Block Printing and the Process Behind It
Hand block printing has been practiced for centuries in India. This traditional technique of fabric printing involves the use of carved and dyed wooden blocks that are pressed on a material to create beautiful patterns.
Block printed fabrics can look fabulous when the block is well designed. Typically, only a single colour is used in block printing.
Block printing is said to have its origins in China. In present day India, Bagru in Rajasthan, is a key hub of hand block printing. Beautiful traditional textiles are created by craftsmen using wooden blocks that are generally dyed with mineral and vegetable dyes.
Let’s have a more detailed look at the Block Printing Process in India.
Step 1: Block Carving and Dyeing
It is the Chhipa cast of India (Rajasthan) that has all the block carvers, dyers and printers. Block carving is the first step in the block printing process and like many other crafts in India, this is also an ancestral skill, passed down from one generation to the next. Chhipas are equipped with tools such as small hammers, chisels and drills and use them for carving elaborate patterns into wooden blocks.
After the carving process, these blocks are put into mustard oil and allowed to rest for at least a week. This helps prevent cracking of the blocks upon exposure to dry conditions. The carvers also drill miniature holes into the wooden blocks to allow the wood to breathe. This also extend the life of the wooden blocks for decades.
Step 2: Application of Colour Paste
After the carving process, colour paste is applied to the wooden block surface with the help of a ‘sieve’. The contents of this paste usually include tree gum, black earth soil and wheat grain powder. The wooden block is gently patted onto the paste before being pressed onto a fabric.
Step 3: Treatment of Fabric
The chosen fabric for block printing is first washed to remove all the starch. It also undergoes soft bleaching to minimize the appearance of the natural grey. Fabrics such as saree lengths usually require dyeing. This is done before the printing process begins. For hand block printing, the craftsman will lay the fabric on a printing table, stretching it across the entire length and fix it with tiny pins.
Step 4: Printing
Block printing has a special technique that needs to be followed in order to get the desired results. Printing always begins from left to right. A plank of wood is used for evening out the colour on the tray. The craftsman dips the block into a dark outline colour and applies it to the fabric. A strong slamming action using the fist on the handle’s back helps achieve a beautiful impression. This is done repeatedly along the length and breadth of the fabric.
Step 5: After Treatment
Once the printing process is complete, the craftsman scatters some fine saw dust onto the wet paste as this prevents the smudging of the design and helps seal the printed parts. The fabric is then left to dry out in the sun. Different dyes may be used for block printing on cotton and silk fabrics. Some of the common cotton dyes include indigo sol, pigment dyes and rapid dyes. The traditional colours used for block printing are red, black, brown, mustard and orange.
Major Hubs of Hand Block Printing in India
India is known for its intricate hand block prints and most of the hand block printing takes place in the areas of Bagru, Ahmadabad, Pethapur, Farukhabad and Sanganer. These areas are part of Gujarat and Rajasthan.