India has been renowned for its printed and dyed cotton cloth since the 12th century and the craft flourished as the fabric received royal patronage. The earliest centers for block printing seem to have been in what are now the states of Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. From these centers, the craft appears to have spread gradually with the migration of craft workers to other areas. Centers such as Sanganer in Rajasthan rose to prominence in the 18th century. Other centers such as Serampur developed even later, becoming the hub of block printing in West Bengal only in the 1940’s. Now, there is the increasing phenomenon of block printing units being set up in urban areas.
The oldest method of printing designs on fabrics is block printing by hand. Block printing is practiced all over India in different states with each area having its own local aesthetics and style of doing the craft. Each place has its distinctive design elements, color schemes, and motifs. The final product can be differentiated in terms of region and origin. The main centers for block printing in India are:
Andhra Pradesh (Kalamkari), Gujarat (Ajrak), Rajasthan (Mud resist and Sanganeri), Madhya Pradesh (Bagh Print), Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
Each of these regions traditionally had distinct design elements with unique color schemes and motifs. Although the commercialization of the craft has seen a convergence in design elements between various regions, block printed fabric by expert craft workers from each of these regions are still identifiable by its region of origin.
To make blocked prints the design must be first carved on wooden or metal block. The dyestuff is applied in paste form to the design of the face of the block. The block is pressed down firmly by hand or on selected portions of the surface of the fabric, imprinting the carved design as many times as desired on a specific length of cloth. To obtain the variation of colors in the same design, as many as additional blocks must be carved as there will be additional colors. The portion of the design that will appear in different colors must be separately imprinted by hand before each design is complete. The more colors used the more valuable and expensive the block print will be as more enhanced beauty of designs and labor is involved in hand printing.
Discharge printing, also called Extract Printing, the method of applying a design to a dyed fabric by printing a color-destroying agent, such as chlorine or hydrosulfite, to bleach out a white or light pattern on the darker colored ground. In color-discharge printing, a dye impervious to the bleaching agent is combined with it, producing a colored design instead of white on the dyed ground
Direct Block Printing
The fabric used here is either cotton or silk. The cloth is first bleached and then dyed with the desired color. After that block printing is done on borders with carved wooden blocks then inside the borders.
In this technique, the part of the cloth which is not to be dyed is covered with the paste of resin and clay. Then the fabric is dyed with the desirable color, at this stage, the dye penetrates through the cracks which create a wavy effect of colors on the cloth. After this, the fabric is finally block printed.
There are two types of block printing famous in Rajasthan namely- Sanganeri and Bagru. These two styles of block printing are almost the same; the thing which primarily distinguishes them from one another is the color of the background on which they are printed. Bagru prints are done on black and red background whereas Sanganeri is done on white background. In the western part of India the block prints are typically fine; however, in the eastern part, the prints are bolder and bigger. Lepakshi and Ajrakh prints are also examples of the type of block prints. The unique feature of this printing is the number of printing variations that can be made in the same type of motifs.
To get very fine patterns often metal was used in the outline area or the outline block. It is also common to find nails of a wide variety of sizes used to create fine dots. These are usually created to fill the empty space in between floral designs.
A block printing unit which has been running from generations will probably have thousands of blocks. Blocks are rarely thrown away. One of the reasons for keeping the blocks is that there are many designs which come back in fashion after a few years.
Another way of documenting the design of each block is to take a “Parat”, a precise impression of the fresh block taken by the block printer before printing starts. This remains in the records, as a future reference for the block maker.
Rich and colorful prints can be created through block printing. In olden times it was done with natural dyes but now it is done with artificial colors and synthetic dyes. The colors commonly used for printing are saffron, yellow, blue and red. The wooden blocks are used for printing. They are of different shapes and have designs carved at the bottom of the block. Teak wood is used for making them on which designs are made by skilled craftsman. These blocks are known as Bunta. Every block consists of a wooden handle and 2-3 holes which are made for the purpose of free movement of air. The blocks before taken into use are kept in oil for 10-15 days, which provide them the softness required.
Keep carving and printing…until next time😊