TOAST Magazine

Block Printing with Anokhi

STYLE & STORIES

In February, we visited Anokhi in India to document the making of our block printed Floral Wrap Dress and Cotton Voile Shirt.

On the outskirts of the pink city of Jaipur is an organic farm. Filled with delicious seasonal produce, it is home to the block printing studio of Anokhi. Bougainvillea climb the walls of the central courtyard – their deep pink flowers contrasting with the pale, sand-coloured stone – and the soft thud of wood blocks on the printing table marks the pace of time.

Founded by John and Faith Singh in 1970, Anokhi is now run by their son Pritam and his wife Rachel. Over the years it has established itself as a pioneering print studio, dedicated to sustaining traditional methods of making and a large community of craftspeople.

When we arrive, it is Rachel who greets us with cups of warming chai and freshly baked honey and oat biscuits. She shows us through the sunken courtyard and up to the studios where the printing takes place in open air. 

We watch as the printer, with much dexterity and precision, brings our pattern into being. First he prints the base colour, slowly building up the pattern with every new block. Each colour in the design requires a separate block, so the more colours, the more complicated it is to produce. Our pattern has six colours in total.

TOAST has collaborated with Anokhi to create the intricate floral pattern, taking inspiration from their vast archive of prints. The designs begin in the hands of Rachel, who paints each pattern in watercolour before passing it to the carvers – “chippas” – who skilfully translate the pattern into wood blocks. 

To do this they use an arsenal of tiny chisels and tools, all with a specific purpose. One wrong move, and the entire block, which can take up to a day to complete, has to be re-made.

The dye used for our Anokhi print is a reactive dye, meaning that the true colour of the dye only reveals itself once the cloth has been washed and dried. Reactive dyes resemble watercolours in their fluidity, one colour bleeding a little into the next. We like this imprecision and the soft, painterliness of the finished piece.

At lunchtime a bell sounds and all work stops for an hour. In the courtyard lunch is served, made using produce from the farm - chickpea and spinach curries, chapatis and yoghurt. In this hour the women visit the on-site nursery to check on their young children. 

Though dedicated to sustaining the craft and to giving it a future, the family are equally keen to maintain its history. On the other side of Jaipur, near to the many hill top forts, they have created the Anokhi Museum, bringing a neglected haveli back to life and filling it with the story of block printing in Rajasthan. Samples of all types of block printing hang from the walls and the museum has become a revered archive, showcasing regional variations in pattern and technique.

Many of the craftspeople working at Anokhi have been there for decades, some for over thirty years. This is a testament to the care they show to their workers but also to the environment they have created - one of tranquility and creativity. It was difficult for us to leave...

 Photography by Robbie Lawrence.

Shop the Anokhi Floral Wrap Dress and Cotton Voile Shirt.

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