing master carefully aligning each block as he prints.

We stock Nila Rubia designs, these are stunning hand block printed clothes for summer and winter – printing on a range of lovely textiles: organic cotton, chiffon and bamboo silk.

 

Kantha Work Embroidery

Some of the garments that we source use Kantha work, a form of embroidery often practised by women in rural areas. It is considered one of the most important textile arts in Eastern India.

It began 500 centuries ago in West Bengal and Orissa as a method of reusing and recycling dhotis, sarees and other pieces of clothing that people were reluctant to throw away (perfect upcycling!). Yarn salvaged from worn clothing was used to embroider large repeating motifs and designs across whole pieces of fabric. Kantha extensively uses running stitch across the whole fabric design, normally in a single colour but there are various standard styles for stitching this. Usually, the stitch under the fabric is shorter than the one on top, which causes the distinctive wavy look to the fabric.

Currently we stock beautiful kantha work jackets by Yavi, an award winning Indian design label

So, is ethical fashion expensive? Not when you consider the work behind it, the history and traditions and also the fact that the dyes are ethically sourced, as well as the fabrics. Buying this type of fashion not only helps the garment makers and their families but is also kinder to the environment – as azo free dyes are used!

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