A Conversation with Block Shop Textiles


 

We could not be more excited to welcome Block Shop Textiles into the Erica Tanov family. Founded by sister-duo Hopie and Lily Stockman, Block Shop is a textile company devoted to "mak[ing] functional art you live with." Working side-by-side with fifth-generation print masters in Rajasthan, India, Hopie and Lily collaboratively design and create one of a kind silk-cotton scarves to be worn and adorned as art-pieces themselves. Spending two months out of the year in India, Hopie and Lily keep the process from start to finish truly manual- from their original water color designs, to experimenting with small batch dyes to get the colors just right. Keeping this hands-on quality allows them to pay beautiful homage to age-old traditions, while keeping their modern, California-inspired aesthetic at the heart of each piece. We caught up with these two inspiring women to learn more about their work in and with India, what it's like to work with a sibling, and to learn more about their current collection inspired by living part-time in the Mohave Desert. Thank you Hopie, Lily, and Nisha!

Photos: Laure Joliet and Lily Stockman. Shop the full collection online and in stores.


ET: What is it like working together as sisters? Have you collaborated on projects together in the past?

Hopie: As two of four sisters growing up on a farm, we were always entertaining ourselves by putting on plays, Little Women-style, with homemade costumes and elaborate sets made out of old curtains and branches. When we were in middle school we designed and sold greeting cards together.

Now that we run a business together we’ve adopted a kind of radical honesty policy, where everything is out in the open. We’ve found this saves a lot of time and energy when it comes to decision making. Lily leads the creative side and I lead the business side, but our contributions to both sides are fluid. We design together, we strategize together, we market together, we wear bonnets and churn butter and sleep in tiny twin beds together.

Of course we have our occasional sister spats, like when we almost came to blows in the 120-degree heat in Bagru over whether a dye was heather or oatmeal, but it’s the most fun I’ve ever had doing anything; work or life-wise. 

ET: What does the design process look like for each piece? Is each season designed around a specific idea or single inspiration or do you draw from a multitude of places. 

 

Lily: Like anyone reading this, we feel like we spend all our time on screens. So our rule for designing is NO COMPUTERS. We love that our design process is just as manual as our production process. Hopie and I design everything on paper with watercolors and then transfer each block design onto graph paper, which we give to Raju, our main block carver, to trace and carve into wood. The hand is evident in every step of the process. Our Mojave Collection is inspired by the desert palette of our home-away-from-home of Joshua Tree, in the Mojave Desert of Southern California.

We restored a tiny 1952 homestead cabin in Joshua Tree where we do a lot of our designing, so the soft ochres, dusky peaches, and earthy brown colorways come from the geology and flora of that landscape. The geometry of our designs is typically rooted in architectural details, from the sandstone jaali latticework at Hawa Mahal in Jaipur to the iconic deco facades of downtown LA.

ET: Both of you studied painting at Ivy League schools- how do you think your fine arts background influences your work for Block Shop? Do you both still practice independently from the work for your shop?

Lily: Our background in painting informs the philosophy of our designs- we think of our textiles as paintings first and scarves second. The composition has to work beautifully when the textile is flat on the wall, but also compliment the face when you wrap it around your neck.

Hopie has designed everything from wedding invitations to surfboards, and continues to do commissions outside Block Shop in her free time. I’m a working painter with a gallery in LA, so when I’m not working at Block Shop I’m across the LA River in my own studio in Boyle Heights.

ET: Who are some of your favorite artists, designers, and makers? What or who serves as a constant inspiration to your work both personally and for Block Shop?

Hopie: My sisters and I grew up as a tribe of four girls who were always outside, making things. This is why we are most inspired by women whose craft is rooted in their landscape. From Georgia O’Keeffe, to Laura Ingalls Wilder, to Edith Wharton, whose emphasis on the importance of setting; that our environments shape who we are, has influenced our approach to utilitarian design and the decoration of space.

Lily: One of my favorite artists is painter and desert recluse Agnes Martin, who was also tremendously influenced by Eastern thought. Hopie and I both love Anni Albers, especially her Bauhaus weavings, and her stunning, simple geometric patterns. She’s our greatest muse for seeing art in the functional. Her book Selected Writings on Design is like the Block Shop Bible. We adore Beatrice Wood, ceramicist and Dadaist muse. She led a truly inspired life. 

ET: Can you tell us more about your relationship with the print makers that you work with? I know that you, Lily, were introduced to the print shop while trying to source natural dyes. We’d love to know more about the print studio itself and more about the history.

Hopie: It all started when Lily was living in Jaipur for a year when a friend introduced her to Viju, a fifth-generation printer outside the city. They started collaborating on large-scale unstructured paintings that served as the blueprints for our first scarf designs. I visited six months later and fell in love with the ancient printing technique and Viju’s wonderful family.

Our goal initially was to create a market for our designs and bring visibility to the master printers we were collaborating with. Now we employ over twenty people in Rajasthan. We work directly with our printers –no middlemen– to ensure fair wages and facilitate a mobile healthcare camp every year.

Collaboration is crucial to our process. We come to Bagru with design ideas in hand, but spend days working with our head printers Viju, Mukesh, and Chandra Prakash to get the dye, pigment and block combinations just right. Everything has to be created in person, over many cups of chai and healthy debates over the right shade of indigo. There’s no way to do this over email; it’s such an experimental, hands-on process. That’s why we spend about two months out of the year in India.

ET: Since launching Block Shop you’ve created yearly initiatives to give back to the communities who produce your scarves. We’re really excited to read that your next initiative will focus on women’s health. Can you tell us more about that?

Hopie: Each year we invest 5% of our profits to research, build, and implement community healthcare initiatives with the leaders in the Bagru community. The co-op now invests 3% of their profits on these initiatives, too, so it’s a shared responsibility, not charity, driven by and for the community.  

The co-op recently hired a community manager, Sonia Jain, who is making tremendous strides in implementing these projects. With Sonia’s help and expertise, we’re researching women’s health issues and have performed a needs assessment for the women of Bagru. Providing OBGYN care, establishing more regular work opportunities, and forming a women’s support group are all priorities for 2016. Lily and I attended the first meeting of the women’s group which was joyful and informative– these women had never met in an official capacity, and had strong opinions about health and work opportunities to voice.

You can read more about past healthcare initiatives here.

ET: What has been the greatest benefit or most rewarding part of working with these artists in India?

Lily: The single greatest source of pride in our business is our close relationship with our team there. We’ve been working with Viju for six years and Block Shop and the co-op have grown up together. Seeing both our businesses evolve, improve, and professionalize side-by-side is so incredibly cool. Every time we go to Bagru it feels like returning home; without fail, Viju’s kids are the first to greet us / show us their latest choreographed dance / school report card / ask us for chocolate and pepper us with questions as they scroll through the past six months’ worth of photos on our iPhones since we last visited. A very efficient way of catching up.

 

ET: Do you have any fun collaborations or projects you’re excited to share with us?

H & L: We can’t wait to launch our first line of home textiles later this Fall– pillows, kantha quilts, and dhurries (cotton flat-weave rugs). Our aim is to make functional art you live with. Soft nubby khadis. Natural linens. All in our the Block Shop desert-modern aesthetic.

We’re also hosting our first block printing workshop at the cabin in Joshua Tree. There will be bonfires, margaritas, and a daylong intensive of block printing. Pretty much a regular weekend + 20 guests we can’t wait to meet. The workshop is a collaboration with Poketo, the beloved design powerhouse in the Arts District of downtown LA.


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