Pigments of your imagination - the beauty in hand-block printing

Hand-block printing is our signature at Dilli Grey; the heartbeat of our design aesthetic – like anything, when you live it and breathe it everyday you sometimes forget to see the magic in it - so today's blog is a chance for me to step back and share with you a bit about that magic behind the process and introduce you to our printers in Jaipur, who bring our designs to life…

I love nothing more than watching customers’ reactions when they see, touch and understand hand-block printing for the first time. Once they get their head around the process - the intricacy, the skill that is involved in the hand-work of each design they see our designs anew. In a world of digital printing, it’s easy to overlook a print as ‘just a print’ – we take for granted the process behind how our clothes are made – yet when we stop and celebrate both the human process and the skills behind each dress or quilt – it brings to them another dimension, a rich story set both in textile history and modern day slow fashion…

Beauty in the irregular

After working for 20 years with fashion suppliers in Europe, India and the Far East I have the breadth of experience to have worked with huge mass-market fashion producers and small, family-run artisan workshops – the difference is light and shade. One is about precision and volume, whilst the other is about quality and respect for the rich heritage of textile design and print-making – time is taken to pass on skills across the generations; preserve heritage techniques rather than a drive to automate or increase efficiency – the value isn't placed in how cheaply or quickly a garment can be made, but placed in creating something beautiful because it’s designed to last – so why rush it?

Whilst we celebrate the organic beauty in the grain of a piece of wood, or the deliciously irregular rise in a hand-shaped sourdough loaf – why do we often overlook the beauty in the handmade aesthetic when it comes to fashion? We prize face-less precision over the visible marks and irregularities of the human touch – the humidity in the air as the ink touches the cloth, the heat of the desert sun as they dry on the line, the eye of the printer as he lays down the block with the skill and experience to eschew any machine or measuring aid… all these factors play their part in building up the DNA of our designs, I celebrate their individuality and what they represent. Look closely at our designs and you will see in each the life behind the process… something I want all customers to consider when they are buying our designs…

Our printers

I know that my designs are only as good as the artisans that bring them to life… I feel privileged that I am benefiting from generations of skills to create Dilli Grey’s designs - a 3 year old business utilising a craft 100s of years old. By investing my ‘buying power’ in them, I am funding their business’ ability to bring more unskilled apprentices into the industry and train up more artisans for future generations. Watching them start out on small, simple repeat motifs as they learn their craft, working their way up to intricate border designs with up to 5 colour layers is inspiring to me as a creative. Always pushing me to think ‘what is possible’ and how best I can use these incredible skill-sets in my designs.

jaipur hand block printers

During every visit to the workshop I like to stand back and drink it all in - it's all too easy to be drawn into the design process but listening to the rhythmical thump of the blocks hitting the fabric, set to a background hum of the sewing machines, warm breeze of the desert air and the far-reaching vista of the Aravalli Mountains... it's truly intoxicating and I want to make sure I never forget that magic when I get home.

hand block printing

But it’s not just about the printers themselves. Within the workshop there are the colour mixers who use the chemical-free, natural pigments to match colour swatches by eye – with a squirt of this and a splash of that – it’s proper colour alchemy – tested on a rag of cotton and taken into the sunlight to inspect. I love the trust they place in their own eye, their judgement built on years of experience.

hand block printed homewares

Then there are the tailors and the seamstresses who take a 2D bolt of printed cloth and transform it into a living, breathing design. Cutting patterns by hand; working on a garment from beginning to end – rather than as part of a long conveyor belt process – they take true ownership and pride in their production – something that I feel shines through in the quality and finish of our designs.

Our new designs...

Each season we launch new hand-block prints, inspired by heritage botanical prints, vintage saris or the rich hand-painted murals of Rajasthan's palaces and forts. It’s a long, considered, collaborative process between my design team and I, our printers and ultimately you, our customers. Feedback on the types of prints you want in your home, the colours you are drawn to… we listen and it forms part of how we develop our collections each season. The great thing about being a small brand and working directly with my artisans is that I can be responsive and truly react to what my tribe of customers want… when I’m visiting India and researching my next collection you are always there with me at the back of my mind – how would this translate into a UK home? How would this colour look in our London light? What feelings will it evoke? Dilli Grey has always been about putting a ‘modern spin’ on heritage designs, so they blend effortlessly into our Western aesthetic, yet without losing the utter magic of this incredible process.

Shop our new season sleepwear and cotton handblock quilts now.


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