A Rhapsody in Blue
As with all countries, the Czech Republic offers a wealth of traditional souvenir items you can take home with you: Bohemian crystal and other glassware, ceramics, Bohemian garnets, marionette puppets, traditional alcohols, spa wafers and so forth.
Many of those souvenir items are known worldwide, but do you know about modrotisk?
Modrotisk, translated to English as blueprint, is a traditional block printing technique that has been practiced in the Czech lands since the 16th century. In November of 2018, it was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
Once a widespread craft practiced in small towns across the country, today there only two modrotisk operations active in the Czech Republic; both are in the eastern reaches of the country and still run by the families that established them generations ago. In Olešnice, north of Brno, you will find the Danzinger family operation which dates to 1816. In Strážnice, in the deep south-east near the border with Slovakia, there is the Joch family workshop that was founded in 1906.
Both the Danzinger and Joch workshops have kept the modrotisk tradition alive through the generations and many of the tools and techniques they use for the dyeing process have changed little down the years. Many of their techniques are, not surprizingly, closely guarded family secrets.
At that, let’s take a closer look at Modrotisk:
A Deep Blue History
At its heart, modrotisk is an indigo dyeing technique. Indigo dyeing is among the oldest of textile colouring techniques, it originated in China around 4,000 years ago and made its way west along the Silk Road which connected Asia to Europe from the 2nd century BC to the 18th century.
In the Czech context, indigo dyeing was traditionally done on linen as flax was a common crop at the time the art form reached the Czechs. Cotton was also a traditional fabric to use for modrotisk.
The white patterns that modrotisk is known for are created through a block resist printing technique where a special water resistant paste is applied to white fabric with carved wood printing blocks before the indigo dye is applied. Finally, the resistant paste is washed out when the dyeing is complete. Many of the printing blocks still in use are very old and have been passed down through the generations.
Modrotisk became a fixture of Czech folk costumes in the late 18th century and experienced a wave of popularity with the public at large through the 19th century. Men’s and women’s clothing with modrotisk motifs became very popular through the 19th century and availability of modrotisk garments became more widespread when synthetic indigo dye was created in the 1880s.
By the early 20th century, the popularity of modrotisk went into decline and a majority of producers ceased operations.
Getting Your Hands on Modrotisk
Many of the souvenir items I mentioned at the start of this article are very traditional Czech items, but can create a headache to take home due to their weight or fragility.
If you’re looking for a souvenir from the Czech Republic that will be light and easy to transport home with you, modrotisk might just be the thing to consider. Don’t worry if your visit doesn’t take you near the two remaining modrotisk workshops in the country, modrotisk is a common item in souvenir shops across the Czech Republic
Another advantage of modrotisk is the flexibility it has for style. You can buy all sorts of items made from the material in a wide variety of print patterns. Tablecloths, wall hangings and aprons are all very common items you can find made from modrotisk as are scarves, shoulder bags and other garments.
If you want the most traditional of modrotisk, you can try to visit the Danzinger or Joch shops personally to have a look. Alternately, you can try to order from the online shops on their respective websites. Both websites are fully in Czech, but respond reasonably well to online translator functions.
This article will go further in depth into the history of modrotisk.