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July 19, 2020

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To dye for: Czech blueprint tradition alive and well

FOR Jiri Danzinger, settling on a line of work was a no-brainer — he grew up in a Czech family with a long tradition in blueprint dyeing.

The 40-year-old craftsman is the 11th generation of a family living off the UNESCO-listed technique in the eastern Czech village of Olesnice.

“Nobody ever forced me, but I also never had another job offer,” the bespectacled Danzinger said while in one of the Czech Republic’s two surviving blueprint workshops, his hand resting on an age-old rolling press.

Blueprint, which made its way to Europe in the 17th century, uses so-called resist printing, which involves dipping a large wooden stamp — typically with a floral pattern — into a gum Arabic paste.

Artisans like Danzinger then apply the pattern to white cotton fabric before submerging it in a tub of water dyed indigo blue. When he pulls out the fabric using a creaky handle, it is blue but the design remains white.

UNESCO added blueprint dyeing to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2018 following a collective bid by the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia — where the craft has also survived.

“We live in a poorer region so we use simple motifs such as clover or oat grass,” said Danzinger, whose workshop has 250 different designs. “Wealthier regions use fancier patterns before smoothing wrinkles from a fabric using a rattling rolling press.”

Marketa Vinglerova, deputy head of the textile collection at Prague’s Museum of Decorative Arts, said blueprint came to Europe from Asia, notably the traditional indigo-dyeing countries of India, Indonesia and Japan.

Thanks to the Dutch East India Company, founded in the 17th century to trade with the Far East, blueprint made its way to the Dutch court and then to central Europe, including the Baltics and Poland.

“It was popular among aristocrats but then it spread to small towns and villages and the nobility abandoned it,” Vinglerova said. “For a long time, it was the only decorative technology the villagers could afford.”

Olesnice’s dyeing tradition dates back to 1520. Before indigo, dyers used woad leaves to turn scarves, bed covers and aprons blue.


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