Helsinki Ink

written by:
photos by:
July 22, 2011
Originally published in Japan Style

Step inside Marimekko’s printing factory for a look at how its iconic textiles come to life.

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  Designers Maija Louekari's Lappuliisa fabric is cut and rolled into bolts. Follow us as we step inside Marimekko’s printing factory for a look at how its iconic textiles come to life.  Courtesy of 2011.
    Designers Maija Louekari's Lappuliisa fabric is cut and rolled into bolts. Follow us as we step inside Marimekko’s printing factory for a look at how its iconic textiles come to life. Courtesy of 2011.
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  Photographer Alex Subrizi visited the Marimekko factory in Helsinki in early 2011 to photograph the textiles being made. “I could not have asked for gloomier conditions,” he says, “so I was very grateful for the bright moods of my hosts and the brilliant color of their handicraft.”  Courtesy of 2011.
    Photographer Alex Subrizi visited the Marimekko factory in Helsinki in early 2011 to photograph the textiles being made. “I could not have asked for gloomier conditions,” he says, “so I was very grateful for the bright moods of my hosts and the brilliant color of their handicraft.” Courtesy of 2011.
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  The magic starts in the artwork studio. Studio members, many of them trained as designers, interpret drawings from contributing designers and artists and convert them into patterns.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    The magic starts in the artwork studio. Studio members, many of them trained as designers, interpret drawings from contributing designers and artists and convert them into patterns. Courtesy of 2011 .
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  Studio member Eri Shimatsuka (left) and studio manager Petri Juslin (right) compare a first fabric proof to the artist’s original drawing.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    Studio member Eri Shimatsuka (left) and studio manager Petri Juslin (right) compare a first fabric proof to the artist’s original drawing. Courtesy of 2011 .
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  Juslin inspects a printout for a new printing screen.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    Juslin inspects a printout for a new printing screen. Courtesy of 2011 .
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  Next, the screens are made, and the designer chooses the color tones. In a room next to the printing machines, a locker with narrow drawers holds numerous pieces of neatly stacked, colorful fabrics.  Courtesy of 2011.
    Next, the screens are made, and the designer chooses the color tones. In a room next to the printing machines, a locker with narrow drawers holds numerous pieces of neatly stacked, colorful fabrics. Courtesy of 2011.
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  In the color-selection room, Taina Tiilikainen thumbs through swatches to help designers pick the perfect combinations  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    In the color-selection room, Taina Tiilikainen thumbs through swatches to help designers pick the perfect combinations Courtesy of 2011 .
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  The recipe for each color is attached to its corresponding fabric swatch, and after the designer chooses the right combination, the recipes are sent to the color kitchen. Some colors, such as beige and gray tones, are more difficult to produce than others; turquoise is notorious for sticking poorly to fabrics. “We have our trade secrets that ensure that the colors work,” says Anu-Mari Salmi, the production manager.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    The recipe for each color is attached to its corresponding fabric swatch, and after the designer chooses the right combination, the recipes are sent to the color kitchen. Some colors, such as beige and gray tones, are more difficult to produce than others; turquoise is notorious for sticking poorly to fabrics. “We have our trade secrets that ensure that the colors work,” says Anu-Mari Salmi, the production manager. Courtesy of 2011 .
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  The color kitchen, where inks are made, is located in an open area as the inks are non-toxic and odorless.  Courtesy of 2011.
    The color kitchen, where inks are made, is located in an open area as the inks are non-toxic and odorless. Courtesy of 2011.
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  The inks are stored in plastic wrap–covered buckets, which prevents a thick, top layer from forming. Each day, the color kitchen prepares hundreds of pounds of ink for the hues needed for the following day’s printing. “Thanks to having our own facilities, we can react quickly to sales,” Salmi says.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    The inks are stored in plastic wrap–covered buckets, which prevents a thick, top layer from forming. Each day, the color kitchen prepares hundreds of pounds of ink for the hues needed for the following day’s printing. “Thanks to having our own facilities, we can react quickly to sales,” Salmi says. Courtesy of 2011 .
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  Next, the textile printing machine is readied. Here, Jan Möller takes a ready screen for the iconic Unikko fabric to be placed on the machine.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    Next, the textile printing machine is readied. Here, Jan Möller takes a ready screen for the iconic Unikko fabric to be placed on the machine. Courtesy of 2011 .
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  The Marimekko factory prints nearly 6,500 yards of fabric each day. The com­pany typically purchases its material, usually cotton, in 2,200- to 5,500-yard rolls or pallets from Germany, Peru, Turkey, and the Baltic nations. Flat screen–printing makes it possible to divide repeats in sections and create large-size patterns, from 24 inches to several yards long.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    The Marimekko factory prints nearly 6,500 yards of fabric each day. The com­pany typically purchases its material, usually cotton, in 2,200- to 5,500-yard rolls or pallets from Germany, Peru, Turkey, and the Baltic nations. Flat screen–printing makes it possible to divide repeats in sections and create large-size patterns, from 24 inches to several yards long. Courtesy of 2011 .
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  Each color is printed through its own color-specific, stencil-like plate.  Courtesy of 2011.
    Each color is printed through its own color-specific, stencil-like plate. Courtesy of 2011.
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  The printing machine moves fabric forward automatically, even though workers spread the inks across the plates by hand. No computers are needed to determine the right quantity.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    The printing machine moves fabric forward automatically, even though workers spread the inks across the plates by hand. No computers are needed to determine the right quantity. Courtesy of 2011 .
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  The more complex the design and the more colors used, the more plates—and hands (up to four professionals at a time)—are required to run the 80-foot-long printer.  Courtesy of 2011.
    The more complex the design and the more colors used, the more plates—and hands (up to four professionals at a time)—are required to run the 80-foot-long printer. Courtesy of 2011.
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  After printing, the fabric is transferred to the steaming machine, where steam heated to 219 degrees Fahrenheit fastens the color to the fabric, ensuring durability and brightness. Next, the textiles go through washing in 203-degree water to shrink them down to their final sizes. A finishing machine applies any additional treatments, like softener, to the washed fabric. Here, the colors of Katsuji Wakisaka’s Green Green fabric are fastened to the cloth.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    After printing, the fabric is transferred to the steaming machine, where steam heated to 219 degrees Fahrenheit fastens the color to the fabric, ensuring durability and brightness. Next, the textiles go through washing in 203-degree water to shrink them down to their final sizes. A finishing machine applies any additional treatments, like softener, to the washed fabric. Here, the colors of Katsuji Wakisaka’s Green Green fabric are fastened to the cloth. Courtesy of 2011 .
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  Next, Marimekko’s quality inspectors, some who have worked at the company for more than 30 years, hand-inspect and grade the fabric. Theirs is a meticulous task: There can be only four small errors over 16 yards of fabric.  Courtesy of 2011.
    Next, Marimekko’s quality inspectors, some who have worked at the company for more than 30 years, hand-inspect and grade the fabric. Theirs is a meticulous task: There can be only four small errors over 16 yards of fabric. Courtesy of 2011.
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  Here, another inspector checks a length of Pieni Unikko fabric.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    Here, another inspector checks a length of Pieni Unikko fabric. Courtesy of 2011 .
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  If the fabric passes, it is cut and rolled into bolts, ready for displaying in stores or turning into garments, bags, cushions, tablecloths, and other Marimekko products.  Courtesy of 2011.
    If the fabric passes, it is cut and rolled into bolts, ready for displaying in stores or turning into garments, bags, cushions, tablecloths, and other Marimekko products. Courtesy of 2011.
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  Workers in the on-site sewing area prepare textiles to become linens, bags, and more.  Courtesy of 2011.
    Workers in the on-site sewing area prepare textiles to become linens, bags, and more. Courtesy of 2011.
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  These Global Hassocks by Marimekko designer Tuula Pöyhönen brighten a hallway of the Marimekko factory. Instructions on how to make these yourself can be found in Marimekko's new book Surrur, a project book featuring fabric crafts and ideas from seven Marimekko designers.  Courtesy of 2011.
    These Global Hassocks by Marimekko designer Tuula Pöyhönen brighten a hallway of the Marimekko factory. Instructions on how to make these yourself can be found in Marimekko's new book Surrur, a project book featuring fabric crafts and ideas from seven Marimekko designers. Courtesy of 2011.
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  Finally, trucks are packed with yards of colorful fabrics. The trucks drive to shops and ports and eventually transport the textiles to customers around the world. Watch our slideshow of iconic and favorite Marimekko patterns.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    Finally, trucks are packed with yards of colorful fabrics. The trucks drive to shops and ports and eventually transport the textiles to customers around the world. Watch our slideshow of iconic and favorite Marimekko patterns. Courtesy of 2011 .
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