Unforgettable Textile Design in Everyday Things

If you look at the objects that you encounter in a day you will more than likely find that at least one of them is touched by design with cultural antecedents outside your own.  Many of the designs we see in everyday life come from textile surface or structural design that have been passed down through multiple generations proving that they are unforgettable and continue to have appeal.  Textile surface design or applied design is when a finish of some type is applied to a textile.  Embroidery, painting, or tie dyeing are examples. Structural design incorporates the design as fabric is produced, such as weaving a tapestry or creating lace. What is fascinating is when that surface or structural design is incorporated into a different type of object than for what it was originally intended. A pair of socks could have a Navajo geometric design knitted into them.  A tray might have an Incan Tocapu design painted onto it.  An African Kente Cloth design might be printed onto a fabric shower curtain.  Now the materials and the way of creating the design have both changed but the visual idea of the design is still dominate.

Producers decided how far to take the use of the design on which they base their work.  Is it a direct copy and has it been approved by the original creating group?  Is it an inspired piece that uses ideas from other works?  Is it a piece created in traditional ways by a group in the same ways as their predecessors? Is it even a textile or another form of media that uses like graphic ideas?  These are questions that play into the design process of the producers, values, and perception and evaluation of the design.

A selection of nine projects from Clothing, Textile and Interior Design 446 Cultural Dynamics Course at The University of Alabama are presented. Each project has a representative everyday object that can been found in today’s global market.

India Block Print

The Technique

What process was/is used to make the design in general?

The process behind block printing is very interesting.  The design is first carved into a wooden block and sketched or outlined onto the fabric for reference.  Once the design is carved, the block is dipped into either ink or dye and then is stamped onto the fabric of choice.  The fabric the print is applied to is first stretched and pinned to a surface in order to prevent wrinkling.  Every color used in the pattern has to have its own block, therefore if you have multiple colors, you need multiple blocks.

Is it surface, structural, or a combination?

I would say this technique is surface because each individual theread is not died and then sewn or put together.  It is stamped onto the fabric which is then cut into the desired garment or textile.  If it were a structural design, the design would first be dyed onto each thread and then put together to create a design.

What materials were/are used for the design?

The materials that were and still are used for this design is hand carved wooden blocks, sometimes stone, ink or dye, and then the fabric of choice.  The fabric choice depends on the type of dye or ink being used.  For natural dyes, tighter fabrics such as cotton, silk, and linen work best because they hold the die better than other fabrics.  For synthetic dyes, almost all fabrics can be used.

Who did the work?

Block printing was done and still is done all through out India.  Although it was a very popular technique, different types of dyes and patterns were synonyms with different regions through out India.  Indian block printing was done by people by all different walks of life.  It was not specific to men, women, or even social groups for that matter, but originally, the skills did get passed down through families.  It also was an industry that kept many towns and small cities economically stable, such as Jaipur and Bagru.  After it became more widespread, many people made businesses out of the technique.

What was/is the purpose of the textile with this surface design?

The purpose of the textile with this surface design was and still is for fashion and aesthetic purposes.  This was a way for families to make money and then became a widespread technique that became very popular.  A local technique and local businesses became internationally sought-after from Western countries.

Is the technique still being carried out today by the culture? Do they still practice the technique, teach it, and produce objects with the technique?

The technique is most definitely being carried out today by the Indian culture.  It is still a very prominent technique and has spread internationally.  They still practice, teach, and produce objects within the techniques such as a printing block machine.  For example, Tory Burch recently visited Anokhi’s Block Prints while in India, showing how they still practice the technique today.

Popular Culture Today

How is this surface design or structural design or combination produced today?

This design is first carved into a wooden block, however, sometimes a stone block is used. Once the design is carved into the block, ink or dye is applied to the design on the block and is hand pressed on the material of choice.  The fabric the print is applied to is first stretched and pinned to a surface in order to prevent wrinkling.  The design is first sketched or outlined onto the fabric for reference and then the block is applied .  Every color used in the pattern has to have its own block, therefore if you have multiple colors, you need multiple blocks.

Has the visual of the surface or structural design been used in material culture production today in popular culture or the fashion world?

The technique has been used in both popular culture and the fashion industry.  The technique can be seen on not only fashion products and garments but also objects such as tapestries, carpets, mattresses, and many more.  It has also been seen in pop culture, in events such as in the movie The Cheetah Girls, which was shot in India and displayed many objects that were block printed.

Is it copied or used as inspiration?

This technique is copied, however many artists use their own designs, but use block printing as their technique.  Most designs are unique to the designer or artist, however some may draw inspiration from previous designs and colors.  However, the technique of block printing is copied because they do not change the specific steps to the technique.

What materials are used in the production?

The materials used in this production are either wood or sometimes stone blocks which are used to actually print the design on the material.  Specifically, for the mattress, the Sara dress, and the scarf, a wood block was used.  Next, you need either ink or die to put on the block which is transferred from the block onto the fabric.  Block printing works best on tightly woven materials such as cotton, linen, and silk because they hold the die better.

Where can it be purchased?

The mattress can be purchased exclusively at World Market.  The Sara dress can be purchased at Seek Collective but also on garmentory.com.  The scarf can be seen on amazon, eBay, walmart, and pinterest.

Who is producing it?

The mattress is produced in India, however it does not give the exact location.  The Sara dress is produced and manufactured by artisan communities in South India.  The scarf is produced and manufactured in India, however it also does not give the exact location.

How much does it cost?

The mattress, which is the first picture, costs $89.99.  The Sara dress, which is the second picture costs $250.  Finally, the scarf, which is the third picture, costs $14.99.  As described, depending on the product, location of production, and materials used, the cost of the block printed garments vary tremendously.

Legal/Moral Issues


    Has the culture group who produced the technique you researched given permission for the use of their work with the examples discussed in Part II?

    India is extremely appreciative that other cultures want to adopt their techniques such as block printing. Especially in the United States where fashion is looked upon in so many ways from streetwear to evening wear to even accessories. This makes India have a strong sense of pride knowing their work is being adapted in many ways.

    Discuss the laws that govern cultural intellectual property in the country where the culture resides.

    Intellectual property rights have grown to a position from where it plays an important role in the global economy’s development over the past two decades. The role and importance of the intellectual property protection has been formed in the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Systems and agreement, with the establishment of the World Trade Organization. In the year 1856 in India Patent Act was introduced which remained in play for more than 50 years which was later modified and revised and was called The Indian Patents and Designs Act, 1911. Finally in India, copyrights were regulated under the Copyright Act, 1957; trademarks under Trade and Merchandise Marks Act 1958; patents under Patents Act, 1970; and designs under Designs Act, 1911.

    What laws in the US govern cultural intellectual property?

    Intellectual property law deals with the rules for securing and enforcing legal rights to inventions, designs, and artistic works.The purpose of these laws is to give an incentive for people to develop creative works that benefit society, by ensuring they can profit from their works without fear of misappropriation by others. There are four types of intellectual property laws; Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress express authority to grant authors and inventors exclusive rights to their creations.

    Patents give inventors the right to use their product in the marketplace, or to profit by transferring that right to someone else. Trademarks protect symbols, names, and slogans used to identify goods and services. The purpose is to avoid confusion.Copyrights apply to writings, music, motion pictures, architecture, and other original intellectual and artistic expressions. Protection is not available for theories or ideas, or anything that has not been captured in a fixed medium. These laws are extremely positive when it comes to protecting fashion designs and designers.

    Is the design considered sacred and should not be reproduced because of its sacred nature?

    Block printing is not considered sacred, it is encouraged to be reproduced as long as great care and authentication is considered when creating the textile. Block printing is also an excellent way to produce a something that is truly handmade which is another way people preserve this ancient Indian technique. Block printing was also brought to areas of Asia and China to preserve this technique, while adding a twist. Also famous Museums like shown in photos used in part one of this assignment preserve old textiles where block printing was used, they are put on display for others to enjoy this Indian technique. 

    Is the technique/visual representation of the culture’s work considered public domain?

    Small workshops and villages in India, there is a commitment to keeping the old tradition of block printing alive so it is never lost within the new forms of fashion. People in India take great pride knowing so many famous designers want to adopt this technique and incorporate it in their future collections. This is considered a public domain by seeing block printed garments worn by celebrities on the red carpet. Ellie Kemper wore Peter Pilotto’s black and blue block printing gown to the Guild awards. Also block printing was seen publicly in the famous cinema picture Slumdog Millionaire, the garments were created by costume designer, Suttirat Anne Larlarb. These designs became a public icon in the fashion world and proudly represented block printing.