Limits? Learn to love ‘em - Working with Artisan Block Prints

October 26, 2019

Limits? Learn to love ‘em - Working with Artisan Block Prints

You'd think I'd be happy with a new customer who arrives with an exact vision of the fabric she wants me to produce in my Jaipur printing facility. You'd be wrong. The more precise and exacting the vision, the less likely our collaboration will be successful.

Heritage block printing techniques are anything but precise--it's part of their charm. A customer who expects exactitude beyond the capabilities of our process is not going to be happy. On the other hand, customers willing to modify their visions to accommodate the limitations often wind up with a more creative end product.

To me, it's a universal truth: Limits can--and often do--increase creativity, regardless of the art form.

A friend’s son, in fourth grade, experienced the creative constraints of an assignment to write an adventure story. Immediately, visions of soldiers and ninjas at war popped into his head. And then came the second part of the assignment: No weapons, no violence. What!!??!! In the end, his story did feature two heroes, each with a weapon. One was a whizz at making people laugh helplessly, the other could wield words to mightily confuse  an enemy or clarify a dire situation. He was forced by the limits to think more creatively.

Ernest Hemingway is said to have faced a similar challenge when he wagered he could write a story in six words. The result? “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” Whether Hemingway wrote them or not, those artfully chosen words packed emotion far beyond many a full-length novel.

We’re in the midst of a “slow fashion” revolution, one with many facets. The one I’m addressing is a lack of understanding that that slow fashion creations—especially those based on heritage handcrafts from another culture—are limited in some ways by the creative process and by elements beyond our control.

I've been working with Rajasthani heritage block printers, producing clothing and other textile products, since 1999. My husband and I became manufacturers ourselves in Jaipur 10 years ago. We currently produce our own brand, Mehera Shaw, as well as products for companies around the globe. We have 40 employees.

What I've noticed in recent years is an increase in the number of Western wholesalers/brands that profess to appreciate and desire authentic handcrafted products. But they insist on standards and deadlines that are inherently impossible to achieve with a hands-on process. Not to mention understanding how factors we can't control--like the monsoons--affect production.

Traditional hand-block printing is, by definition, inexact. Every step of the process involves at least one pair of human hands—the carving of patterns into wooden blocks, the mixing of dyes, the stamping and alignment of the patterns, especially when two or more colors are involved.

If you’re looking for a repetitive exactitude, block printing won’t suit you. If an occasional blurred line disturbs you, don’t plan a block-printed fabric. The process isn’t suited to computer-generated or avant-garde designs, despite the fact that it does encompass a wide array of styles. 

We urge our customers to take these factors into account, to realize that computerized precision isn't do-able with handcrafts. That fast turn-arounds and tight deadlines fall by the wayside in the face of a blustery monsoon--or a four-day religious festival. It's called "slow fashion" for a reason!

We have wholesale customers who recognize limitations and our suggestions for adapting to them, or avoiding the pitfalls. Those people are willing to modify or even discard their own vision for something more suitable. Often, what results is a more artful product. I’ve been approached by others who insist no modifications are possible. More and more frequently, I turn those people away—if I don’t, I know I’ll be frustrated and they will be dissatisfied.

One of my favorite “thought leaders” on creativity and productivity is Derek Sivers, who has taken himself off to New Zealand to think and write.

“You only really learn when you’re surprised. Unless you’re surprised, everything is fitting into your existing thought patterns,” he wrote recently in a post advocating immersion in new cultures.

“So to get smarter, you need to get surprised, think in new ways, and deeply understand different perspectives…At first, their values and methods will feel wrong. You’ll feel the urge to tell them how it could be better—meaning more like what you know.”

I’m not sure staying flexible means constant disruption of my comfort level. But I do know that some of my best decisions in life meant pursuing a path that veered somewhat from the conventional as the result of obstacles or limitations.

No less an expert in creativity than the late actor, director and producer Orson Welles extolled the role of limitations in forcing creative thinking.

“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations,” he said. “Economically and creatively, that’s the most important advice you can be given. You have limitations. … Instead of having money to  hire hundreds of extras, you have to sneak a cameraman in a wheelchair through the streets of New York City and steal the shot, which gives you a look of much greater reality.”

I’ll give the last word to Derek Sivers: “If you don’t flex, you lose your flexibility,”


Shari Keller, Ph.D. is creative director/owner of Mehera Shaw Textiles, a certified Fair Trade Alliance company headquartered in Jaipur, India, and Chapel Hill, N.C. The company manufactures its own brand of block-printed clothing and home goods on organic cotton, as well as custom manufacturing garments for companies in Australia, England, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany and the United States.

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Our styles are meant to give room to breath and move.  We use fine tailoring coupled with a relaxed, comfortable fit.

We use a fit guide for each of our styles to provide more information about the fit that was intended.

Slim Fit: a close fit to the body. Regular Fit: a comfortable, relaxed fit with room around the body. Generous Fit: a very loose fit (such as in our oversized blouses) with lots of room around the body for ease of movement.


h4XS/ 36

h4S/ 38


h4L/ 42



h435.5 inches/ 90 cm

h437.5 inches/95 cm

h439.5 inches/ 100 cm

h441.5 inches/ 105 cm

h444.5 inches. 113 cm

h44cm extra from body


h426 inches/ 66 cm

h428 inches/ 71 cm

h430 inches/ 76 cm

h432 inches/ 81 cm

h435 inches/ 89 cm


h4low waist

h428 inches/71 cm

h430 inches/76 cm

h432 inches/ 81 cm

h434 inches/ 86 cm

h437 inches/ 94 cm



h437 inches/ 94 cm

h439 inches/ 99 cm

h441 inches/ 104 cm

h443 inches/ 109 cm

h446 inches/ 1

h44cm extra from body


All garments have been washed several times during the printing/dyeing and manufacturing process.  

CARE for 100% cotton

We recommend cold water machine wash (up to 30 degrees celsius) with a bio detergent and either tumble dry on low heat or line dry in shade for all of our 100% cotton garments/homewares (except for quilts).  

Iron on reverse side of garment following fabric settings.  

Do not use bleach or stain remover.

Cold water wash and low heat drying or line drying in the shade will increase the life of the garment, prolong the vibrancy of the colors and reduce energy use. Shrinkage on all cottons is minimal, approximately 3%.

Garments/homewares are dyed or printed using AZO free, low-impact, pigment or reactive dyes unless otherwise noted.  These dyes are color-fast, but care should still be taken to wash with like colors to retain the vibrancy of the colors.

CARE for 100% cotton quilts

For quilts with cotton fill, we recommend spot or light surface cleaning only with a damp cloth and mild detergent.  Eco-friendly dry cleaning is also recommended. 

CARE for herbal/vegetable dye items

Vegetable dyes are not colorfast and are specifically marked in the product description.  We strongly recommend that all vegetable dye products be washed once before use in a cold water wash with minimal detergent.  Wash separately. Tumble dry on low heat or line dry in shade.  Iron on reverse side.  Do not use bleach or stain remover.

Please keep in mind that indigo dye does continually fade over time.  This is the nature of true indigo dye and is not a defect, but rather a sign of the 'living' nature of the dye.

CARE for silk and cotton/silk

For our silk and cotton silk garments/homewares, we also recommend gentle cycle machine wash cold water (up to 30 degrees celsius) or delicate hand washing to increase the life of the garment and reduce the environmental footprint from energy use, detergents and water wastage.  

Tumble dry on low heat or line dry in shade.  

Iron on reverse side of garment following fabric settings.

Do not use bleach or stain remover.

Dry cleaning using an eco-friendly service is also recommended.

CARE for linen and cotton/linen

For our linen and cotton linen garments/homewares, we also recommend gentle cycle machine wash cold water (up to 30 degrees celsius) or delicate hand washing to increase the life of the garment and reduce the environmental footprint from energy use, detergents and water wastage.  

Tumble dry on low heat or line dry in shade.  

Iron on reverse side of garment following fabric settings.

Do not use bleach or stain remover.