Cleobella's Woodblock Prints
A True Art: Cleobella's Woodblock Prints
Why Cleobella Celebrates Woodblock Printing Techniques From India
Preserving and celebrating ancient global heritage techniques is at the center of Cleobella's mission. Woodblock printing, in particular, has become synonymous with the brand and beloved by customers for its uniqueness, beauty, and timelessness. Woodblock printing, however, is more than just a printing technique. It's a rich, cultural art from India that has become the heartbeat of the brand.
Angela, Cleobella's founder, first discovered and fell in love with woodblock printing on a trip to India. In 2006, she and her husband Jim quit their jobs, packed up their lives, and set off to travel the globe for a year. When designing the world trip, India was a must-visit for Angela. Her late aunt visited the country in the '70s, and Angela grew up marveling over her stories of India's cultural and spiritual aliveness. Once she finally visited the country herself, there was an instant connection. "India had my heart from the very beginning," she says. "I felt like I had been there before." On the trip, she encountered women selling gorgeous woodblock-printed wrap skirts made of recycled saris, which sparked the creation of Cleobella.
The History and Importance of Hand Woodblocking
Woodblock print clothing, known as "block print clothing" or "hand block printing," has a long and illustrious history in India. The technique dates back to ancient times and has played a significant role in the country's textile traditions. Woodblock print clothing is characterized by its intricate patterns and designs, created through the meticulous process of hand carving wooden blocks and stamping them onto fabric.
The origins of woodblock print clothing in India can be traced back over 4,000 years. The Indus Valley Civilization, one of the world's oldest urban civilizations, produced textiles adorned with block printed motifs. Excavations at archaeological sites in Mohenjo-daro and Harappa have revealed artifacts featuring intricate patterns that showcase the ancient art of woodblock printing.
Over the centuries, woodblock print clothing became deeply ingrained in various regions of India. Different states and communities developed their distinct styles, techniques, and motifs. For example, the vibrant and colorful block prints of Rajasthan are renowned for their nature-inspired motifs. In Gujarat, geometric designs dominate the scene.
The Mughal period, from the 16th to the 18th century, played a significant role in popularizing woodblock print clothing. The Mughal emperors and their courts patronized the art and contributed to the refinement of the craft. Under Mughal influence, block printing evolved to incorporate more delicate floral designs, intricate borders, and fine details.
Woodblock print clothing was not limited to clothing alone. It extended to textiles used for home decor, such as bedspreads, curtains, tablecloths, and more. The artistry of woodblock printing transformed everyday fabrics into objects of beauty and cultural significance.
Today, woodblock print clothing continues to be cherished and celebrated in India and around the world. Artisans, often working in small villages and communities, employ traditional techniques handed down through generations to create stunning block print garments. The process involves designing the patterns, carving intricate designs onto wooden blocks, applying natural dyes, and hand-stamping the fabric with the blocks. The result is a unique piece of clothing that showcases the craftsmanship, heritage, and artistic legacy of India.
The popularity of woodblock print clothing has spread globally, with designers and fashion enthusiasts appreciating the beauty and craftsmanship of these garments. From flowy dresses and tunics to sarees, kurtas, and scarves, woodblock print clothing offers a blend of traditional elegance and contemporary fashion.
The history of woodblock print clothing in India is a testament to the country's rich textile traditions and the skill of its artisans. It represents a connection to the past, a celebration of cultural heritage, and a source of inspiration for the future. By wearing woodblock print clothing, individuals not only embrace the beauty of the art form but also contribute to the preservation and promotion of India's vibrant textile legacy.
As remarkable and unique as the woodblock printing art form is, with so many advancements in technology and digital printing in the fashion industry today, the reality is that ancient techniques like this are being traded for fast fashion. The skilled artisans that practice these techniques cannot continue to pass down their knowledge and traditions to the next generations if there isn’t a market for it. This is what motivates us as a small business to do our part in helping to keep the woodblock printing tradition alive by working with artisans in India to incorporate the technique into our designs.
Over the last 14 years of traveling to India, we've cultivated a heart connection with our artisans, their families, and the woodblock printing process. It has been a true joy and privilege to know them, work alongside them, and to have witnessed first-hand how much their lives have transformed over the years. We believe that when you work and operate a business from a place of integrity and honesty, the energy that flows from that is palpable and creates a ripple effect in the world.
The Woodblock Printing Process
The woodblock printing process used in creating vibrant and intricate patterns on fabric is a true testament to the artistry and skill of the craftsmen involved. The process begins with preparing the natural dyes that will bring the colors to life. These dyes are made from elements sourced directly from nature, such as mud, clay, tree gum, limestone, pomegranate, turmeric, tamarind seeds, saffron, and indigo seeds. Witnessing the transformation of these raw materials into vibrant hues is truly awe-inspiring.
Once the dyes are prepared, the craftsmen dip the meticulously carved wooden blocks into the vibrant colors and begin the printing process. With years of experience and precise technique, they carefully align the block with the fabric and press it firmly, ensuring an even and beautiful impression of the pattern. This process is repeated methodically along the entire length and width of the fabric, which can often be several meters long. Each color in the design is layered one at a time, allowing the pattern to gradually come to life with each addition.
What makes the woodblocking process even more fascinating is the subtle imperfections that emerge along the way. These imperfections, though unintended, add character and a sense of authenticity to the design. They are a reminder that each piece of woodblock print clothing is handmade with love and care, making it unique and special.
After the printing is complete, the fabric is left to dry naturally. Once dry, it undergoes a series of treatments to ensure the longevity and quality of the print. It is washed to remove any excess dye, steamed to set the colors, and finally dried outside under the sun, weather permitting. This final step helps to enhance the vibrancy of the colors and give the fabric a soft and comfortable feel.
The entire woodblocking process is a labor-intensive and time-consuming art form. It requires not only skill and precision but also a deep understanding of color, design, and the properties of natural dyes. Each fabric that emerges from this process tells a story of dedication, tradition, and the beauty of craftsmanship.
When you wear woodblock print clothing, you not only adorn yourself in a stunning and unique piece but also become a part of the rich history and cultural heritage associated with this ancient art form. The vibrant colors and intricate patterns speak volumes about the artisans' mastery and their commitment to preserving the traditions of woodblock printing.
What Makes Woodblock Printing Special
Aside from the captivating beauty of woodblock prints, there are numerous reasons why the woodblock printing process has become a favorite among slow fashion enthusiasts. One of the key factors is its eco-friendly nature, stemming from its handmade process and small batch production. As a mindful business, Cleobella places great emphasis on sustainability. By valuing quality over quantity, the brand ensures that each design is created in limited quantities, enhancing its exclusivity and enchantment. When you wear a Cleobella woodblock print design, you can be certain that it is truly one-of-a-kind, transforming it into a timeless and wearable work of art that holds relevance for today and can be treasured for generations to come.
The small batch production of woodblock prints allows for meticulous attention to detail and a commitment to preserving traditional techniques. Skilled artisans pour their craftsmanship and expertise into each piece, ensuring that the final result meets the highest standards of quality and artistry. This approach stands in stark contrast to fast fashion's mass production methods, prioritizing quantity over quality.
Moreover, the slow fashion nature of woodblock printing extends beyond its production process. These garments are not subject to the whims of fleeting trends; instead, they exude a timeless appeal that transcends passing fads. The intricate patterns and vibrant colors are crafted with a deep understanding of culture, heritage, and artistic traditions. By wearing a woodblock print design, you become a custodian of this rich history, cherishing the stories woven into every stitch.
The durability and longevity of woodblock print clothing contribute to its sustainability as well. The use of natural dyes and the careful treatment of fabrics result in garments that retain their colors and structural integrity over time. By investing in a woodblock print design, you are not only making a conscious choice for the environment but also choosing a piece that will withstand the test of time.
In a world dominated by mass-produced fashion, woodblock print clothing stands as an embodiment of slow fashion principles. It celebrates the artistry, tradition, and sustainability that have made it a beloved technique for centuries. When you choose a woodblock print garment, you embrace a connection to the past, support the work of skilled artisans, and become a part of a movement towards mindful consumption and preservation of craft.
Caring for Woodblock Printed Clothing
Caring for woodblock printed clothing is essential to maintain the beauty and longevity of these unique garments. By following a few simple guidelines, you can ensure that your woodblock print clothing remains vibrant and in excellent condition for years to come.First and foremost, always check the care instructions provided by the manufacturer or on the clothing label. Different fabrics and dyes may require specific care methods. However, here are some general tips to keep in mind:
It is often recommended to hand wash woodblock print clothing to prevent any damage to the delicate prints. Use a gentle detergent and lukewarm water. Gently swirl the garment in the soapy water and avoid scrubbing or wringing, as this can cause the colors to fade or bleed. Rinse thoroughly with cool water until the water runs clear.
Avoid Harsh Chemicals
Woodblock prints are often created using natural dyes, so it's important to avoid harsh chemicals, bleach, and strong detergents. These can cause the colors to fade or alter the print's vibrancy. Opt for mild, natural-based detergents that are gentle on the fabric and dyes.
After washing, gently squeeze out the excess water from the garment without twisting or wringing. Avoid direct sunlight, as prolonged exposure can cause fading. Instead, hang the garment in a shaded area or lay it flat on a clean towel to air dry. Avoid using a dryer, as the heat can damage the fabric and print.
If necessary, iron the woodblock print clothing while it is still slightly damp or use a low-temperature setting. Place a clean cloth over the print to protect it and avoid direct contact with the iron. This helps to prevent any damage to the delicate prints or fabric.
When storing woodblock print clothing, ensure it is clean and completely dry to prevent any moisture or mold growth. It's best to fold the garments and store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Consider using acid-free tissue paper or cotton fabric to protect the prints from any potential color transfer or creasing.
By following these care guidelines, you can extend the life and vibrancy of your woodblock print clothing. Each piece is a unique work of art, and with proper care, you can continue to enjoy its beauty and craftsmanship for years to come.
By far, what makes the woodblock printing process truly special is family. As a small family business, our greatest pleasure is working in harmony with our artisans and their families in India. Because of them, Cleobella is a small dream turned reality that is still thriving 17 years later. Together, we will continue preserving and celebrating the rich, cultural woodblock printing tradition with each design and garment we bring to life.