Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

Blueprint in the Mühlviertel region

Applicant: Maria und Karl Wagner – Mühlviertler Blaudruck auf Leinen
Province: Upper Austria
Domain: Traditional Craftsmanship
Year of inclusion: 2015

The highly complex and time-consuming process of indigo printing technique became established during the 19th century in the northern region of Upper Austrian known as the Mühlviertel. Regional craftsmen and craftswomen went abroad to learn the new technique “on the road”. Karl Wagner, founder of the blueprint firm Blaudruckerei Wagner in Upper Austria, was one of them. This family-owned business is currently being run by its fourth generation of family members. Wagner’s great collection of handmade wooden patterns exhibits a broad variety of designs inspired by regional flora, and to this day, Blaudruckerei Wagner applies these designs to regionally produced linen.

The processing of linen is inseparably linked with the history of the Mühlviertel. The ideal natural assets in northern Upper Austria allowed a flourishing textile industry to evolve over the centuries, and the 19th century saw introduction the special technique of hand block printing with indigo dye. The figurative painting of fabrics is one of the oldest techniques of fabric finishing and originated in India, which is also where indigo first came from.
Aside from of the dye works of the Koó family in Burgenland (Blueprinting in Burgenland), which also prints on cotton using hand-operated rollers, that of the Wagners is the last blueprint business in Austria to still use hand-crafted wooden patterns to apply the designs. These patterns transfer a dye-rejecting paste to the fabric that causes the design to remain white after the dyeing process. The up to 250-year-old patterns exhibit regionally inspired designs such as cornflowers, hops, and ears of wheat, and these are joined by experimental new designs made by present-day members of the Wagner family. Their work is still based on the travel journal („Wanderbüchlein“) kept by Karl Wagner from 1869 to 1878, his journeyman years. And the textile handicraft continues to develop and evolving thanks to ongoing exchange with textile artists, designers, and educational institutions.