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Hopie and Lily Stockman

Founded in 2013, Block Shop is a direct collaboration between Los Angeles-based sisters Hopie and Lily Stockman and a community of master printers, dyers and weavers in Rajasthan, India.

Collaborative process

Hopie and Lily spend two months out of the year with their team in India researching techniques and materials while also prototyping new designs.

Building Block Shop

Block Shop’s entire process – from designing on graph paper to block printing by hand– is manual and collaborative.

Created by a community

Though Hopie and Lily design everything, there is a lot of editing and arguing over designs with inputs from the entire team. While Raju is the master carver and spends his days tooling wooden blocks, he also provides inputs on the motifs they create for the prints.

Manual from start to finish

Since their method is entirely manual, there are variations in colour and pattern in the prints depending on who is doing the printing. However, since they sell directly to the customer, they are able to educate them to not only accept these variations, but love, appreciate and treasure them.

Thriving cottage industry

Hopie and Lily believe that block printing is enjoying significant growth right now, given the new wealth and thriving family-run factories in Bagru.

Experimentation is everything

Hopie and Lily believe in prototyping everything before making decisions. This means, for every eight prototypes they do, one goes into production.

Modern California aesthetic

Their bold, geometric designs are inspired by the architecture and palette of the sisters’ three home bases: downtown Los Angeles, Joshua Tree, and Jaipur.

Block by block

The blocks are stamped on the fabric with a hard pound of the fist at the center of the block, ensuring that the fabric is printed evenly. They repeat this process from left to right, aligning the blocks perfectly by eye.

Working with the ecosystem

Work happens inside printers’ independent home-workshops on their own schedules. Hopie and Lily adjust their process to the artisans’ since they understand that the craft has a complex ecosystem and don’t intend on changing it.

Stitching a story

Block Shop makes storytelling a very important part of their process. They use Instagram to share videos of scarves being printed by real people with names and families rather than nameless artisans. This helps customers connect with the community.

Delving into other crafts

In the vein of expanding beyond block printing, Block Shop introduced their first collection of hand woven cotton dhurries (a thick flat-woven rug or carpet) last year. They will launch wool berber rugs and hand block printed wallpaper in the coming year.

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Lab 17 Nov 2017

Intertwine: Sisters Hopie and Lily connect craft and community via Bagru at Block Shop

Essential to our understanding of communities is a knowledge of their textiles. Whether it’s the fabric they produce or the motifs they have crafted to tell their stories, textiles have timelessly been used as a medium to send messages. Los-Angeles-based sisters Hopie and Lily Stockman take this forward through their textile company Block Shop that fuses traditional Indian hand block printing with modern aesthetics. We speak to the sisters and collaborators to learn about Block Shop, their connection to Bagru, craft and community.

Setting the building blocks in Bagru

Lily was in Jaipur, studying painting with Ajay Sharma when she discovered that majority of the textile manufacturing in the city included screenprinting. Since this technique included working with chemical dyes, it made the process a lot cheaper than using natural dyes and hand block prints. Though, at the time, there was only a nominal demand for hand block prints and natural dyes, it has transformed over the years with the rise of social media. Artisans are now able to connect to an international audience which has also led to a recent resurgence of interest in traditional crafts.

Hopie and Lily Stockman

Founded in 2013, Block Shop is a direct collaboration between Los Angeles-based sisters Hopie and Lily Stockman and a community of master printers, dyers and weavers in Rajasthan, India.

For Hopie and Lily, Block Shop is not only about merging their interests, but also about celebrating the block printing. “We always work directly with our printers, in person, so there is no middleman,” they express, talking about how they embrace the handmade imperfections that are a part of the craft. But translating these imperfections to the customer is where they also come in with their informed understanding of the craft, explaining its rich history while communicating the process.

Collaborative process

Hopie and Lily spend two months out of the year with their team in India researching techniques and materials while also prototyping new designs.

Building Block Shop

Block Shop’s entire process – from designing on graph paper to block printing by hand– is manual and collaborative.

Celebrating the artistry of the handmade 

Collaboration is a part of every step at Block Shop, whether it is a constant exchange of roles between sisters Hopie and Lily or inputs from their team at Bagru. Speaking about their process, they elaborated, “We do all our prototyping in person with our team – we design on graph paper, work out the math with Raju who carves all our blocks and prototype with Mukesh, who is a master printer and perfectionist.” Given the multitude of people weighing in, the process of creating is extremely social and synergetic.

Created by a community

Though Hopie and Lily design everything, there is a lot of editing and arguing over designs with inputs from the entire team. While Raju is the master carver and spends his days tooling wooden blocks, he also provides inputs on the motifs they create for the prints.

 

In fact, many Block Shop customers are aware of this process given constant updates on platforms like Instagram that narrate the stories behind the product. “People want to know where their clothing, food and furniture comes from. Our customers actually see their beautiful scarves being made by an individual with a name rather than a nameless artisan,” they said.

Manual from start to finish

Since their method is entirely manual, there are variations in colour and pattern in the prints depending on who is doing the printing. However, since they sell directly to the customer, they are able to educate them to not only accept these variations, but love, appreciate and treasure them.

 

“We always work directly with our printers, in person, so there is no middleman.” 

Process, practice and people

Most of the work happens inside the printers’ independent home-workshops and often involves a lot of back and forth over a piping hot cup of chai. Embracing these changes in schedules and design inputs from the entire team is also the beauty of working so intimately with craft. Since they’ve been working extensively with the Chippa family since 2010, they have a deep-rooted understanding of each other’s work process.

Thriving cottage industry

Hopie and Lily believe that block printing is enjoying significant growth right now, given the new wealth and thriving family-run factories in Bagru.

Experimentation is everything

Hopie and Lily believe in prototyping everything before making decisions. This means, for every eight prototypes they do, one goes into production.

 

“We know for instance that we can’t do dabu (mud resist printing) and Indigo during monsoon,” the sisters explained citing moisture in the fabric as a reason. Similarly, the artisans understand Hopie and Lily’s design aesthetic is composed of simpler, blockier and geometric motifs as opposed to traditional Bagru designs that are ornate.

Modern California aesthetic

Their bold, geometric designs are inspired by the architecture and palette of the sisters’ three home bases: downtown Los Angeles, Joshua Tree, and Jaipur.

Block by block

The blocks are stamped on the fabric with a hard pound of the fist at the center of the block, ensuring that the fabric is printed evenly. They repeat this process from left to right, aligning the blocks perfectly by eye.

Each collection begins with the watercolour sketches that are transcribed onto graph paper. Raju, the master carver then sculpts the wooden blocks by hand. These are later used to print on fabric, often also contributing suggestions that help improve the designs. Most of the dyes they use are derived from plants and minerals including indigo, alum, alizarin and harda, giving Block Shop a palette characteristic to Rajasthani colours.

Working with the ecosystem

Work happens inside printers’ independent home-workshops on their own schedules. Hopie and Lily adjust their process to the artisans’ since they understand that the craft has a complex ecosystem and don’t intend on changing it.

 

“Our customers actually see their beautiful scarves being made by an individual with a name rather than a nameless artisan.” 

Cycling commerce back to the community 

While the production of textiles itself is a controversial subject given their environmentally hazardous nature, companies like the Block Shop try and take measures to decrease the damage. “Textile manufacturing is bad for the environment no matter how you cut it so we’re always fine-tuning our colour recipes to get beautiful colours that are also colourfast and have a low environmental impact,” Hopie and Lily said, acknowledging that water quality and access to clean water is a significant issue in Bagru.

Stitching a story

Block Shop makes storytelling a very important part of their process. They use Instagram to share videos of scarves being printed by real people with names and families rather than nameless artisans. This helps customers connect with the community.

 

But, what started as a way to support hand block printing quickly grew into a fruitful collaboration to foster a thriving cottage industry. Employing between 15 and 20 artisans, Block Shop works closely with a community of printers, dyers and weavers. 

Each year Block Shop invests 5% of their profits to implement health care programs in the community, aided by Sonia Jain, the community manager who regularly meets with and keeps a track of the printing families and their health and well-being. “We have found that majority of the block printers in the central village of Bagru are now sending their children to private school, building additions onto their houses, expanding their workshops and even purchasing their first car,” they said expressing joy and gratefulness at being one of the companies doing hand block printing in the area and adding to building the craft as a stable economy.

Delving into other crafts

In the vein of expanding beyond block printing, Block Shop introduced their first collection of hand woven cotton dhurries (a thick flat-woven rug or carpet) last year. They will launch wool berber rugs and hand block printed wallpaper in the coming year.

 

“We know for instance that we can’t do dabu (mud resist printing) and Indigo during monsoon.”

But Hopie and Lily don’t intend to slow down printing the world with blocks, one fabric at a time. From dreams of a working storefront with printing tables, a dye garden and working kitchen equipped to host workshops to working on collections that integrate other Indian crafts, there’s a whole world of colour that awaits us. With plans of having a Bagru outpost in Los Angeles, where they are based, they want to open up the world of block printing to everyone, the way the Chippas opened their home to them over the last seven years. After all, amidst variegated dyes, yarn and block prints lies the social process of participating in and creating craft which connects the dots.

Learn more about Block Shop’s process, collections and community endeavours on their website