Monday, June 17, 2013

Hand Block Printed Fabric From India

I have suddenly become a fabric importer. How and why did that happen?? Well, I had an epiphany! To promote hand printed "yardwork-artwork", I don't necessarily have to do the hand printing myself. In fact printing yardage with my own hands is impractical considering the expensive city I live in and the space and time I have, not to mention the number of hands I have (only two!).  

And, for the past year or so, I have been developing an appreciation for the hand printed cotton fabrics from India.  Some of these are carried by other sellers on Etsy.  But almost all of these sellers live in India, which means high postage and a rather long wait!  

I had this important "ah ha!" moment about promoting fabric after watching a video presentation about an art project by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. The show was most recently at the Tate Modern in London (I was not, unfortunately!) and was titled "Sunflower Seeds" because the gallery floor was covered, by the artist, in millions of sunflower seeds. However, these were not ordinary sunflower seeds, but hand-crafted porcelain sunflower seeds. 

Ai Weiwei employed 1,600 workers for five years to make 100 million porcelain seeds. The workers, or artisans, were from Jingdezhen, a city in China well known for its exquisite porcelain pottery. Watching this video, I had the sudden realization that whole communities had their economies and life styles wrapped up in these deeply traditional and expert crafting skills-and that this was in stark contrast to my own community. 

Of course this is something I always knew, but it was suddenly a fact that became more important to me. As an artist, designer, and part-time craftsperson, I've often felt at odds with my environment. It is a struggle. Not only do I get paid less than people in other skilled professions, but my activities are solitary and my efforts can feel unimportant to the "whole." I don't think I am alone in this feeling. Don't we all want to be a part of and make a difference in the world?

Suddenly there was a window through which I could see a way, within my line of work, to make a small difference for other people and, at the same time, communicate my personal "aesthetic judgment.”

So, after a lot of internet research, emailing, and sampling, I took the step (a leap of faith!) required to bring my own selection of fabrics from India to Yardwork. My very first online fabric order, which was the minimum number of meters required to buy wholesale, employed six printers for four weeks. So, if nothing else, I have done that. 

And this is not just a purely financial, import-export  transaction, but also very much a collaboration. I chose patterns that appealed to me and would complement my own classically contemporary designs. I was able to choose which prints would be in which colors. The block printers in India have the access and the means to hand print yardage in large quantities using natural pigments and dyes, and I do not. The communication, although only through email, was friendly and I would wake up most mornings excited to read "Namaste from India". I am recognizing that this village in India has a textile tradition that is valuable, although in danger, and I want to support it and bring their fabric closer to my "village." And by doing that I will bring my village of buyers closer to them. I hope it is the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship!

Personally I think their fabrics look fabulous on my shop page! So colorful and, well, comfortable and at home. I plan to have some fun with this and come up with a few projects that combine my hand printed swatches and theirs. And if I can sell fabric, I can buy more fabric. We can all be happy!

Isn't it beautiful?

Now for some "insider info" for my blog readers! I wanted to try out Etsy's new coupon code feature. Without thinking about it too much, I chose the THANK YOU option. Etsy will send a code for 40% off the next purchase to anyone who buys something in my shop through August 31st. So, go buy the least expensive thing, which would be a fat quarter ($4.50), and enjoy 40% off the total of your next purchase!

Your purchase helps to keep this beautiful craft tradition (and my shop!) alive!

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