After striking gold in Italy we couldn’t believe our luck when we chanced upon a collection of woodblocks in Gloucestershire. In our search to find woodblock printing closer to home this small and utterly beautiful English collection really did reflect the design talent and craftsmanship we had been looking for.
One of the last printing factories to close in England was run by David Evans in Crayford. Printing ceased in the 1980’s and the craft skills were lost. It is hard to believe but many of the unused and abandoned wood blocks were used as firewood. Luckily some of the most beautiful wood and brass ones have survived.
As the sun rises on a fresh August morning we jump into our red van and head for Dover. Our plan is to drive to Italy in hope of lazy days by the pool and long summer lunches.
Sheltered from the blazing summer sun we overlook the Piazza Del Campo and imagine the madness of the Palio Di Sienna. I turn to buy an ice cream but my attention is caught by Il Casale, a shop selling what appears to be block printed kitchenware. With excitement we venture inside. The shop assistant proudly explains that all the fabrics are hand block printed in Italy, yes Italy!
Leaving the pool loungers behind, we travel across Tuscany (in our van without air con!) to Gambettola a small town in the province of Emilia Romagna. Wandering Gambetolla’s sleepy streets, the unmistakable sound of wood hitting fabric meets our ears. So it’s true the Italian’s are still keeping this ancient craft alive.
Since starting Woven Oak in 2009 we have found little evidence of block printing in Europe. To see this craft so close to home opens up many doors of possibility
Traditional Italian woodblock carved from pear wood, the skills are still
being passed down the generations.
If we were to name one designer that has inspired us more than any other it would be Morris. To be exhibiting at Kelmscott House alongside some of his original hand painted designs and fabrics is a real honour and joy. 2011 is particularly poignant as it marks Morris’s 150-year anniversary. Today his timeless prints are still going strong. Only the other day a good friend offered us some Morris fabric to be up-cycled into a pair of cushion covers. It’s our on-going mission to create balanced and seamlessly flowing designs that age beautifully.
All of Morris’s original fabrics and wallpapers were printed using a staggering number of intricate blocks. To promote this ancient process that was once in abundance in the UK we have displayed our wood blocks alongside each hand printed length of fabric.
Standing in the Coach House over-looking the Thames dreaming of all the history these four walls must have observed from the weaving of Morris’ fabric to the socialist meetings. I take a deep breath and smile.
Cheers to Morris.
Woodblock Carving Tools Leo used in India
Our New Collection of Hand Block Printed Textiles and Woodblocks
From late July until mid September the William Morris’ Kelmscott House will be holding an exhibition of our new hand block printed collection of fabrics. This will be a unique opportunity to see how the block printing process works and to view a range of our fabrics with corresponding woodblocks. We will also giving a talk on the 23rd July at 2.15pm, the details of which are below.
The Wonder of Woodblocks and Textile Printing
Combining their skills as a textile designer and woodblock carver Lizzie and Leo Hillier founded Woven Oak, a small company specialising in block-printed textiles. The traditional block-printing process used by William Morris is at the heart of what they aim to promote. Through their talk and exhibition they hope to increase the awareness of this historic process, giving value again to the principles Morris campaigned for and wrote about during his life. Their talk will include a history of wood block carving and printing from Morris’ work to the present day. They will also refer to their time spent working with artisans in India and give a practical demonstration of carving and printing using traditional methods. The exhibition will include a collection of their hand block-printed fabrics with corresponding woodblocks.
For further details on Kelmscott House and how to get there please visit www.williammorrissociety.org.
It has been far too long since I carved a woodblock. I was given traditional tools in India by the master craftsman at the Anokhi Museum. It has taken me two years to source suitable wood, a search that still continues and I am now using Oak, which seems like a fitting choice given our name (Woven Oak). This small piece was an off cut that a friend, who works with wood, gave me. To test to see if the grain would support a range of lines, both curved and straight, without splitting or generally misbehaving, I drew out a rough design that would include these things. I had tried to use some laminated Maple end grain without luck. I am now in the process of laminating (sticking together) lots of oak blocks to make a much larger block to carve one of Lizzie’s designs onto for printing next month.
Returning to these rudimentary tools and traditional technique has been exciting and rewarding. I will post our progress.
Hand Block Printed Wallpaper
We have been researching different wood types for carving blocks here in England. Using traditional tools and English Oak have been a real success. It’s great to be working true to our name. We can’t wait to do more.
Here is a sample of the wallpaper we printed.