Block Printing with Tulu Textiles

Tulu Textiles founder, Elizabeth Hewitt, has a particular love of block printing and all of the intricacies that go into this amazing process. Based in Istanbul, Elizabeth visits India a few times a year where she gets to work with master printers and carvers on her fabrics.

When dreaming up a new design, she has to fit her idea into a format that can actually be block printed. There’s a size limit to the blocks—they can’t be too heavy or hard to use. Once her designs are set and the blocks have been carved, she can start choosing colors, which the color master then mixes. As the color is refined, Elizabeth and the team map out the printing itself. The masters are integral to the entire process as they have an actual feel for every step. As Elizabeth says, “it is down to touch, pressure, how hard you press or pound the block, how you rock or place the block flat—all nuances that can’t be explained, it is by eye. Being in the workshop with the master printers and carvers, drinking chai masala is just the best thing ever.”

Come along with Elizabeth as she takes us through the lifecycle of three of her block printed fabrics: Nour, Steveann, and Shadiyeh (now in a brand new colorway, the lovely Taupe)!

Nour is loosely based on an antique brocade fabric that I bought in Syria in 2000. In its original woven silver brocaded form it is rather formal and fancy but I love the basics of this ancient star design.



I played with scale and used color to completely take it away from its original formality. The scale of the motifs is large, it pushes the size limitations of block-printing, this is where the block carvers work their magic. They figure out the math problem of how to carve the design to scale and allow for the printers to manage the blocks as well as for the design to be printed as drawn. Nour only uses two blocks, but it is a slow print, as we go back and reverse the colors—so it really is more like a four to five block design.



Our paneled screen sets the tone with the plum perfect pairing of Alhambra in Plum with Moire Stripe in Plum. The shapely settee is upholstered in Alhambra Mineral with a skirt done up in Andalus Mineral and the sweetest little chair is upholstered in Andalus Antique Blue. Of course we had to add a decorative pillow that we made using Andalus Mustard, with a chic Moire Stripe in Plum surprise trim detail.

SteveAnn is based on a 19th century Russian document fabric that I found and fell for completely. At first glance, it looks like an animal print with stripes, but it’s actually flowers with tiny tiger stripes.



Translating this pattern into a block print was a thrill. We played with overlapping colors to achieve details in the flowers and the stripes—a sort of ‘un-refinement’ process. We used five different blocks for SteveAnn.

Shadiyeh is a really special story. I bought a very small woven fragment from the early 1800's from Syria / Lebanon, just a tiny corner of a much larger weaving. A black and white photograph of an old man sitting in a chair in front of a wall covered by a huge woven tapestry came with the fragment—and the fragment is from that very tapestry.



The full tapestry is so surprising in its design and scale. If I’d only had the photograph, and not this fragment, I would have imagined that tapestry in a completely different way. The photograph and fragment lived with me for about a year before I wrote this down: “Where do we come from if our origins are unknown? What if the land has disappeared? Radically changed? What if our colorful life has been reduced to black and white?” From there, I translated it into the design, Shadiyeh.



The large scale of the paisley or boteh pushed the limits of what we can do with blocks in size, but the masters figured it out. It’s a complicated design with many blocks. Again, the nature of the blocks organically changes the original and slightly rigid woven flowers into lovely hand painted flowers. Shadiyeh has an EPIC number of blocks—we used 18 different blocks for this design!

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