Guest Stories – Quilting Diversities: Priscilla Knoble on how her immersion into blockprinting added a new dimension to her passion for textiles
“Life is short. There is so much that I still want to see and do. Perhaps it is because I was born and raised in Japan away from my parents’ home country or perhaps it is because I am fascinated by all the world has to offer but as much as I love to stay at home and create things I also love to travel. Sometimes it has been because part of my family still lived overseas, other times because I have a job in technology where international travel is part of the requirements. Reading and learning about things are good and the internet has given us the ability to see virtually, but I still believe that we can only truly experience some of these amazing things fully if we do it in person.
I’ve been to many countries and every continent except for Antarctica (brrr…). Some places I don’t feel the need to go back, but others I love and try to visit often. India is definitely one of those countries that I love to travel to. While I go there for work at least once a year, it was not until our family vacation years ago in Rajasthan that I felt like I uncovered the charm of this country. The ancient buildings and architecture are marvelous, the stunning bright colors of saris against the land, the smell of spices.
I find great satisfaction in making things out of raw materials. Whether it is growing food in my greenhouse and garden, cooking and baking, keeping alpacas to have access to their fiber for spinning/knitting/weaving, quilting and sewing or designing and remodeling houses. While the materials and tools one uses might be different, the concept of starting with an idea and doing it myself is something I can’t get enough of. I find that the side of me that likes to make things by hand balances out the side of me that has made a career in the lightning fast tech industry. While I appreciate electricity and the convenience of Google, I still have at least one foot firmly planted in the 18th century. The SLOW movement has been gaining more traction in the last few years…taking time to slow down, destress and enjoy the process of making things and making connections.
I love to sew and quilt. Quilting is not only a hobby but a side business (or two). I own a publishing company called Stitch Publications (www.stitchpublications.com) , where I translate and publish Japanese quilting and craft books into English to sell worldwide. I also own an online quilt shop (www.willowlanequiltingcompany.com) where I sell materials, tools and my books for those who are “makers”. In all my trips to Nepal to visit my brother and family, who lived there, I would collect not only the carved wooden blocks from India used for printing, but also the woodblock print cottons and saris. I absolutely love the designs and natural dyes. After living there for 17 years they were headed back to the States. I made each of them their own quilt out of Indian cottons as keepsakes.
Of course, that led to a desire to create similar fabric myself by using the wooden blocks and print on cotton. What better way to dive into this than by learning from the masters themselves in India? I had learned that much of the type of fabric I loved came from the Rajasthan area and the villages around Jaipur. Since I had always loved Jaipur, I looked for not only a place to stay, but one that would help to coordinate a workshop for me.
That is how I stumbled upon Savista Retreat about a 40 minute drive outside of Jaipur…an absolutely beautiful remodeled ancestral home turned boutique hotel on its own 12-acre estate run by Bhanwar and Radhika. I was thrilled that they offered many unique experiences that were tailored to my time constraints and requests. I explained my love of textiles and how I was hoping to spend my 2.5 days. Bhanwar set up the driver (which I always recommend when in India for convenience) and the 2 days that I would spend at the Block Print House learning the ancient art of creating natural print and dyed fabrics, which has been in existence for over three hundred and fifty years in Bagru.
I’ve stayed at many different hotels and guest houses all over India and I have to say the Savista Retreat was beyond my expectations. The property was beautiful and quiet and they even had sheep grazing! You know I was excited about that and asked Bhanwar if they were using the fiber to spin yarn. (not yet…but you never know!). Additionally, I love that they focus on being able to live off the land with the farm to table concept. Being that they cook with estate-grown organic food and grains as well as have their own deep water well, you will never need to worry about any digestive issues. Their course meals for breakfast and dinner were amazing.
I certainly am one to appreciate architecture, interior design and attention to detail and Savista scored top marks for all of these. My room was extremely comfortable with its own en suite bathroom/shower. The textiles were all beautiful Indian-made and the rooms were also themed by color. I chose one of the rooms for its private outdoor terrace with tea service. What a way to relax!
My day at Block Print House was so much fun. I met Deepak, who spoke English, and had the tour of their little operation. Then he and the others set me up and showed me how to use the wooden blocks I had chosen by inking and then stamping on the cotton; working next to them while they set about filling orders. They would all take tea breaks and lunch, but I just wanted to keep on stamping. So little time!! In the afternoon we drove into the village of Bagru to visit their cousins who did mud-resist (dabu) stamping and dyeing and to see one of the woodblock carvers. I do love when makers are able to make a living doing the things they love or are passed down to them.
I returned to Savista and ran into Carol and Melanie, who were also staying there. They were friends who traveled together often and were also planning to do a day workshop at Block Print House. We ended up having a tea break in the sun and, as often happens, became fast “travel” friends. The sunset from the rooftop terrace and dinner was fabulous. The next day we headed back to Block Print House and I was able to learn how to do mud-resist (dabu) indigo (blue) and kashish + harda (gray). In between the mud drying and dipping the fabric to dye I would run over to see how Carol and Mel were doing and made another scarf as well.
Lucky me that Block Print House had some finished fabric by the meter that I could purchase as well, since I wanted to begin to sell these on my online quilt shop site to see how they would do. I had them send them back to the States and they’ve now just arrived, so I hope to get them up online (that is if I can bear to part with them. I really want to keep them all for myself!)
Perhaps my only regret is that it was January and a little too cold to take a dip in the pool, nor did I have time to play tennis or roam through the fields. It might be the most relaxing place I have every stayed on my trips to India and I plan to go back. If you do go to India often and need a lovely place to stay for a few days or like me, want to learn and experience all kinds of adventures that India has to offer, I recommend getting in touch with Bhanwar and Radhika. You might even meet some new friends yourself. Carol, Mel and I are talking about getting together on some adventure in the future even though we live in different countries. You will absolutely not regret it. All this reminds me that I should begin to think about when I can get there next and maybe see which friends I can convince to come along with me.”
With her deep immersive cultural experience of Japan, the U.S., Nepal and India; her restless travel legs, further fuelled by a high tech career involving frequent global travel; yet happiest when at home with her dogs, creating magic with her hands – quilting, growing food, cooking and baking, or drinking deep from ancient craft techniques – Priscilla not only quilts textiles, but also time periods, continents, cultures, friendships and emotions.
Here she writes about her experience of discovering the ancient blockprinting traditions of Bagru, an opportunity afforded by her stay at Savista over a weekend taken off during a working trip to India. She was probably the most driven and intense apprentice that ever worked in Deepak’s studio, refusing to pause even for a tea break, and munching on her sandwiches while standing at her work table!! Little wonder that by the time she was finished with her weekend, she had masses of material printed and ready for her next round of quilting after she got back home.
In her two and a half days at Savista, Priscilla’s breezy informality and friendliness and irrepressible curiosity had her making friends with everybody on the property, guests and residents alike (including the sheep!). With her new besties Carol and Melanie, she hopes to travel to yet undiscovered places. We have all plotted our reunion at Savista very soon, hoping that Priscilla will lead a quilting workshop here, maybe in the spring of 2019. Several guests who came after her and to whom we fielded the idea asked to be kept on the quilting mailing list. So watch this space!
Priscilla can be contacted at:
And her materials and designs for quilting, and related publications, can be accessed from her online shop and her publishing company: