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Block printing at the end of the XIX century
Silk-printing in the Como area dates back to the end of the past century (around 1880). At first, it was carried out on some 65-feet-long tables, where pieces of fabric were laid down and printed with incised blocks of pear-wood, sometimes reinforced with engraved brass plates reproducing the motif. At times they were heavier and made of tin or lead. The blocks were duly passed in a colour medium according to the palette of the composition, initially executed on grease-proof paper. The blocks, whose number depended upon the number of shades (up to 20), were patiently and thoroughly pressed one by one against the fabric. Though simple, this hand-printing technique gave remarkable results for colour brightness.
New techniques: Screen printing and photoengraving
Nevertheless, new techniques took over block printing: screen printing and cylinder printing (for higher quantities of material), photoengraving in particular.
The screen printing technique, also called "Lyonese " because of its French origins, consists in forcing the dyestuff through the texture of a sheer silk fabric stretched tight over a firwood frame. The wood frame was eventually replaced by an iron one.
Out of curiosity, photoengraving and the necessary equipment (for tracing the drawing and the impression on the fabric) were introduced in the Como area in 1926, and the print table grew longer by some sixty-five feet. But let's skip the secrets of the trade -such as the gelatine spread over the screen mask to make it photosensitive- and dwell upon the expedients adopted to increase the precision of printing in detail. The design was placed directly on the textile, along with the "square" which would result in a tie when folded, the outlines were marked and with the "resist" technique you could print lighter hues and motifs on a darker background and avoid colour overlapping and blurring. This was achieved by painting the textile with a glue solution prior to cold dying, and eventually removing the glue solution with benzine, thus leaving on a coloured background a white design to shade.
The “chiné” technique
In the case of yarn-dyed textiles, an innovative method was developed, producing textiles of outstanding beauty: the "chiné" technique. The chain, being the number of threads still to be warped, was temporarily woven with a "dummy weft", reinforcing it slightly. It was then laid on a printing table and printed with the chosen motif. After printing, the chain was duly warped by loom and, as the "dummy weft" was gradually unthreaded, the textile was woven as usual according to the designated weave. This procedure achieved nuances of great beauty, hue variations and elaborate patterns.