Spotlight: Dabu printing – artisanal tradition meets the modern home
Dabu printing – we can’t get enough of it. Our obsession du moment, it’s the magic behind the gorgeous patterns you see on Bohemian soft furnishings. And in our case, it’s the artisanal story underpinning the beauty of some of our new cushions and blankets.
Rooted firmly in Asian history and heritage, Dabu block-printing is intricate yet natural. And really impressive.
Although now practised solely in Rajasthan – a region of India where craftspeople have been honing their printing skills for the last 800 years – Dabu can actually be traced back to China. It’s said to have been used there as far back as 675 AD.
To put that into context, it’s 900 years before Baroque architecture took Italy by storm, 1,240 years before Art Deco entered the world of interiors and 1,327 years before we produced our first design. It’s ancient.
In short, Dabu printing is a form of block-printing, executed entirely by hand with wooden blocks. And, despite the advent of technology, which brought with it machine-executed, uniform production processes, Dabu remains a treasured craft.
Using just a hammer, chisel, mud paste and a chunk of wood, the dedication of Rajasthani craftspeople helps Dabu to retain its special artisanal legacy – one which makes every finished product unique. And we love it.
We’re blown away by how natural and human-based the process of Dabu printing really is. Plus, it requires a huge range of talents. The creator of each cushion cover and blanket isn’t just a mixologist skilled in concocting the best mud paste but also a master carver – someone with the artistic ability to chisel out the perfect pattern with precision.
First, the pattern is carved on to a solid block of wood – and depending on what it is, chisels of different shapes are used to achieve variety. This is done by hand, with the most intricate designs taking up to ten days to carve.
Next up – mixing the mud paste. Our skilled partners in Rajasthan often use mud sourced from river beds and ponds, together with clay and other natural ingredients, to create the paste – which can be mixed by foot! It’s actually the easiest way, and keeps the process natural throughout.
Lengths of fabric are stretched out to ensure the pattern is applied evenly. The fabric used to create our Lilly and Forest designs is 100% cotton. Then, the wooden block is dipped into the mud paste and stamped on to the fabric, bringing to life the patterns we love.
Sawdust is sprinkled over the fabric to stop the mud sticking together. It’s then dried under the scorching heat of the Indian sun until the mud hardens – at which point, it’s ready for dye.
100% vegetable dye achieves colour in the most organic way. Indigo, one of the oldest dyes, extracted from the plant indigofera tinctoria, is the natural pigmentation found on our Lilly range. Pomegranate is used for red-toned dyes and turmeric for orange hues.
“Colour is one of the great draws of Dabu”, one of our artisan partners told us, as we strolled past the rolls and rolls of hand-printed fabric patterned head to toe with indigo blue and yellow.
Fabric is pushed down into the vegetable dye with a stick so that the mud-printed patterns take on their new colour – and once done, your cushion cover or blanket receives a final wash to remove clay and reveal a gorgeous, colourful pattern underneath.
The finished product
Hand-printing is no easy feat, but any imperfections only add to the beauty of a finished textile, infusing it with character and ensuring there’s no other piece like it in the world.
That’s one of the reasons we’re so head over heels with the Lilly and the Forest – the variance in their colour tone, even between items of the same design, reminds us that it’s nature and human art, not machinery, that fuel some of the best interior designs out there.
The result? Indisputable Bohemian beauty. View our Dabu block-printed collection here.