Hand Built History

I’ve created my label, Juli Raja Hand Built, with a bit of serendipity and a whole lot of love.   

Almost 50 years ago, a young couple, Dilip and Nandita Raja, started Kanishka’s, a block printing studio from their living room in Kolkata, to design sarees for modern Indian women using their original drawings. This extraordinary labor of love has since grown into a textile-design institution, whose innovations are prized and whose creations are valued as collector’s items all over India.

I was a 3 year old in Texas at the time, with no idea that I would one day meet and eventually marry their son, Kanishka Raja. But I had already begun assembling the pieces that would define my lifelong passions: a profound love of ornament, a deep fondness for animals and a very peculiarly skewed sense of humor! At age 10, while drawing at the kitchen table, when my mother asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I answered, “make prints for clothing”. My idea of endless fun was working on intricate patterns, adding multiple colors and designs, filling up pages with everything I could imagine.

Fast forward to 2001, long after I had studied design and illustration and was still casting about for the perfect vehicle for my dreams: I traveled to India to meet my future in-laws, expressed an interest in their work and asked for a tour of their workshop. I fell in immediate and permanent love of course, not only with the brilliant originality of their designs, but with the whole, elaborate creativity of the process by which their rich imaginations are brought into being. Dilip Raja, quickly recognizing our shared love of illustration, offered to have one of my drawings cut into a woodblock. I happily refer to this first block “Honeycomb” as my gateway print. It fills me with pride and pleasure every time I notice that it remains one of the most popular new prints in the Kanishka’s catalog.

I began slowly: absorbing everything, learning the ropes, gradually introducing my own sensibilities into the mix and I haven’t looked back since. What you see here on the website, in my store in New York and in the thousands of unique pieces I’ve created since I began in earnest in 2006, are the fruits of this collaborative process.

Each year, a few of my original drawings are added to Kanishka’s 4000-plus print library. Then, with the help of our skilled woodblock printers, short runs of fabric are hand-printed in our workshop to create limited edition collections that rarely exceed 25 pieces per color or print design. The beautifully tailored results feature my signature hybrid of traditional and contemporary design, to make clothes that keep alive centuries-old craft techniques while maintaining their modern aesthetics.

To catch a glimpse of the daily process of color mixing, dyeing, printing, steaming and finishing that go into the making of each of our prints, please click on the short video below.