Communities in India have been using the art of block printing to pattern fabric for thousands of years. The precise date when the technique was first applied is not known, but archaeological evidence has unearthed remnants of Rajasthani prints dating from the 3rd century CE at the Roman trading town of Palmyra, Syria.

For centuries, artisan communities in Rajasthan flourished under royal patronage. Wealthy patrons with a taste for the beautiful and ornate supported a wide range of creative and artistic industries in the region, making it one of the most beautiful places to visit anywhere in India or indeed the world.  Cities such as Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur are world famous for their unique and colourful architecture and the detailed patterns decorating many of these cities’ buildings is reflected in the design of the region’s textiles.

The famous Patrika Gate in Jaipur
The famous Patrika Gate in Jaipur – one of the city’s many architectural wonders
Cities such as Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur are world famous for their unique and colourful architecture and the detailed patterns decorating many of these cities’ buildings is reflected in the design of the region’s textiles Click To Tweet

Rajasthan’s fabrics with their intricate designs were not solely produced for royals families and their courtiers. They were also very popular with the wider population, who purchased printed material to make clothing for festivals and special occasions. 

Fabrics were also traded along the silk road across Asia and into Europe, as well as by boat around the Indian Ocean to East Africa and beyond. 

Map of the Sil Rd trade route

With the arrival of the British East India Company in 1600, a large trade of printed textiles began between India and Europe. Fabrics such as paisley or chintz became very popular, driving the market even further. 

<<< Click to Tweet: The British East India Company in 1600 increased the trade of printed textiles between India and Europe. Fabrics such as paisley or chintz became very popular>>>

Length of textile with floral pattern. Jaipur, India, late 19th century

This growth was sustained until the mid-19th century, where the Industrial Revolution saw technological advances such as the steam-powered loom and mechanical printer create new textile industries in the UK. Factories in large mill towns such as Darwen and Blackburn used imported cotton to create clothing for the European market. The Rajasthani handmade textile industry could not compete with such large scale, mechanised production and the industry contracted significantly.

Machines making cotton thread in a mill in Lancashire England ca 1835
Machines making cotton thread in a mill in Lancashire England ca 1835

Whilst the export market for hand weaved and printed fabric dried up, the skilled artisans in Rajasthan were still producing fabric for the local market. These fabrics again became popular in the West during the 1960’s and 70’s following the arrival of young hippies travelling overland from Europe to India. Local printers teamed up with freelance designers to create contemporary print collections that would be popular on the King’s Road or Carnaby Street in London. 

Hippies visiting India in the 1960’s and 70’s caused a resurgence of printed fabrics Click To Tweet

Musician Jimi Hendrix wearing printed shirt and jacket
Jimi Hendrix often seen in printed shirts and jackets during the 1970s

Printed fabrics in India are traditionally worn for special occasions such as weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. This is still very much the case today.  

We at Wild Rose recognise the incredible heritage that our fabric has and feel enormously privileged to work with artisans whose skills can be traced back through time. Whilst the cut of our shirts is contemporary, the designs we use are a mixture of ancient patterns that have been used in Rajasthan for centuries and the more recent designs that originated in the 1960’s and 70’s. We love to see our customers enjoying our shirts and take great pride in seeing our block printed shirts being worn with joy all around the world!

Looking for inspiration on how to wear printed shirts? Check out our blog here

montage of people wearing printed shirts from Wild Rose Kenya
Some of our friends enjoying our shirts around the world
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