WOOD BLOCK PRINTING WITH NATURAL DYES

As a brand we've always been content with growing slow, working with the tools we have and innovating within a niche. Up until now we've experimented with weaves, natural dye processes and plants - but we've just entered an entirely new dimension - printing.

If you've been with us a little while you'll know we have been working with wax batik for some time - and while batik produces one kind of print, what we're talking about here is a completely different animal. You can read our previous story about batik here, but the long and short of it is that batik is a resist method (the wax stops parts of the fabric taking dye) while printing is the opposite.

There are many, many steps to this type of printing, which uses myrobalan and fermented iron (read more about our dyes here), but the real stars of this process are the people that keep the craft alive in Bagru, India, as well as the baking hot sun that makes it all possible.

This season (SS18) we printed directly onto garments as well as making fabric - in this story you'll see bits of both. The process starts, as almost all do, with a good old washing of the fabric and mordanting (preparing the fabric to accept dye using earth salts). 

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Next the fabric is completely dyed with myrobalan, which turns it a sort of dull yellow (we're skipping over the details of the dyeing part as there's lots of info on dyeing across our site and this is more about the printing process). The magic here is that we don't want a yellow garment, we want the chemical properties of the myrobalan dye imbued in the fibre. Myrobalan is yellow, but upon contact with iron oxide (and some other iron compounds) it turns black. We've used this chemical reaction in the past to create black and khaki and we'll continue to explore the magical possibilities in the future.

After dyeing, the piece is sun-dried then taken indoors for printing.

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The print is made using a wooden block which has been hand-carved in the mirror image of the desired pattern. These blocks are unbelievable works of art in their own right - until I saw it with my own eyes the skeptic in me thought there may be a CNC machine in town that everyone uses while they pretend to hack at wood with chisels. 

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The block is dipped into a liquid made from fermented iron (this stuff smells odd, imagine a cross between the scent of keys and blue cheese). Ferment enthusiasts out there may wonder how you can culture metal - iron is mixed with water and a pure sugar called jaggery, then left to sit in the warmth for weeks (we think a kind of liquid iron oxide is created as the bacteria respires).

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The liquid fermented iron is a kind of cloudy/clear colour, but when it comes into contact with the myrobalan on the surface of the fabric it quickly turns a deep dark black creating our 'print'. To prevent further chemical reaction between the iron and myrobalan the garment is then sun baked again, given a hot wash (to remove excess myrobalan) and sun baked one last time.

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This isn't the only block printed garment we have, but it's the most simple to explain. The floral print in our tracksuit has upwards of 10 different stages, which include the same as this but add different overlaying blocks, indigo dye, and mud resist made from natural gums and clay. 

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See the full SS18 EARTHSHINE lookbook here and shop the collection here.