Meet Arvind: Mara Vera Master Printer
Words by Drashta Sarvaiya and Hanna Pumfrey, Images by Drashta Sarvaiya
‘We met master printer Arvind and his team on their sunlit studio veranda in west Rajasthan in the early hours of the morning. His wife Sudha welcomed us with a cup of masala chai. Soon after our arrival the workshop filled up with the sweet thumping sound of blocks hitting the padded table.’
‘Impatiently waiting for us to finish our tea, Arvind took us through the ancient process of block printing with natural dyes and mineral which he learnt from his father and grandfather.’
‘We couldn’t have been more excited to learn about their open-mindedness to incorporate new ideas to create a high-quality textiles range using their age-old technique.’
The earliest surviving samples of block printed patterned and dyed cotton textiles can be dated to the 9th Century BCE. The art flourished in the 12th century under the patronage of the rajas and despite the introduction of machine printing, it’s still here and very much alive in the 21st century. Practiced in India but enjoyed my millions across the globe.
For Mara Vera, it was imperative to stay true to this heritage and provide the artisans the brand works with a space to continue working in their traditional and eco-friendly way.
All Mara Vera’s products are hand printed. The wooden blocks used to bring the designs to life are hand carved and chiselled by Arvind and his team, with the help the of small metal tools. Each scarf design requires one or more blocks to complete the design.
The scarves are soaked in hot water for over two hours to remove the starch used during weaving to ready the yarns for absorbing the natural dyes and minerals used during the printing process. Next, the scarves are dipped into Harda paste, a brown seed paste which gives the fabric a yellow tint. Arvind then lays the scarves under the Indian sun to dry for an hour. Once dry the printing can begin.
Arvind and his team dip the wooden blocks into natural dye pastes and painstakingly print the designs onto the scarves.
The whole process takes a week to complete.
The love and care that goes into each and every one of Mara Vera’s scarves is evident as soon as you touch them. These are artisans who create with their whole hearts and their skilled, patient hands. But they are artisans who are not always certain how their traditional skills fit into a globalised marketplace. For Arvind and his team, Mara Vera has given them their place.
As consumers, we must be mindful and ask questions like: “Where and how was this made?” and “Is it natural material or synthetic?” This helps us understand if the product is from a sweatshop in Bangladesh, from a small artisan village, or a budding design studio whose livelihood depends on your purchasing power.
We must champion traditional artisans, contemporary craft makers, and artists of all disciplines and nationalities. In a world increasingly driven by technology and ultimately soulless creations, we must hang on to arts that require heart and soul. The stories of Arvind, Babu (Mara Vera master weaver) and their communities are the stories that make us human.