At virtue + vice we strive to use different production methods that have the lowest environmental impact possible. One method we love is block printing. The process takes a block of wood, carves a unique pattern into it, and then uses it as a stamp to print fabric. This ancient technique creates local jobs, is completely free of electricity, and uses less water than any other printing method. Our block printing goes one step further, we only use organic cotton and naturally derived vegetable and non-azo dyes set with non-toxic alum, yes, that’s the same stuff men use on their face after shaving.
Block printing in India originated in Gujarat and dates back to the 12th century. From Gujarat, the technique spread to Rajasthan. Like accents within the same language, each geographical area has its own unique process and distinct aesthetic. Gujarat is known for bold geometric patterns, Sanganer for calicos, and Bagru (where our block prints come from) for Dabu- mud resist printing (more about that in next week’s post), and indigo. It’s incredible to see how many unique cultural interpretations can be created all using the same ancient process.
Block printing starts with a block of wood and a paper pattern. The block is painted white for contrast, the paper pattern is attached to the block, and then the pattern is carved out by hand. Each block is used for one color in a print, so a three color print would have 3 different blocks. Custom blocks can be made with almost any pattern you can dream up. The blocks are dipped in vegetable derived and non-azo dye ink and hand stamped one by one onto the fabric. After printing, the fabric is laid out in the sun to dry. The finished fabric is washed with alum, to help keep the prints colorfast during the home laundering process, and again set out in the sun to dry. The result is a beautiful, handcrafted fabric that is made without the use of electricity, is toxin free, and uses minimal water!