Friday, November 23, 2012

carla tilghman - bits about printed textiles

During the Renaissance, print techniques on textiles were limited. One could use vats to dye fabric with amazing colors. The stamping of an image on cloth was another matter. Artisans could not figure out HOW to do it so that the image would not wash out. Their attempts bore poor results. What did work was painting the silk cloth by hand, as seen in the Parament from Narbonne (below). Textile artists would end up borrowing from printmakers. Using wood blocks and later copperplate etching. DOUBLE CLICK ON IMAGES TO SEE ENLARGED.

Parament closeup (above) full piece (below)

The solution came to Europe in the 1500s, explained textile historian and artist Carla Tilghman. The Portugese discovered the ornate textiles of East India during their trips of exploration.

The patterns in the Indian fabric did not wash out and were vibrant.

The textiles from India provided an alternative to the heavy silks, the woolens, and the rough linens of the times. "Indiennes," as the French called the east indian prints, were popular among those who could afford it, namely French high society or royalty, both kings and queens. It had a "must have" appeal. The textiles were a colorful, lightweight, and easy to wash. More on indiennes HERE and HERE.

British East India Company

Soon every country had its own East India Company (maps above). This was their strategy. Gold bullion from Europe was used to buy spices from the Indonesian islands further east of India. They traded spices for the block print textiles from merchants in India. Both spices and textiles were imported to Europe.
Such that other countries came to India to set up their own colony of block print workers, for the sole purpose of producing textiles for their markets back home. Colonialism was a global market. There was competition and armies fighting for the textile production.

Mughal carpets were studied to understand the dyes that were used (samples below).

 A blue and red combination was a favorite in Europe

Mughal, Men's Robe, 2nd half 17th c, India,
painted cotton with applied gold leaf,
A late 19th century mural from haveli mansion 
shows the process of printing on fabric

The dense wood of the endgrain was used for detailed designs. (above) 
Today these same kinds of wood blocks are being cut in Sanganer, Rajasthan. The wood blocks are BIG. 15 by 15 inches in size. (See below)
The design was carved by hand on hard wood in Sanganer, Rajasthan (above).

The . Watch 1 minute video. Intricate drilling of wood block. (Courtesy of , accessed Nov. 14, 2012)
Fabric was laid on a table, a "squishy" table in Jodhpur, India. The wood block was inked and carefully lined up on the fabric and pressed down by hand. Then inked again, positioned, and pressed down. Eventually creating a sequence of shapes across the fabric. Lighter colors were laid down first. Darker colors were laid down later.

Light dye was put on dark color fabric.
A combination of large and small blocks were used to create patterns.


India Block Printing. Watch three minute video showing the carving process for wood blocks.  (Courtesy of , accessed Nov. 14, 2012)

India--Iqbal,bvlock printer extraordinare.  (Click on X in upper right of ads and they will disappear) Watch six minute video of inking block, positioning it on the fabric, and thunking the block. (Courtesy of  , accessed November 14, 2012)

Chemical formulas were figured out by artisans in Barmer, Rasasthan.
Regions were known for their particular block printing method.                                         
Red and blue were the essential Indian colors used. 

Color dyes come from two plants: Chay (k-igh) and Indigo (in-dee-go)

Orange tinged red ~ Turkey red
The tighter molecular structure of the plant
makes the color stronger, more intense.
 The dye was fixed by using natural calcium in water,
which was available naturally.

Block printed fabrics were washed in Barmer River and laid out to dry.

The imported East Indian calico prints were so popular in Europe that wool and silk manufacturers became upset and raised a fuss. Bans and fines were imposed to protect the silk, wool, linen and hemp industries. In 1686 the French King Louis XIV imposed a ban. In 1700 England passed an Act of Parliment to prevent the importation of dyed or printed calicoes from India, China or Persia. English manufacturers got around the rule by importing the raw unprinted, undyed cloth (which is what calico is). The grey cloth was then dyed and printed with the popular patterns in southern England. More on the bans HERE. More on calicos HERE and HERE. When the French ban was lifted in 1759, Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf (1738-1815) and Antoine Guerne established a printworks in Jouy-en-Josas, 15 miles outside Paris.  His firm used the techniques of wood block printing, copper plate printing, and roller printing.

French, Indienne, wood block printing, Factory in Mulhouse, Alsace, 1760 c

Indienne, Wood block printing on cotton
  factory Oberkampf in Jouy, 1785 c
 (Courtesy of Musee Impression,,
accessed Nov 21, 2012.
Europeans liked light backgrounds for their exports.
Robert Jones & Co. (printer), Length of furnishing fabric
Old Ford (London), England 1769
Linen and cotton, printed from engraved copper plates
and wood blocks, with hand painted blue
(courtesy of French Toile Fabric,
accessed Nov 21, 2012)

Indian bedcover, 1625-1685, painted and dyed cotton,,
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Europeans liked light backgrounds for their exports.

Chintz, Palampore, Amsterdam coat of arms, c 1710,
painted and dyed cotton, det 1 Coromandle made,
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London
This was an export from Amsterdam.

19th c block print sample cloth
This was intended as export for the Siam market.

Calico temple veil, Persian factory,
 wood block print on cotton, c 1850

European workers painted and dyed cotton.

Europe had its own bleaching fields.

When asked what was used to bleach linens, Ms. Tilghman discussed the use of buttermilk. Acids in the buttermilk were thought to bleach the linens. The Buffalo milk that was used in India was used fixed the dyes in the fabric.  Click two minute answer (above) to question raised by a member of the Kansas City Print Society at the Nelson-Atkins Gallery Saturday morning, October 13th.
Underwear petticoat made for clothing in Europe.
Doll clothes bore calico floral patterns.
Watch 40 second video. "An exhibition was put on in London just this last year about those textiles and those records. We can track the development of the the use of calico in cotton fabrics, at least in London, and we can do it across class lines. So, the book has become a little treasure trove of information rediscovered within the last ten years. They are two very lucky scholars. So we have lots of information from their writing. One British scholar named Beverly LeMire and a British man named John Stiles, and they have written a lot about the calico industry."  Ms. LeMire edited "The British Cotton Trade, 1660-1815."
Watch 56 second video. "And it was developed through the use of rollers. Initially, copper plates. What a surprise, copper plate printing. But eventually they get turned into rollers. And roller plate printing becomes the way to print fabric. Look (first photo)  this is marketed as an indienne fabric with a Chinese scene. (audience laughter). (second photo)  So this is a combination of a printed cotton fabric from France, that uses both the copper roller and the wood block. You are seeing early on using combinations. Eventually you do see the copper plate and rollers replace the woodblock."

Calico, Oberkampf, 1750s, printed, drape wrap
More on patterns HERE.
Painted calico became more available to a wide
range of customers. It was less expensive than silk
Watch 2.25 minutes about etching technology. "And here is the fabric that is coming off the rollers. So, you can stop these rollers so that each of them can be inked with a different color. And you are literally running your fabric past the rollers. So the rollers are actually pressing down of the fabric as the fabric is moved past it.  The rollers become stationary and it is the fabric that moved. It is a more efficient way to create long lengths of fabric. And I am not going in to this other than to say that -- This technology was also very tied with the development of power looms. The power loom was what allowed an incredibly long length of fabric to be woven very quickly and very efficiently. So these technologies are all linked. (audience laughter) (next slide of roller diagram) There is a lint doctor. It amuses me that this really is taking a look at etching technology. You have the blanket. You have the back fabric. You got something to press against. You got a way to run it through a lot of pressure. There are a lot of similarities. Francis (Key) Nixon is the one in 1773, the Irish guy, who invented the first copper roller. I think he would be a smart guy looking at how etchings were made in terms of pressure. So, you have each individual roller that can be dunked into, or, actually this is a separate wheel that inks the roller right here, and the roller rolls right on to the fabric, and of course it is backed by these two other squishy tables, and all of this is up against a pressure bowl. So, you have to adjust the pressure of all this, so that the pressure is even, and then the fabric comes out, and it would move out onto an enormous long dyer belt. And then, eventually the fabric goes on to another roller at the end, but of course all of it would have to have a chance to dry without being smooshed."  More on Printed Textiles 1760-1860  HERE.

Double sided printing fabric machine

Watch 2.30 minutes. "The printer belt here and then the drying rack and then it is rolled off into bolts. And of course these bolts have to be washed. So you take the bolts off the roller and you take them to another place that unrolls them and runs them through a washing bath. You have to wash any of the extra dye off. Because these materials can be made in huge long bolts of cloth, they become pretty inexpensive. This is a pretty cost effective way, because you don't have to pay as much labor. Labor costs does not become your primary expense,  Machinery becomes your primary expense. (next slide) This is a fully mechanized printing factory from the late 1800s."

(question: How do they get the excess dye off? What keeps the dye from coming off and getting all mooshed together?)  "This is where those things I call mordants come in. What the mordants do is chemically bond at the molecular level with the dye and the plant fiber. Whatever is excess literally gets washed out and not bound to the fiber. And that is why you dry it first. You let the chemical interaction happen only in those little areas. (next slide) (1860 eng Calico power loom, Circle of Science) An advertisement for printing. This is actually a print that I own. So the way they try to market these things. (next slide) This is a calico printing factory, so these are just two guys that happen to work there (standing beside rolled calico cloth). I steal from Getty Images, which is You can see how much the fabric looks like those Indian imports. It is clear that these printed fabrics suddenly take on a life of its own in Europe. These printed fabrics still with the Indian motifs, these last for a long time in terms of use and in terms of popularity."
(Hand carved Indian wood textile stamp,
courtesy of, accessed Oct 26, 2012)
The tradition of block printing in India continues today in Bangorlore, India.
See one instance at Devakis here and here. That site again is
Check out their gallery of block print designs This mother and daughter home business began in 1996. (update courtesy of Devakis,, accessed Feb 13, 2013, from moderated comment below)

M.A., Art History, MFA Studio Arts, textile artist, associate professor
Carla is researching and writing the first text book on the history of textiles published since 1979. Being a textile artist herself, she merges the artist with the historian's view of textiles.

Additional Links and Credits 
(Parament of Narbonne courtesy of Wikipedia,;  Carla Tilgman website
courtesy of Lapin Textiles,;  The Indiennes, courtesy of
Musée de l’Impression sur Étoffes, http://www.musee; Dream Home Decorating, accessed Nov 14, 2012.
East India Company link courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art,;  
Muhgal Empire map courtesy of I Love India,,
Mughal Men's Robe courtesy of Metropoliatan Art Museum,;
Regional block printing methods courtesy of India Craft,
Ban against calicos courtesy of Mashpedia,  
More on Calicos courtesy of Stich and Save With Sara Glenn,; Fabric courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum,; accessed Nov
21, 2012. 
The British Cotton Trade, 1660-1815 by Beverly LeMire courtesy of The DEA
pickering-e-chatto-publishers-ltd/9781851969791.html;   accessed Nov 22, 2012
Francis Nixon courtesy of Printed Textiles 1760-1860, in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt
Museum, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Design, on open on,;
textile artist info courtesy of  Lapin Textiles,;
power loom courtesy of,,  accessed Nov.23, 2012)  

submitted by Karl Marxhausen