While in India last year, I had the chance to visit a fabric printing company. I’ve always wondered about how each one of those brilliantly colored designs ends up on a piece of silk or cotton.
When I say factory, it’s a term that I use quite loosely because it was an old town in an old building with artisans who have been in the business their entire life!
It’s actually a master a skill that has been handed down from each of their parents, sometimes grandparents or even great grandparents. I found them sitting either on the ground or tall stools that have probably been there just as long as the workers. The factory is open air and allows the fabrics to dry in the beautiful Indian heat. It sounds absolutely tedious, time consuming and just plain hard work. And if that was your thought, you would be right!
But the results speak for themselves.
Creating the stamps for printing was breathtaking. I was most interested in finding out how they created each of these. I thought that the stamps would be made of metal, rubber or some type of resin but they’re not, they’re all hand carved into wood pieces. These can take a day to a week to create and each stamp will be assembled to create a bigger stamp. I can’t imagine having that job! There’s so much pressure of messing it up and with one mistake, my entire design would be ruined. However stamp by stamp, design by design, each one of the artisans hand carve the designs you see with their own microscopic tools; it is a beautiful process that they make look wonderfully easy.
When they’re done with the stamps they take them upstairs to the top floor of the factory; remember that this is an open air factory. The top floor is open to the sun and there is often a slight breeze.
Each of the pieces is printed by hand on this floor. The fabric is spread out over a long table and pinned down so that it is perfectly flat. Then the artisans come to work. They gather around the cloth with the chosen stamp and begin the design. They begin to dip into different colors of ink; each color is a different layer. They clean the stamps between each one of the rotations and as they are layered with color, they are delicately placed on each one of the materials.
It’s painstaking to watch because if you don’t match up the designs then they don’t line up right in the finish piece. But, if you’re off with a color or you have too much color on your wooden stamp, then your design gets muddled as well. One of the things that I was most impressed about is the color choices. While the rest of the world has gone with muddy grays and vanilla cream colors, India still lives in a vibrant world of hopeful color. They choose colors of beautiful pink fuchsias, tangerine oranges. Spring grass green and the deepest of the ocean blues. And as they begin to work each one of these colors a beautiful design begins to emerge.
When the pieces are done being printed, they are unpinned from the long table. They are taken to a clothesline and are hung in the sunshine to dry. It only takes a few moments to dry as the wind ruffles through each piece of material. The sun also makes them crisp and warm to the touch. It is a sight to see and you are left with a gift of a lifetime!
So many things we take for granted today come from a great tradition somewhere. The color and design in clothing and home goods is so thrilling, but when you think about where he comes from and how it all got started, you begin to appreciate every single moment that went into creating your favorite new heirloom.
I think about that today, as I pass on traditions to my daughter, teaching her how to cook with all the passion that my mother taught me. Some things can only be handed down from generation to generation. Some things have nothing to do with materials or even skills but instead have to do with moments of great thought, heart, and understanding. Sometimes it means going beyond the normal rush of everyday life and slowing down to really appreciate what is in front of you.
So, thank you to all the artisans I met that day. How thoughtful every single stamp, every single color choice, and every single movement each artisan put into creating these beautiful fabrics really do leave me speechless.