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Handmade Stories: The intriguing art of block printing

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“There is a thrill in working with hands- mixing color and finding the exact shade you want; using a wooden block that has beautiful designs cut on it: a result of somebody carving these patters on wood for many hours. The block coming in contact with the color and embracing its hues. Then, almost like giving a part of itself away, imprinting its design on beautiful ‘khaadi’- cloth spun from cotton by hand. It feels as poetic as it sounds!” – Mel Murray; Founder, JOYN

JOYN is thrilled to be receiving overwhelming support and love from individuals and companies in the US that embrace fair trade and handmade products. This post is an almost ‘transcribed talk’ by Mel about block printing, its endless potential, and JOYN and its artisans at the focus of it all.

Discovering block printing

In Dehradun- the quaint town at the foothills of Himalayas, where we are based- block printing owes its presence to Mrs. Jum Iyer. When I moved to Dehradun, after a few months of experimenting with machine-made fabric to make our very first JOYN products, it became clear to me that the only way I would be able to run a successful business on the initial small scale in India was if I limited the variables and could control most of the manufacturing work within my own company. Thus came about my meeting with Mrs. Iyer, the discovery of this exquisite art form and the decision to position JOYN’s brand look and art foundation in block prints!

God-inspired?

Block printing has been a God-inspired finding. I look back on the day that I met Mrs. Iyer for the first time and knew even then that it was meant to be and was taking place at the right moment and time. On that day, she was wearing a block-printed sari and black Ray Bans. She was eloquent and a passionate artist. I have loved her from that moment on! She is now 83, having spent the majority of her life exploring Indian art forms, especially block printing. We spend many hours in her garden, viewing birds on her back porch, mixing colors in the shed and drinking chai in her kitchen. 

My fascination with block printing began as soon as we stepped into her workshop and I saw her master artisan, Rehmaan ji working. The colors, the sounds, the designs, the smell all appealed to my senses like no other art form before this, had.

The endless opportunities of handcrafting

When we started out with block printing, it had seemed like a fairly limited art. But slowly, we learnt of its depth and endless possibilities. It is not a machine that can have only so many settings and now, we have begun to realize one of the true beauties of working with hands: you are not constrained in what you can and cannot do.

We have just touched the surface of this art form in the last three years. We have so much more to explore, learn and develop! I am excited about getting into silks and linen and experimenting endlessly with designs, fabrics and techniques.

The brand ‘JOYN’ and block printing

The vision for the JOYN brand has always been clear in my mind. We take pride in this art form and our brand-identity revolves around it. Many people have suggested that we deviate into other forms and arts, but I am not budging. This is who we are.

When you walk into a store, you see a lot of cause-companies selling beautiful and traditional products from all over the world. Among them, JOYN has a strong identity and brand. You see block printed, cotton base that is hand spun and woven, you think JOYN.

Response from the markets

JOYN has always experienced love and admiration for its cause and its art. People are still not very familiar with block printing but when they learn about it, they are thrilled. The tradition of making things with hands left when we hit the industrial age but now, the culture of DIYs and handcrafting is seeing a revival. People value what is made by hand.

Love, from the JOYN family in India

Our consumers and markets have now reached a point where handmade products are finding their own solid ground among the vast ocean of machine made goods. People are starting to value products, not only for their design and quality, but also for the stories behind the making of products. Profession and person are no longer separate areas of life and it makes a thriving and healthier world when the two are entwined in work and at home.

1 comment

  • Lu Murray: August 18, 2014
    Words fail me when I try to describe the many facets of JOYN! A family company, JOYN includes not just Melody and Dave, Micah and Levi—the Murray family—and not even just every worker, but the worker’s immediate and extended family as well. Every aspect of a worker’s life is important to JOYN—housing, medical needs, schools for children, social activities,etc. The strengths of each person are developed constantly as he masters each process of creating a product. What an amazing place to be a part of!

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