The wonderful patterns obtained by block printing has always fascinated me. Hence the thought of putting together a blog on the wonderful art of block printing – starting from the history behind it to the present day fashion that it is.
The prevalence of block printing was noted in scraps of cloth dating back to the Indus Valley civilization. So it would probably not be untrue to assume that lovely fashionistas serenaded the streets of Mohenjo Daro flashing block prints on their robes, circa 3000 BC. Block printing established itself through royal patronage, with historic accounts revealing that it flourished particularly in the 17th century. And here we are in the 21st century, block printing of fabric by hand still very much an adored art. As I browse through the legacy of this age old art, my intrigue towards it quadruples.
What is Block Printing?
Block printing’s popularity lies in the simplicity of the process that creates eye catching prints in vibrant colors. As with any age old art form, there are many different techniques of block printing, but essentially it involves using a carved material coloured in ink to print an image on to paper or fabric, block by block. The carved material could be wood, linoleum, rubber, or many other materials etc. Originally natural dyes were used which is still very popular but is somewhat replaced by chemical and artificial colours.
The main tools of the manual printing process are the block in different shapes and sizes called bunta. These blocks are made, preferably, of seasoned teak wood by skilled craftsmen. The underside of the blocks has the design carved into it. The newly carved blocks have to be kept soaked in oil for around a fortnight to soften the fine particles in the timber. It has a wooden handle and two to three cylindrical holes drilled into it to ensure free passage of air and also allows release of excess printing paste.
Craftsmen across India give gorgeous hues and designs to textiles using a variety of methods and materials. Block prints of a gifted artisan looks so intricate that they could easily be mistaken to be a hand drawn pattern with a fine brush, where they are actually the deft magic of colour impressions on pieces of wood. The famous Ajrakh pattern uses complex geometry to create starry constellations in indigo, madder, black, and white across lengths of cloth while the Sanganeri prints of Rajasthan have a simplistic floral patterns or abstracts. The Bagh prints of Madhya Pradesh also have abstract florals, although seem a bit more intricate than the ones in Rajasthan.
Has the legacy and practices of block printing intrigued you too, then what are you waiting for? You can try your hands with these simple DIY tips narrated stepwise:
- The fabric to be printed is first washed free of starch.
- If tie-dyeing is required, this is done before the printing process. In-case fabric is dyed, it is washed thereafter, to remove excess colour. It is then dried in the sun.
- The fabric is then stretched over the printing table and secured with pins.
- Colour is mixed separately and kept ready. So are the blocks. They are soaked in oil for 10-15 days to soften the timber.
- The colour is kept in a tray which rests on another tray that contains a liquid made of glue and pigment binder. This gives the colour a soft base and permits even spreading of colour on the block.
- When printing begins, the colour is first evened out in the tray. Then the block is dipped in the outline colour.
- The block is pressed down hard on the fabric, to make a clear impression. Thereafter, other blocks are used to fill in colour.
- Once the fabric is printed, it is dried in the sun. It is then rolled in newspaper to prevent the fabric layers from sticking to each other.
- The fabric is then steamed.
- Thereafter, it is washed in water and dried in the sun.
- Ironing is the last stage.
And voila, your first attempt at block printing is probably ready now. With a little practice, who knows, there could be a form of block printing named after your creations too. I tried one of my own earlier, although my friends named it “oil painting left out in rain” form of block printing. But I think I will get better.