The majority of the Hazelton House collection is printed using the ancient craft of Hand Block Printing. Prior to the introduction of machine printing, all textiles were printed by hand. Today, these skills are rare. The proficiency involved in printing each hand-blocked design is immense. Fabrics are printed on large tables of approximately 17m and the surface is coated with a layer of glue to ensure that base cloth is smooth before printing begins. The highly skilled craftsmen responsible for the printing process will decide the best way to first map out the design. They may print first with a fugitive outline printed using a vat dye without active ingredient and therefore will wash away during the finishing process. Alternatively, the designs are marked out using different coloured pins between each layer of colour. Both methods are crucial to enable accuracy when using the hand blocks.
The tools required to execute each design are exactly the same as those during the early days of Hand Block Printing and have been passed down through generations. The wooden blocks themselves could be considered pieces of art. Each block is hand carved with individual sections that make up one complete design. Different blocks are used for different types of design: copper is used for fine detailing; wood for larger motifs; and felt blocks can be used to fill in large areas of a design. Often all three materials are combined to make one block. A Maul is used to apply pressure to the block during printing; a very heavy tool, individually made to fit the printer’s hand. Each printer 'mauls' the blocks to differing degrees - the amount of colur printed by each block varies with the amount of pressure applied, which is unique to each printer and the time of printing. A tired Friday may produce a very different print to a Monday!
It is imperative to distribute the right amount of colour on the sieve so there isn’t too much or too little vat dye applied to the block. When printing with a block it’s also crucial that the correct amount of pressure on the block when printing, this takes a great amount of skill. The character of a block-printed textile is as unique as the person who prints it: often by looking at a piece of cloth, the block supervisor of our mill can identify who printed it. Each repeat and print-run is also unique. The quality of dye applied to the sieve (or ink pad) varies with each application. And also the weather has a profound effect: on a hot summer's day the colour dries quickly on the surface, creating a crisper effect, while in damp weather the fabric takes longer to dry and the colours are absorbed into the fabric to give a softer looking print. These small details distinguish our block printing from screenprinted imitations.