Block printing (wallpaper and textiles)
Printing onto wallpaper or fabric by hand, including carving the blocks, either into wood or lino, and manually printing the imagery, building up the design in individual colour layers.
|Historic area of significance||India, East Asia|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK||18th Century|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||1 commercial block printing company producing large amounts of fabric
11-20 textile printers
11-20 wallpaper printers
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)||Estimated 50+ textile printers
6-10 Wallpaper makers
|Current no. of trainees||Not known|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers||Not known|
|Current total no. of leisure makers||Not known|
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
Block printed fabric – In the 18th Century most printed cottons were imported to the UK from India and were the preserve of the upper classes. Towards the end of the 18th Century, they began being mass produced in Europe and became a more affordable everyday fabric. Today, block printing and the carving of wood blocks is still carried out widely in East Asia and India.
The last remaining textile block printing company in the UK is Turnbull & Stockdale based on the Isle of Man. They have retained all the traditional block printing skills and knowledge in-house and supply hand printed fabric through their workshop in Thailand. Turnbull & Stockdale also cut and maintain wood printing blocks and carry out a range of heritage printing processes such as warp printing.
Block printed wallpaper – Early wallpaper was most commonly made using block printing and was first manufactured in England in the 16th Century. It reached the height of its popularity in the 18th Century with Britain as the leading wallpaper manufacturer in Europe.
Hand-blocked wallpapers use hand-carved blocks and by the 18th century designs include panoramic views of antique architecture, exotic landscapes and pastoral subjects, as well as repeating patterns of stylized flowers, people and animals.
Artisan block printing – Block printing is currently enjoying a modest revival as a craft. There has been a recent resurgence in people who are interested in artisan made papers and fabrics, and value the special qualities that hand block printing can bring.
Social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest have led to many people starting block printing as a hobby or as a small craft business. Some printers are also running courses in block printing and hobby printing kits and supplies are readily available.
- Printing from wooden blocks: While companies such as Cole & Sons have an archive of their blocks to design from and refer to, they are rarely used today as working tools.
- Printing from lino blocks: There is an artisan tradition of printing from hand-cut lino blocks. The design is laid out and cut into lino blocks, either in relief or intaglio. The paper is pre-coloured, paint is added to the block, and the design is printed, either with a handheld roller or a hand-planked printing press. There are three makers in the UK practising this technique to make wallpaper
- Print block making
- Warp printing
- Wallpaper making
- Textile printing
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- Market issues: It is hard to make a viable income from block printing as it is a slow and exacting process. It is now become a niche product aimed at the mid/high range market.
- Market issues: Marketing of hand printed products has become more reliant on a specific ‘appreciative’ consumer market and the actual making, rather than the product itself, becomes just as important (and time consuming) marketing wise.
- Competition from overseas makers and large, commercial makers: It is difficult for small makers to compete with larger companies who mass produce fabric using cheaper, faster techniques. Despite this, there has been a resurgence in people who are interested in artisan made products and value the special qualities that hand block printing can bring.
- Lack of awareness: young people are not aware of the process and new entrants are tending to come to it when they are in their late 20s and 30s.
- Training: Lack of specific training in colleges but also lack of existing practitioners where students might find further formalised training/experience.
- Domination of digital: design and patterning is now heavily dominated by digital and this could pose a threat to hand printing and non-digital design processes.
- The Wallpaper History Society
Craftspeople currently known
- Paul Turnbull, Turnbull & Stockdale – UK company with a long history of block printing high end textiles
- Linda Baxter
- Louisa Loakes
- Sarah Burns
- Vicky Putler
- Cameron Short and Janet Tristram – lino and wood block printers
- Jenney Kelly, Jenney Wren
- Hugh Dunford Wood, Lyme Regis – learned as the apprentice of Peggy Angus in Camden Town in the 1970s
- Cameron Short, Thorncombe, Dorset
- Katherine Morris, London
- James Randolph Rogers
- Sarah Jane Palmer, Muriel Design
- Anneliese Appleby
- Louise Altman, Out of Bounds
- Allyson McDermott
- Deborah Bowness
- Bruce Fine Papers
Businesses employing two or more makers:
- Cole & Son (Wallpapers) Ltd, London. Hand block print wallpaper from original wooden blocks, but do not carve blocks.
- Timorous Beasties
Hugh Dunford Wood will be 70 at his next birthday and has no-one to take over printing from his blocks.
Daniel Heath runs classes in wallpaper making which are very popular, but only a few go on to make their own, as it is costly and time consuming to create a facility in which to make the wallpaper. He believes that interest in the craft (workshops and appeal to journalists/press) outstrips the sale of his wallpaper, as the process is engaging and fashionable as people want to know how things are made. He mostly relies on producing bespoke wallpaper for boutique hotels.