The art of hand block printing has been practiced for centuries in India. A process that requires steady movement and careful hand-eye coordination, this traditional fabric printing technique involves using carved wooden blocks that are dipped in dye to recreate gorgeous designs.
Block printed fabrics usually showcase a palette of colors that bring these designs to life.
Block printing is said to have originated in China. In present-day India, Bagru in Rajasthan is a crucial hub of hand block printing. Specific forms of hand block printing use natural and vegetable dyes, setting this printing technique apart from the rest.
Let’s have a more detailed look at the technical Block Printing Process.
Step 1: Block Carving
The Chhipa Community (Rajasthan) possesses many block carvers, dyers, and printers in India. Block carving is the first step in the block printing process and, like many other crafts in India, has been in existence since time immemorial. The block-carving artisans use small hammers, chisels, and drills to carve elaborate patterns into wooden blocks.
After the carving process, these blocks are dipped in 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 tiny holes into the wooden blocks to allow the wood to breathe. This also extends the life of a wooden block by up to a few decades.
Step 2: Application of Dye
After the carving process, dye is applied to the wooden block surface with the help of a ‘sieve.’ The wooden block is gently pressed onto the palette of pigment before being used against the fabric.
Step 3: Treatment of Fabric
The chosen fabric for block printing is first washed to remove all the starch. Materials 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 hold it in place with tiny pins.
Step 4: Printing
Block printing has a unique technique that needs to be followed to get the desired results. Printing always begins from left to right. A plank of wood is used to even out the color on the tray. The craftsman dips the block into a dark outline color and applies it to the fabric. This is done repeatedly along the length and breadth of the material.
Step 5: After Treatment
Once the hand block-printing process is complete, the craftsman scatters some fine sawdust onto the wet dye to prevent smudging of the design. 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 standard cotton dyes include indigo sol, pigment dyes, and rapid dyes. The traditional colors used for block printing are red, black, brown, mustard and orange.
Significant Hubs of Hand Block Printing in India
India is known for its intricate hand block prints. In India, most hand-block printing takes place in Bagru, Ahmedabad, Pethapur, Farukhabad, and Sanganer. These areas are part of Gujarat and Rajasthan.